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Guido Fawkes: Lobby briefings should be televised

February 8th, 2012 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Journalism

Political blogger Paul Staines has called for parliamentary lobby briefings to be televised – and called the current system “a cartel”.

Giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry this afternoon, Staines, who runs the Guido Fawkes blog, said the current system of accreditation and access for parliamentary journalists was antiquated and “unhealthy” for transparency.

“It’s a cartel,” he told the inquiry.

The authorities in parliament won’t give you access to the parliamentary estate unless you’re on the lobby list. I have to go into parliament as a visitor. It makes it difficult for me to get access to the main players.

I don’t think it’s a very healthy system. Former chairmen of the lobby have said its antiquated.

Staines said the Westminster “lobby terms” – where journalists are briefed anonymously – meant reporters became “complicit in politicians’ lies”.

He added:

Downing Street sources normally means the journalist is in a briefing room, being fed the line. Just put it on TV.

The lobby functions like an obedience school for journalists – play the game and we’ll reward you. If you rock the boat you won’t get access.

During his appearance at at the Leveson inquiry, Staines also repeated a claim he made on his blog that Tina Weaver, editor of the Sunday Mirror, knew about and authorised phone hacking and blagging.

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#ijf11: Be accessible, be realistic, Guido Fawkes advises small news outlets

Accessibility and community are key to having an impact as a small online news outlet, political blogger Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes) told the International Journalism Festival this morning.

Some of my best stories come from my readers.

If I want to contact the Sunday Times investigations editor, I can maybe ring the switchboard but I probably won’t get through.

I have my phone number and email address on my site. Alright, you won’t get though to me directly, you’ll get an answerphone, but I will get back to you.

And there is the promise of a free T-shirt if I use your information.

Staines cited the recent example of an image of David and Samantha Cameron looking terrifically glum waiting for a Ryanair flight to Malaga.

The image was sent to Staines by a reader, and within an hour he had published it and sold international syndication rights, making enough money to fund the blog for a month.

The blog shared the money with the photographer, he hastened to add.

Another important factor is being realistic, he said, knowing what you can and can’t do.

The Guido Fawkes blog is a two-man operation, and “can’t spend a long time investigating a corporation across five continents”.

The way we approach it is much more tabloid, more hit and run, but we will keep coming back to a subject and wear at it to get results.

We’re not worried about getting scooped as long as we keep at the story.

He put that need for realism in sobering financial terms when he said that he had bid £10,000 – as much as he could – for the MPs expenses disk, but came up against the Telegraph, which bid £100,000.

Since its modest beginnings, started “on a whim” in 2004, the blog has landed “one politician is jail, a few fired, a few resigned”, Staines claimed. “Oh and a few special advisors, I forget about them”.

Not all of them perhaps, The Guido Fawkes blog was responsible for a story about William Hague sharing a room with a young special advisor, who resigned as the story spread like wild fire across the nationals.

Compared with larger, more established news organisations, Staines’ disregard for the need for double checking the facts was another advantage, he said.

Newspapers have to have double sourcing and verification, Whereas I’m more likely to take a flyer and a risk with the lawyers.

For that very reason, another important source of stories for Staines is political journalists who have had stories spiked by their editor for not standing up, but who want to get it out.

That’s great, when that happens, because I get all the credit and they get nothing.

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Who will be the first bloggers to get lobby passes?

So, as Matt Wardman noted on this blog today, bloggers are soon to be allowed into parliament. But who will be the first?

Mark Pack says he hears that passes are “on their way” to the Guy News TV team: “It’s an off-shoot of the Guido Fawkes blog though, unlike the blog, the online TV show becoming legally based in the UK. Even so, given its very irreverent attitude to politics, this is a move that isn’t being met with universal adulation from the existing lobby members.”

Journalism.co.uk dropped a line to Guido himself: “I have not applied for a pass,” is the quick response.

Who’s your money on? Widdecombe show side-kick Iain Dale, or as PR Week’s David Singleton speculates, ConservativeHome’s Jonathan Isaby? Who else?

