Arthur Goldstuck
Arthur Goldstuck

Blogger of the Week: SA’s first media blog casualty

Later today, history will be made when, for the first time, a South African journalist will be punished for blogging. A hearing is due to be held at Avusa (formerly Johnnic Communications) at 3pm today (Thursday) to decide the fate of a Sowetan sub-editor, who has been found guilty of ”gross misconduct” for what he has written in his blog.

The offending blog posting appeared on Thought Leader two weeks ago, resulting in the immediate suspension of one Llewellyn Kriel. He is an old-style journalist from the school of hard knocks, hard living and a hard-assed attitude to the establishment. At the time of writing, he is employed as a sub-editor.

His description of what happened after he blogged about the atmosphere at Johncom is almost Kafka-esque. It suggests a huge gulf between media reality and management’s perception of media reality.

Most revealing of all is the comment from management, as alleged by Kriel, that “sub-editors are not journalists”. If this really is the attitude of management, then there is little chance they will understand the concept, role and potential of the blog.

Little wonder that Kriel has already been found guilty of bringing the Sowetan into disrepute and of disclosing confidential corporate information.

What managements appears to have missed is the old media principle of protecting freedom of speech, and the very new new-media principle that suggests the best journalists will have the ability to control the distribution of their writing.

In those contexts, it is difficult to imagine anything that could contribute more to bringing a newspaper into disrepute than punishing one of its journalists for a blog that discusses matters that are already in the public domain.

In the interests of protecting a worthy institution like the Sowetan, and to ensure that its management does not damage its own reputation too much in the pursuit of its managerial duties, and in order to protect other media bosses from making the same mistakes, here are a few tips for publishers dealing with the world of bloggers for the first time:

1.Great journalists need an outlet. Not everything they write or want to write fits into your publication, either for reasons of space or subject matter. Of course, you may wish to own their souls, but that is somewhat 18th century.

2.Blogs are your friends. Or they want to be. By providing a blogging platform on your website, you extend your brand into a directly related medium, and you achieve a number of powerful goals (or, at least, they should be goals), namely:

  • You create an additional avenue of interest for your readers, thus increasing traffic to your web site and reader engagement with the site.
  • You create a platform for interaction between journalists and readers, and by extension between the publication and its audience. This, in turn, again increases reader engagement.
  • You give your journalists a focus for their natural aspirations for self-expression.
  • You build your journalists’ personal brands. Believe it or not, this is good for your publication, even if you believe it is only good for the journalist. It adds to the credibility of the publication, and gives it a more human face. In the case of sub-editors, who are often the best and most seasoned journalists on your staff (and yes, they are journalists, and always have been), it gives them the opportunity to emerge from behind the anonymity of the headlines they write and the copy they polish.
  • 3. Blogs are connected. One of the core principles of blogging is to link to what is being said elsewhere and to reference other blogs. This means that both the good and the evil that men do (with apologies to Wullium S) is not oft interred with their blogs, but lives on in a world of links, tags and content aggregators. This is bad news for any publisher who treats blogs with disdain. For example, if today’s 3pm decision sounds anything like a dismissal, it will be heard around the world.

    4. Blogs are not a fad. Before blogs there were personal web pages, and before web pages there were personal journals. The difference, in blogging, is that readers of the blog can interact directly with it, enabling a writer to engage directly with his or her audience in a structured and controllable manner. In other words, the blog represents evolution of expression, not invention or even reinvention thereof. So, in answer to the next question, no, blogs are not going away very soon.

    5. Freedom of speech is as important in blogs as it is in newspapers. The main difference between the two is that the latter can be censored and the former can’t. Suppression of newspapers or journalists, in the 21st century, leads to greater attention being paid to their messages being moved to blogs. And attempts to censor blogs will be as damaging as attempts to censor printed publications. When the censor is, in fact, a printed publication, it is not hard to see whose reputation would suffer the most damage.

    6. Guidelines for staff who are blogging are not only acceptable, but also recommended. However, it must incorporate an understanding of what blogs represent and can represent. Knee-jerk responses to blogging will simply damage your reputation.

    For providing the opportunity to share these principles with the publishing world, this week’s Blogger of the Week is Llewellyn Kriel. Welcome to the Amablogoblogo team, sir. We look forward in great anticipation to your blog being allowed to continue its residence in this neighbourhood.