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BBC Blogger Bill Thompson Gets In Trouble For Blogging, Blames Event Organizers

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I have received an e-mail from BBC journalist Bill Thompson after a piece I wrote titled “Don’t Blame It On The Blogging” on the Blog Media website Blogger Idol claiming he might have done more due dilligence before blogging about an event organised by the Judge Business School in the U.K. which was under the Chatham House Rule.

The rule is part of traditional English heritage and works essentially more like an Honour Code which can be invoked by the organisers of any event: at heart, it means one is not at liberty to reveal any prescient details of a particular function. Thompson initially wrote about how the organisers were lax in their inviting him to blog about the event on the BBC News website:

During the evening session about the future of the media, I made lots of notes on my laptop. I suspect that the tapping away irritated the person sitting behind me, but it is the best way I have found to make sure I pay proper attention, and I tried to type quietly.

Afterwards I went home, tidied up the resulting 2,500 words of text and posted them on my personal weblog.

I took out the comments that I thought might be too revealing, cleaned up most of the spelling, cut the boring stuff, added some relevant links and hit publish.

… Unfortunately the organisers had forgotten to tell us that our meeting was held under the Chatham House Rule.

This is a convention, named for the London headquarters of the prestigious Royal Institute of International Affairs, that means everything said is non-attributable.

My response was essentially that “a worker shouldn’t blame the tools,” and I wrote the following:

Thompson is a good writer, but he shouldn’t blame his own laziness to check the facts about an event on blogging, and neither should anyone else. It’s a poor excuse that is often used when a new medium is adopted … The fact is, blogging, like anything else, is just a medium, a platform. The age-old social norms and expectations still apply.

Thompson obviously sees it differently: “Hi there,” he starts:

I don’t think you’ve followed the point I was making, which is that the easy availability of a public medium – the Web – and tools to get stuff up there – blogging platforms – are changing the dynamics of some forms of social interaction, and that those who organise, host or attend meetings of this type need to take care. The organisers were sloppy, not me, since they had invited me as their token blogger – but I could have been acting maliciously too. Five years ago leaking the comments at such a meeting would have needed access to the press and someone willing to publish, now it just needs a blogger account. So I do think that in this case the new platform has a wider impact.

As much as I like Bill Thompson and really admire some of the great things he is doing for this medium – he is a champion advocate of New Media and has proved himsef a daring journalist to embrace radical new technologies so easily – I do not find myself being able to agree with him at all on this one.

Take the following extract from the above:

The organisers were sloppy, not me, since they had invited me as their token blogger – but I could have been acting maliciously too … So I do think that in this case the new platform has a wider impact.

While blogging undoubtedly has a wider – and potentially more perilous – impact upon the negative PR or betrayal of insiders to reveal confidential issues of organisations, I do not see how it in itself is culpable or for that matter particularly relevant to Thompson’s example. There have been honest and dishonest people around for centuries, and there will be those two types of people for centuries more to come: that more of the dishonest ones might have a larger soapbox to shout from now is of no relevance to Thompson having not checked relevant facts with the organisers of an event to see what he was and was not permitted to write about. [ADBLOCKHERE]

Above all however, I find Thompson’s claim that “the organisers were sloppy, not me, since they had invited me as their token blogger” the most implausible, for presumably he had been invited based in good part on his reputation for honesty, accuracy and thoroughness: the organisers did not invite any blogger at random to the event – they invited someone who they had carefully selected and who they thought would write a high quality, informative piece that was within the house guidelines.

There is far too much of both credit and criticism given to blogging where it is not due or apt: blogging is a means of communication, nothing more. While it may reveal or exemplify certain aspets of human behaviour due to the immensity of its reach, it is not a substitute for them.

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About Daniel M. Harrison

  • http://desicritics.org Aaman

    Illuminati Rules!

  • AS

    well you can have a go at thompson for not respecting other peoples privacy, but did you ask him if he minded you using the contents of his email in your various blogs?

  • http://danielmarkharrison.blogs.com Daniel M. Harrison

    “but did you ask him if he minded you using the contents of his email in your various blogs”

    The same script had been pasted as a public comment.