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Jon Bernstein: Sorry Guido, the BBC did for Duncan

Three high-profile political figures mired in controversy, two thrown out of their jobs, one suffering a humiliating demotion – all thanks to internet activists of differing political hues from green to darkest blue.

Hang your heads in shame video-sting victim Alan Duncan, and Smeargate’s Derek Draper and Damian McBride. Take a bow Tim Montgomerie, Guido Fawkes, and Heydon Prowse.

But was it really the web wot done it? I’m not so sure.

Or at least I don’t think the web could have done it without the traditional media, television news and newspapers in particular.

Clearly this is at odds with Guido’s reading of the situation.

Writing on his blog this morning yesterday Paul Staines (for it is he) asks who forced Alan Duncan from his role as shadow leader of the House of Commons.

Not Tory leader David Cameron, that’s for sure. Rather it was the unlikely pairing of Tim Montgomerie and Heydon Prowse, ‘the blogosphere’s shepherd of the Tory grassroots and the angry young man with a video-cam’.

Of Prowse, who filmed Duncan on the terrace talking of ‘rations’ in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal, Guido notes:

“Heydon Prowse, who is he? He just destroyed the career of a greasy pole climbing Westminster slitherer. No house-trained political nous, no insight, in fact a little naive. He still did it.”

And Guido is in no doubt what this means in the wider context:

“The news is now disintermediated.”

The same applies, apparently, to the sacking of Damian McBride and Derek Draper, both prime ministerial advisors in their time. McBride and Draper were outed for their parts in a plot to use a pseudo-activist blog to spread rumours about various high-profile Tories.

The emails incriminating the two men found their way to Guido/Staines, and were in turn picked up by the media.

(Ironically, the site was meant to be the left’s answer to right-wing blogosphere attack-dogs, Guido among them.)

This week saw the story take another twist. Would-be smear victim Nadine Dorries MP carried out a threat to sue Draper and McBride and enlisted the help of Guido and fellow blogger Tory Bear to be servers of writs.

No one is doubting the origin of both stories, nor the journalistic craft in exposing the men at the heart of them. But it took the mainstream media to push these events into the public consciousness, into the mainstream.

And it took the attentions of the mainstream media to effect the sackings and demotion.

On the day it broke, the Duncan story led the BBC 10 o’clock News and featured prominently on other channels. In the ensuing 48 hours it spawned dozens of national press stories – the Daily Star went for ‘Dumb and Duncan’, The Mirror for ‘Duncan Donut’, others were more po-faced – as well as leader comments, opinion pieces and letters.

The coverage continued into the weekend and despite Duncan’s very swift apology and Cameron’s initial willingness to draw a line under events (“Alan made a bad mistake. He has acknowledged that, he has apologised and withdrawn the remarks.”) the drip, drip of media focus eventually forced the Tory leader to act.

It was a similar pattern with Smeargate.

Would PM Gordon Brown and Cameron have acted if these had remained just web stories? Not in 2009.

Is the news disintermediated? Not yet. Instead we have a symbiotic – if dysfunctional – relationship between the blogosphere and the traditional media.

The latter fears and dismisses the former in equal measure, but increasingly relies on it to take the temperature of various constituent parts of society and, yes, to source stories. Guido is such a good conduit through which to leak precisely because the media reads him.

The former, meanwhile, is disparaging about the latter (sometimes for good reason) but nonetheless needs it to vindicate its journalistic endeavours.

A final twist to the Alan Duncan story. Heydon Prowse offered Guido first refusal on his secret video recording back in June. Guido turned it down. “D’oh!” he later wrote in a confessional blog post.

Guido always has the good grace to admit when he’s goofed, as he did earlier this year over James Purnell’s fictitious leadership bid.

Will he accept with equally good grace that the mainstream media were a vital ingredient in the sackings and demotion of McBride, Draper and Duncan?

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at jonbernstein.wordpress.com.

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Globe and Mail: ‘The model, the blogger and the web giant’

The Globe and Mail looks at the blogger anonymity case in the US sparking debate across the world.

