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15/06/2006

Conservative conference bloggers, online gossip and Guardian editor's lecture: this week's PR Business column

* * Updated * *

True blue blogging

A couple of weeks ago this column asked “how long it can be before we see David Cameron begging to hang out with the UK blogerati”?

The answer: about two weeks.

The BBC reports that the Conservative Party Conference in October is likely to include a special area for bloggers. The practice has been common in the US since the last the presidential elections, as bloggers have been seen as an influential force in public and party opinion-forming and activism.

It would be too easy to dismiss this blog-friendliness as just the next in line in the traffic jam of bandwagons that Mr Cameron is hopping along in the hope of getting downwind from some zeitgeist.

Actually it’s a sign of the healthy growth in blogging by Tories of various shades and views. It seems that some of the intellectual resurgence and renewed energy of the party is happening online.

New Labour swept to power partly as a result of that party’s first coming to terms with and then mastering the arts of media management. But that was in the industrial age of media, when information and messages were “controlled” and went largely one way.

Online communities have come of age while Tony’s been at Number Ten. Unless social media is taken seriously by all party communicators, they could begin to look like generals still fighting the last war.

Gossip thrives online

For the birth of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s new baby this week People magazine in the US had secured exclusive rights to the first photos of the child for a rumoured fee of £2.4 million after a vicious bidding war.

Then two days before it hit the newsstands, someone posted the pictures on a blog.

One can’t help but feel sorry for the People and certainly they’ve been very angry about it. Some commentators in the New York Times thought that the online leakage would actually boost sales of the “Brangelina” special edition of the magazine.

Gossip arrives in the world already optimised for social media, for moving quickly across networks. Rumour will always move faster than most other information across human groups because it comes complete with its own illicit urgency and an implicit expiry date (“he, she, they, or we don't want you to know this, but…), meaning it is the natural instinct of the recipient to find at least one or two others to pass it on to.

Sympathy for the columnist

Giving a lecture at the University of Oxford, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said that he had once been approached by one of his columnists, fretting about a world where readers answered back. She, was, he said “wondering how to cope with this new age when one provocative column might - within 24 hours - result in 500 responses by email, all eagerly wanting to follow up on or debate a particular strand or other.”

Mr Rusbridger says that the columnist gave him stark choice – she could anwer the mails or write her next column. He erred on the side of not having a blank column, aware that he would be “leaving 500 people doubtless confirmed in their view of the old media as unresponsive, top-down, elitist and out of touch.”

But in the background, of course, they were working on the spectacularly successful and inclusive Comment is Free.

In the olden days (last year) the Guardian got about 3 – 400 letters a day and would publish about 15. In the three months since Comment is Free has launched there have been 2,000 articles and 72,000 comments, Mr Rusbridger says.

And not one columnist deadline missed…

: : Update: Hazel Blears, chair of the Labour Party and Minister without portfolio, has a letter (remember those) published in the Times today in which she adroitly notes: "we need to harness technology such as podcasting, texting and blogging...."

(Via Drew B)

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