Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Go Gogarty. Young Max's blog takes a hike. By popular demand.

Many of the 15 million rather discerning readers of each month are prone to airing their views via the comment page. Whew. There was a collective nose-holding at a faux-amateurish and possibly nepotistic blog written by the spawn of a professional travel writer and PR buff who often files for the esteemed Guardian. The response to the Valentine's Day initial post by this North London wanna-be traveller shocked the editors with its vitriol. And presumably this, more than the prospect of seeing scary India on his own before hitting the beaches of Goa,set Max "kinda shitting himself". Oh dear. Many of the more poisonous barbs were deleted,and his dear Dad weighed in for the family honour, but it's instructive to see the backlash against this privileged young chap.
It's not that bloggers aren't journos. But they are expected to have something worthwhile and preferably original to say. After all, the presigious George Polk prize was just awarded to Josh Marshall, a blogger, for his Talking Points Memo!
Many regulars accused the Guardian of indulging in a thinly-veiled attempt to get more free copy when the editor invited more backpackers to send in their own blogs.
After thousands of comments, Max's blog took a hike. According to the Guardian:
The message was transmitted swiftly, sometimes eloquently, sometimes wittily. His travel diary was extinguished. As an expression of mob will, it was very efficient. But that does not mean it was fair.

The skilled journalist Hilary Macaskill trawled through the comments and assembled some that touched on old media vs new media misperceptions.

Here is a post from 'traveleditor' on the day the blog came out:

Some of you have mentioned that you'd like to be given the chance to
write about your travels. We're always looking for good writers, so
feel free to drop us a line at

The next day the final paragraph of his response read:

One thing that came out of yesterday's posts was that you want to
hear a lot more from real people rather than journalists, so I'm
going to be putting up a lot more readers' recommendations and
writing. I hope you like it. I'm sure you'll let me know.

Here are some of the things people said in response to that:

February 15 11:44
Surely the one thing to come out of yesterday's posts is that
'citizen journalism' and 'user-generated content' is generally
bollocks, and people much prefer things done by professionals, rather
than well-connected amateurs?
So the opposite of what you're saying.

February 15 12:28
And no, sod "real people". I want to read people who can write and
have something to say.

February 15 13:16
I'm a little confused by the definition of "real people" as compared
to "journalists". Surely if Max was paid for the piece then surely
that makes him a "journalist" as well, albeit one that is just
starting out on his career.
Indeed, even if Max's piece was bad - which is was - I hope that he
was paid. As a travel writer and editor myself, I know how hard it is
to get a foothold in the "industry" with or without connections, and
to make a living from it. If national newspapers start making use of
"real people's" writing without paying for it, then it will become
even harder for those of us struggling to pay the rent from our
I also think that most of the complaints not so much aimed at Max
himself, but the Guardian's travel editors who chose to commission
such a poorly written piece. It seems to me that with the ever
increasing "blog" nature of the Guardian website as a whole quality
is becoming secondary to quantity. For most of us I think it is fair
to say that we would rather a travel section - indeed the Guardian
website in general - that features fewer articles, well written and
paid for at a fair rate that reflects the talent of the writers and
that has something genuinely interesting to say, as opposed to the
"will this do?" nature of many of the pieces that can be found within
the blog sections.

February 15 12:47
It's just saturating the industry with mediocrity when we should be
encouraging the best.

February 15 12:51
RE: people wanting to read articles by "real people" rather than
This comment confused me, on several points.
1) Is Max, then, a "journalist"? He's a "real person" surely (if you
insist on these two categories for people). I think it's pretty clear
wherever Max falls - that is not what people want to read. I
personally am all for reading about the experiences and
recommendations and laughs and disasters and drunken, debauched
adventures of Joe Average (or Joe Trustfund, even) but only on merit.
Only if they can actually write an interesting, informative and
captivating article. I'd sooner read fifty well-written and
appropriate articles by the same journalist than one badly-written,
grossly-inappropriate article by a civilian (arf arf) such as the one
we were gifted with yesterday.
2) That is, of course, unless the logic behind welcoming more 'real
people' pieces is so you can whitewash over this gargantuan fuck up
by publishing yet more articles of this calibre. Quality is relative,
of course. If so, I beseech you once more to stick to journalists who
have credibility and talent. Forget about "keepin' it real" which
seems to be The Guardian's mission statement of late. I think your
readers would be more appreciative of "keepin' it high quality and

February 15 13:10
"One thing that came out of yesterday's posts was that you want to
hear a lot more from real people rather than journalists"
No, I want to read more good journalism, not middle class kids on
work experience writing about their holidays,

February 15 13:50
Could the Guardian please pay a little more attention to quality and
a little less to filling up the interweb?

February 15 14:05
Hell no, the last thing we need is more "real" people writing
articles. Reality television has been the worst thing to hit
entertainment since TV was invented. Let's not lead journalism down
the same path.
I want balanced, insightful, fully researched & well written
commentary by experienced, professional journalists. I don't want to
hear opinions from a teenage trustafarian or a middle-aged housewife
from Hull and if I did, there are millions of blogs that I could
trawl for such a waste of bandwidth.