The blogger unmasked by Google – as the result of a New York court order last week – is now threatening legal action against the company. The Globe and Mail’s Josh Wingrove writes:

“Is calling someone a ‘ho’ on a blog worthy of the anonymity afforded to the writings of the American Founding Fathers 200 years ago?

“That’s the basis of a landmark internet privacy debate sparked this week in connection with a looming civil suit against web giant Google Inc. The company is facing a potential $15-million (U.S.) lawsuit by a once-anonymous blogger, Rosemary Port, after it complied with a New York court order last week and released her name.”

Full story at this link…

  • Related: BBC Radio 4 Today programme featured a discussion this morning with Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, and Dr Vince Miller, a lecturer in sociology at Kent University. Listen again at this link.
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For @GuidoFawkes, Twitter is a fad that will disappear; for @MickFealty, it’s a valuable tool

May 12th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Events, Social media and blogging

Twitter is a ‘fad that will soon disappear,’ political blogger Paul Staines said yesterday.

Staines, who blogs under the alias Guido Fawkes, told participants at the Voices Online Blogging conference at City University that he has ‘not got the time’ to monitor the 3,000 + followers of @guidofawkes.

“How profound can you be in 140 characters?” he said. “I use Twitter to broadcast, but I go to individual bloggers for information.”

Staines argued that the increasing popularity of the site, boosted by celebrity users such as Stephen Fry and Oprah Winfrey, meant that ‘overload is inevitable’.

However, Mick Fealty (@mickfealty) creator of the Slugger O’Toole blog, agreed that Twitter is a ‘nightmare’ but insisted it remained an ‘important tool’ for journalists.

“I used it on the day of the US elections last November, when I was writing a live blog on the Slugger site,” he explained. “I canvassed for US readers to be mini-bloggers for one day.

He used feeds from people who were watching three or four American television networks, he said. “Within about two minutes I knew what had gone out on ABC, Fox and CNN, and I could give a clear judgement about what was going on.”

Fealty added that the site was an effective tool to generate information about an area where he had ‘no local or native knowledge’.

Twitter’s usefulness was a result of the ‘very smart and intelligent’ contacts he has made using it, he said.

“The value of Twitter is the value of people I follow,” he explained.

Journalism.co.uk reported from the Voices Online Blogging conference 2009. Follow @journalism_live on Twitter for live updates from a wide array of media events.

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Online commenters are like ‘particularly aggressive sub-editors’ says Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow

Bloggers and journalists discussed their shifting roles and relationships in the context of online political blogging at Monday’s Voices Online blogging conference at City University, organised by the Next Century Foundation.

Blogging is improving the quality of journalism by forcing reporters to be more honest about their sources the Guardian’s senior political correspondent, Andrew Sparrow, said yesterday.

Sparrow said that traditional journalistic secrecy had become ‘hard to justify in the blogosphere’ because readers act as ‘particularly aggressive sub-editors’.

“There’s an expectation that you will be more upfront about your sources, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

“In a conventional news story, you can never own up to doubt. In a blog, it’s perfectly acceptable to say what you know and what you don’t know.”

Sparrow also suggested that political bloggers have raised the bar of competition for traditional news organisations.

“I don’t see myself as part of the blogging community in the way that Paul Staines or Nick Fielding are,” he said. “I view blogging as a tool that we use [at the Guardian] for our mainstream journalism. But I worry if the amateurs are doing it better than we are.”

However, in an earlier panel, Paul Staines questioned whether drawing a distinction between ‘journalist’ and ‘bloggers’ is still relevant.

“How long is it before we stop asking that question?” he said. “With converging digital platforms, there may no longer be a difference.”

Sparrow, who has previously reported on the political arena for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, said that he had been frustrated by ‘the limited way you could tell stories’ in traditional print media.

“The internet has an immediacy that you don’t always get in mainstream media. I like the commentability, but it makes many journalists uncomfortable,” he said.

He added that digital media has improved the range of sources available to journalists. “Once, you might have had to spend the morning ringing ten people to find out what they thought about something, whereas now, you can subscribe to ten RSS feeds,” he said.

However, Sparrow also said that the Guardian ensures its blogs ‘report in accordance with its journalistic values and the public interest’, and acknowledged that the wider blogging community ‘survives on subjectivity’ which is at odd with traditional journalistic notions of balance.

But Mick Fealty, creator of the Slugger O’Toole blog and who also blogs at the Telegraph and the Guardian sites, insisted this did not compromise the quality and integrity of blogging. “The journalists who make good bloggers are the ones who know they’re only interjecting into a larger conversation. There is a value in being challenged,” he said.

“Truth is more useful than balance. One truth at a time is enough.”

Journalism.co.uk reported live from the Voices Online Blogging conference 2009. Follow @journalism_live on Twitter for updates from a wide array of media events.

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Event – Voices Online: Blogging Conference today

Journalism.co.uk is attending the Voices Online: Blogging conference today. Speakers at the event include Mark Jones, global community editor at Reuters; Demotix’s Turi Munthe; political blogger Guido Fawkes a.k.a. Paul Staines; and Andrew Sparrow: senior political correspondent for the Guardian and recent Orwell Prize blogging nominee.

The full agenda for the day is available at this link.

Follow updates on Twitter @journalism_live and via the hashtag #voicesconf.

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Guido to introduce community rating system to blog

(or, ‘how many times can we use the word ‘comment’ in one blog post’?)

Guido Fawkes got the comments going today with a post that said he is ‘mulling over’ whether to moderate comments over the holiday period. He also announces that in the new year a ‘community rating’ element will be introduced to his blog (details at end of this post).

Guido Fawkes, aka Paul Staines, referred back to November, to the Goldsmiths seminar on media ethics and a comment from the Times Comment editor, Anne Spackman, who said that TimesOnline spends ‘six figures’ on pre-moderating online comments [unclear over what time period – Journalism.co.uk will follow-up soon. UPDATE 19/12: Anne Spackman told Journalism.co.uk that the paper cannot currently clarify exact details, but that a six figure bill is paid to another partner.]

Fawkes said today on his blog:

“It is certainly expensive in time, every morning Guido deletes a load of comments which have, in his rather arbitrary judgement, just gone too far.”

Journalism.co.uk was also at the Goldsmiths event and spoke to Fawkes afterwards. He told Journalism.co.uk that he doesn’t moderate comments – ‘it has to get pretty gynecological before I do’.

In regards to the BNP list (which had leaked that week): “I did allow it. oh terrible, terrible, terrible. Oh well…”

“I deleted the stuff about Baby P,” he told Journalism.co.uk.

“I noticed it [information about Baby P] was still on the BBC’s website. I called them up, and they said ‘we’re not taking it down because the order doesn’t apply’.  I said ‘well, is it because it’s an order or because it is right or wrong?'”

Fawkes said that if he is found to be ‘in the wrong’ he’ll take something down, but added that ‘it’s very difficult to send me a writ.’

“Unless you catch me having a drink here, where are you going to send the writ?”

“There’s no bricks and mortar,” he said.

While Guido Fawkes says on his blog post that he takes a ‘sticks and stones view to a large extent’, he outlines a number of changes to be introduced in the New Year:

“[Y]ou [the users] will still be able to say what you like (within somewhat arbitrary inconsistent limits) without pre-moderation or registering. However there will be incentives for those who produce better quality commentary based on a new element of co-conspirator community rating.

“Good comments will be more prominently displayed, disliked comments will be less prominent. The biggest innovation is that it will be possible for readers to set their own tolerance thresholds. Poorly rated comments will be invisible to those who set their preferences accordingly.

“If you only want to see comments judged by co-conspirators to be witty, amusing or illuminating, set your threshold to ‘Recommended’. Don’t want to read foul language? Set your threshold to ‘U’. Want to see all and any comments no matter how foul? Set your threshold to ‘XXX’.

“If your commentary is consistently recommended your comments will automatically be more prominent in the future and may even get highlighted on the frontpage.”

Unmoderated comments follow his post.

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