Down with blogs... so here's another
By Giles Wilson
Depending on your take, blogs are either a fantastic liberation, a self-indulgent waste of time, or a complete mystery. So is it really necessary for the BBC to launch another one?
Perfect. Just what the world needs - another hungry blog to feed.
Some estimates say that a new weblog is being created somewhere in the world every second of every day. So why should the BBC add yet another to the list?
If you believe the hype, blogs are as significant as the invention of the printing press for their ability to change the way the world will be seen. If on the other hand you believe the counter-hype, blogs are a self-indulgence which pander to dull people's misguided beliefs that they have something interesting to say.
Journalists have their own takes on blogs - broadcaster Mark Lawson, for one, says that "although the word blog suggests attitude and subversion, it's really just a hi-tech kind of diary and carries the identical risk of Pooterism".
Some believe that only journalists should really be allowed to write endlessly about themselves. Others believe blogs soar to beautiful new interactive heights. A third group don't understand blogs, but are terrified of being left behind.
Happily there is yet another group, including the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson, who don't think blogs will necessarily change the world, but do believe they offer a fresh way of turning the traditional roles of writer and reader into those of people having a conversation.
Blogs can be many things - trouble-making, independent, cool, nerdy, peppered with annoying links, even full of kittens who look like Hitler. They can also be abused for attention-seeking headlines (eg "Down with Blogs"). But one thing they have in common is that they work best when they go both ways - when they are a true exchange.
That's why the editors across BBC News have got together to start their own blog. Called "The Editors", it launches on Monday. The hope is that it will become a discussion forum for all sorts of issues and dilemmas surrounding our news programmes.
Each day, The Editors will include a round-up of where the BBC has been in the news, what members of the audience have told us in the previous 24 hours, our responses to that feedback, and the resulting discussion.
It's not an easy process, but there's a lot to gain - because of the unique way the BBC is funded, we want to be the most open and accountable news organisation in the world.
Audience involvement is nothing new for the BBC. As long ago as 1950, the Light Programme had a show called, rather quaintly, Dear Sir: The Correspondence Column of the Air, which discussed a range of subjects which actually wouldn't be out of place on Five Live today. And then in 1960, BBC TV introduced a five-minute show called Points of View. Hosted by Robert Robinson, it found a place in the schedule between Ask Mr Pastry and the BBC Inter-Regional Dancing Contest.
Nowadays, we still have Points of View on BBC One, and also Newswatch on News 24, and Feedback on Radio 4.
So what makes blogs any different? Well, an important thing to note is that the changes which have led us to launch this blog are not localised around Television Centre - they are happening all over the world. And even though Pete Clifton, the former editor of the BBC News website, made early in-roads into this territory with a blog-style column, this BBC editors' blog is by no means a UK first. The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, and the Daily Mail are among those represented to differing degrees.
American media have been pioneers in this area. US journalist Jeff Jarvis, who has experience of a huge variety of different media and now travels the world evangelising about what blogs can achieve if done properly, says it's not a matter of self indulgence.
"The lesson we in the media have learned from the web and blogs is that the highest virtue of the media is transparency," he says. "We used to think it was objectivity, even though being objective is a really hard thing to prove because we're all humans. But we thought in journalism that it was our job to deliver the truth, when in fact it's our job to let the audience decide what's true.
"Part of that is that the public has a perfect right to see the process and that's why transparency is important."
In the past, he says, it was always possible to write a letter to a newspaper's editor. But only a handful of letters ever got printed. Even inviting people to send pictures and other forms of content only goes so far, he says. "We, the journalists, are still in charge."
The adoption of a transparent attitude, of which an editors' blog is just a part, is a statement that journalism isn't made silently behind the walls of a castle, he says. "It says 'We're going to share the process.' And in return, people can say 'We disagree' or 'We agree', or 'I thought that was the wrong decision but I see why you made it.'
"The news isn't finished when the product goes to air. That's just a part of the process."
So you are formally invited to go to The Editors, at www.bbc.co.uk/editors, and see what you think. Hopefully you'll tell us, too.
In the past? It is the clear and present (danger) in Malaysia, mate!
Keyword of the day: "Transparency" (which is never ever in the dictionary of some).