February 15 14:20
On to more serious matters. Look, Mr Grauniad editor. You run a
newspaper. Newspapers should be written by journalists, who are by
the way, "real people."
The difference is that journos' job is to write, and to find
something to write about.
Do you think Shakespeare's plays would have benefited from any Tom,
Dick or Hamlet chipping in from amidst the groundlings with a scene
or two? Would Catch 22 be any better if it was penned by my postie in
his lunch hour?...
Really. What *are* standards coming to? Any pretence that this
"citizen journalism" scam is anything more than attempts to undermine
writers' pay and job security for cost-cutting reasons is DEEPLY
God save us from newspapers trying to be all things to all people. If
we want to read boring tripe by unexceptional people, we have the
internet now. Not to mention the comments section of the Guardian.

February 15 14:21
Going on funded gap year, getting trashed and having a lot of fun -
Writing about it online so friends and family can read about it -
One of the most reputable newspapers of this century posting it on
their website - Completely Unacceptable.

February 15 15:21
The real question is - would the Guardian dare publish this in
newspaper format? It's rhetorical. I don't think the website should
become a resting place for sub-standard writing and writers. Nor do I
think it should serve as a training ground for (as far as I can tell)
fairly talentless writers to hone their "skills".
Not good enough, basically... that applies to both the standard of
journalism (I use the word loosely) and editorial standard.
I suppose I'm in the target age range for this type of article (20).
The logic behind my Guardian readership is that I will be well-
informed, inspired and engaged by what is written. It's precisely why
I advoid weblogs dripping with teenage cliches. I'm very
disappointed, to say the least.

February 15 15:21
"One thing that came out of yesterday's posts was that you want to
hear a lot more from real people rather than journalists, .."
Can you quote please? I don't remember anyone saying that. The
implication here is that Max is a journalist and we would rather hear
from someone who is out-there, living-life. Quite the opposite. We
would rather hear from someone who writes for a living, because there
is a greater chance that it won't damage our eyes just to read it.
Lastly, can I just point out that there is no conspiracy here to
decide to gang up on a random "writer" for no reason. The comments
Max's article (and this one) have received have been posted by
genuinely angry, disgusted readers who didn't expect to be assaulted
by such rubbish on The Guardian's website. You appear to be sitting
in the corner with your fingers in your ears proclaiming that you're
right and we're wrong. Maybe you should consider the possibility that
the massive volume of independent, unconnected, impartial opinions on
this article actually have a point.

February 15 16:05
Dear Andy
Here is a response to your intensely patronising final statement, as
taken from some chap on one of the sure-to-be-many Max-loathing
Facebook groups:
''The response from the travel editor is interesting. Rather than
reflecting on why people found Max's column so horrible, he seems to
think that the criticism is due to people wanting to read stories by
"real people", not "journalists". So, that means he's going to try
and take the paper even further down the road of user-generated
content, citizen journalism, and other utterly fucking meaningless
buzzwords that only serve to produce terrible, terrible journalism.
The exact system that produced Max.''
Read. Take notes. Learn.

February 15 16:43
What a can of worms and poor journalistic judgement this has been.
Having read the original blog and comments my main question is:
Travel editor: Do you think the content of the website should be far
below that of the newspaper?
Surely that can be the only reason you'd let Max's blog slip through
the editorial net.

February 15 18:06
"One thing that came out of yesterday's posts was that you want to
hear a lot more from real people rather than journalists, so I'm
going to be putting up a lot more readers' recommendations and writing."
It seems to me that, if anything, what people have been objecting to
is the arbitrary choice of one "real person" over any of the other
several hundred thousand candidates. Surely the nature of the
complaint makes clear that competent journalists have one great
advantage over "real people", viz, they write reliably interesting
and entertaining copy which will not provoke the derision of the
entire internet community. What this site should be providing is
quality writing, not the gormless witterings of its readers.

February 15 18:08
What's simultaneously so marvellous and so awful about this story is
what a paradigm it is for so much. For how the interweb can explode a
little story so quickly. For how much hatred there towards a
perceived middle class London coterie who run the media. For how un-
selfaware that coterie is about their own status. For how much
funnier cruel stuff is than all that serious nonsense. For how easy
it is to be vitriolic when blogging. And so on and so on....
The real issue here, as others have pointed out, is with the travel
eds. I don't think it honestly occurs to you - and when I say 'you',
I mean London based journos on the nationals - just how often, how
incessantly and how forcefully we are fed the stories of the lives of
a small subsection of London society, how we can't open a paper or
magazine without hearing their bleating, self-important voices
complaining about their nannies, discussing whether it's OK to wear a
mini skirt round the Portobello Road if you're over 40, and yes, just
what their kids did on their gap years. It's so dispiriting and
depressing to find that there is LESS of a cross section of a society
represented in the acres of newsprint that there were 30 years ago.
Like university education, the clock is turning back from the brave
years of working class kids taking a step up. Unis are more middle
class than ever and so are newspapers....
Sure, it's not his fault he's a painful archetype, but by god,
Guardian, didn't any of you recognise this as an article that was
going to get SLAUGHTERED by us mere provincial mortals? No, you
didn't, because you too, stuffed to the gills with your Marinas and
Cartner-Morleys, you just took it as read that he'd be accepted as
the voice of youth. That's how out of touch you are.
Yes, this whole thing has gone OTT, but don't blame your readership
for biting back for being so consistently and systematically excluded
from your version of who the world consists of - and giving an
article like that space instead. You got found out. Good.

February 15 18:08
This is yet another failure of this type of internet-based newspaper.
It's either got to be ultra high quality, or it's 'let a thousand
flowers bloom'. There's no middle ground. The failure of the latter
approach is there for all to see, and while there are a good few
thousand of us sat here at work passing the time, it's going to leapt
on, hard.

No comments: