The power of blogs, or the weakness of journalism?

by Stephen Tall on October 11, 2007

When does a story become worth reporting? I ask the question in the light of today’s Indy story, ‘Delayed election revives criticism of Lib Dem leader’, which quotes extensively from Jo Hayes’ blog posting, ‘Time to take stock’.

Here’s Jo’s conclusion:

“To go on indefinitely working for our success I need to be sustained by the belief that we have a leader who is a potential Prime Minister. Is it not time that our MPs moved to propose someone new?”

To be clear: I have no problems with what Jo has written, or her decision publicly to speak her mind. We are a party where free discussion and dissent is fundamental to who we are.

No, my problem isn’t with Jo, it’s with Colin Brown, the author of the Indy piece.

If Jo’s had been one of a series of blog postings having a go at Ming, then fair enough. But it wasn’t. This is one activist. Since when does one blog posting become the basis for an entire article in a supposedly serious newspaper? Is this now the criterion by which the Indy judges whether a story is worth being written?

In which case will Colin Brown be equally happy to pen something the moment a Labour or Tory activist goes off-message about the leadership? (The answer to that last question is: only if it fits with the media’s agenda de jour.)

Jo’s argument is backed up in Colin Brown’s piece by a “senior Liberal Democrat source”, who may or may not exist, and may or may not be senior. It could be Vince Cable or it could be the journalist’s own imagination: how can we judge? Depends, I guess, how far you trust journalists.

To finish, a great quote from Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip:

“You can blame the blogs, but I blame The New York Times. They quote the blogs like they’ve found a source. CNN quotes the blogs. ‘Beverly, Editor-in-Chief of the BeverlyBlog, says the Fed should cut interest rates to counter the drop in consumer spending over the past fiscal-‘ who the hell is Beverly? I don’t believe in free speech, I think it should require a license. What happened to credentials. What happened to being impeccably credentialed, and when did elite stop being a good word?”

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Critics of Ming would be most honourable to declare whether they voted for him. As with any leadership election, a large minority voted for someone else. For them to moan about the leader is not much of a surprise.

by Graeme on October 11, 2007 at 9:33 am. Reply #

Putting my jounalist’s hat on (rather than my politician’s), the reality is that blogs ARE considered a valid source of news and comments these days. Whereas in the past, a reporter might have cornered Donnachadh McCarthy or some other reliable dissident for a quote, these days, they surf the blogs. There is frankly no sense grumbling about that; one has to live with it. But of course, this means that we bloggers should always be reminding ourselves that ANYTHING we write might get picked up and used.

by JonathanFryer on October 11, 2007 at 9:45 am. Reply #

And of course, they don’t quote the ones which say positive things about Ming. By blogging about this Indy story perhaps we are adding credibilty to it.

The most positive thing about this story is that I am now extremely curious to find out who Jo Hayes is. I hadn’t heard of her before today. Good Lord! She is on the Federal Executive. Well I never did.

by Paul Walter on October 11, 2007 at 9:57 am. Reply #

I don’t mean to criticise, but I think the reality is very simple. With Labour in such freefall, you would expect the Lib Dem to be making progress – not slipping further back. David Cameron has epitomised the energy and drive sweeping through the Conservative Party, but anyone who thinks the Lib Dems can match this is living in a dreamworld.

A new, bright, energetic and focussed leader for the Lib Dems could spell real problems for Labour and the Conservatives, so my question is why delay?

by Letters From A Tory on October 11, 2007 at 10:06 am. Reply #

Letters from a Tory. Excuse me while I use the nearest available paperbag.

by Paul Walter on October 11, 2007 at 10:57 am. Reply #

Johnathon is right. Journalists increasingly use blogs as sources, and why not quite frankly. I have been phoned by a national paper as the result of something on mine – and I know from the tracking that it has also been looked at by the BBC. The issue is simply this – think before you post. If you are not happy to have what you write broadcast to a wider audience, then don’t put it in a blog.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to work out what the media will be looking for on different topics and so the use of Jo’s stuff was highly predictable.

by Paula Keaveney on October 11, 2007 at 11:52 am. Reply #

NCTJ pre-entry newspaper journalism course: ‘Never use unattributed quotes. It’s lazy, sloppy journalism unless you absolutely have to.’

But they were teaching us about local newspaper reporting. Maybe it becomes the glowing pinnacle of journalistic practice when employed by a national rag.

by Peter McGrath on October 11, 2007 at 3:23 pm. Reply #

Another excellent post Stephen. I think the real problem is celebrity culture and the 24 hour media. The ammount of available media to fill has grown massively and the “Big Brother” effect of instant voting and trviality has entrenched personality politics.

I’ve thought for a while that the next “Leadership Crisis ” will be triggered by the blogs. If hypothetically 10 to 15 senior bloggers came aganist ming (or any leader) now the blue touch paper would be lit. Frightening if you think about the fact that any old party member can use blogger and pontificate at will. So the answer to the question in your title is “Both?”

by David Morton on October 11, 2007 at 3:29 pm. Reply #

The media also generate stories from letters to newspapers from individual activists and noises off in response to inquiries on the phone. So this is not really new behaviour Stephen, simply a new source of commentary.

by Andy Mayer on October 11, 2007 at 3:47 pm. Reply #

The time has come to take action. The problem lies at our Leader’s door. He will need to stand down with dignity or be unceremoniously evicted.

by Warrior on October 11, 2007 at 3:48 pm. Reply #

No 10: Neither is likely to happen, and they certainly won’t just because you command it. Nor will Chris Rennard depart at your behest. He will take us through many more election triumphs yet.

by Angus Huck on October 11, 2007 at 3:56 pm. Reply #

10 Warrior. No-one is going to take action and Ming won’t stand down. Forget it.

by Paul Walter on October 11, 2007 at 4:02 pm. Reply #

In a belated response to Graeme – some of us were a tad late to the Lib Dem party and therefore didn’t get a chance to vote. Pissed off we are about it, too.

by leowatkins on October 11, 2007 at 7:10 pm. Reply #

Bloggers will blog; meanwhile, ordinary members just don’t renew their membership. Deliverers say they can’t deliver any more. And the Tories start to display their usual arrogance, reminding the electorate of why they dumped them in the first place.
We must not play the media game. If one thing is dropping more rapidly than the turnout at elections, it’s the circulation of national newspapers!

by Martin Land on October 11, 2007 at 9:05 pm. Reply #

I write to say to Jo Hayes how much I agree with the sentiments expressed in her blog; I think it quite brave of her because I have noticed that the Voice site has attack dogs, tho’ some are only pups, who vociferously pounce on anyone who criticises the party establishment. Of course Ed Davey would not be doing his job if he did not plant a few bloggers to rubbish or abuse anyone who steps out of line.
How can they possibly know it is a “tiny minority” of dissatisfied activists?
Who has taken a poll?

I have for many years been a devotedly loyal activist, councillor, Cowley Street volunteer, conference steward, and by-election worker, with thousands of leaflet miles to my credit. Yet since Charles went somehow the spark has gone.
This desite the fact that we now have a stronger and more credible set of party policies than we ever had before; and we are in a genuine three party situation since first Paddy and then Charles brought us up to 62 MPs.

I think it is our Ian Duncan Smith period; the Indy is quite right about the delayed GE giving an opportunity for us to get our leadership comfortably resolved; we could use the John Major method. And since we are bound by the rules to re-elect our leader after a GE it wouldn’t seem to matter whether we do it in 2008 rather than post election in 2009.

by Elizabeth Patterson on October 11, 2007 at 9:06 pm. Reply #

Does 24 years as a councillor, and 28 as a member make me a “senior” Lib Dem? Maybe not.

But if anybody asks –

No I don’t think Ming’s done well

No, it’s not his age

No, I didn’t vote for him (I NEVER vote for the winner – I was a Beith/ Rendell/ Huhne voter!)

Yes, I think he should make a dignified departure

Yes, we have several very credible potential leaders

Now I must go to write a press release re our incompetent Tory council leaders . . . .

by crewegwyn on October 11, 2007 at 10:24 pm. Reply #

I’m sorry, but the Party voted for Ming to be Leader, it should stick with him until after the general election. Nothing has happened that wasn’t entirely predictable.

by nigelashton on October 12, 2007 at 12:57 am. Reply #

So is it this thread which the Telegraph is referring to when it says today:

“The unease has spread to the party’s grassroots who have swamped Liberal Voice, the most popular supporters’ website, with messages demanding the resignation of Sir Menzies.” ?


I applaud their searching skills as I am darned if I can find anyone on this site saying we are facing “serious meltdown” or “we are failing on all counts” or “he cannot lead the party”. Are they using a site which is actually called “Liberal Voice”, as they call it, in a paralell universe?

by Paul Walter on October 12, 2007 at 9:52 am. Reply #


Selective blindness and deafness is a symptom of the pro Ming lobby. You know where they found the comments,
as you posted there yourself. I have said my piece there and would just say almost ditto (member since 73, councillor for 3) to crewegwyn@16 above.

by John D on October 12, 2007 at 10:21 am. Reply #

I didn’t actually know but thank you very much for pointing out where they got them from, I couldn’t find them on a search. You don’t have to get nasty (“selective blindness and deafness”). Some of us are actualyl human you know.

by Paul Walter on October 12, 2007 at 10:24 am. Reply #


The people who are raising a genuine concern about the leadership have been called “an utter fool” and “deluded to the point of mental incapacity”, by various people on this site who are not behaving in a very liberal way. I do feel that many of the posts coming back from the pro Ming lobby are not addressing the issues of how we get up from 11% and away from the “your leader is not very good” comments from friend and foe alike. Answering with, “Ming won the election and isn’t going anywhere”, is not good enough.
Personally I have tried to move this conversation on to the members forum a few times precisely to avoid stuff like today’s Telegraph story, but I was shouted down on that too.

by John D on October 12, 2007 at 10:44 am. Reply #

I haven’t called anyone anything and I welcome comments. How do we get up from 11%? I really don’t think changing leader would do any good whatsover. I have heard one comment against Ming on the doorstep in 18 months.

by Paul Walter on October 12, 2007 at 10:54 am. Reply #

I don’t think it is illiberal to point out someone’s mental incapacity – it’s just helpful advice. It isn’t Stephen’s fault that so few people have taken it.

The bottom line is that if those with their knives out want another act of regicide, they are going a particularly ham-fisted and self-destructive way about it. They have an oddly Pavlovian response – whenever Iain Dale and other Conservatives click their fingers with a view to undermine the party, they jump to it.

My advice to those who want to get rid of Ming is this: shut up and start plotting. Conspire. Set up a secret email group. Develop networks with like minded individuals – particularly MPs. Only when you have reached a critical mass should you make your play. Otherwise all you’re doing is trashing your own brand.

Meanwhile, by all means keep openly talking about the future of the party – just debate it in terms that go beyond personality politics.

No doubt I will be branded as illiberal for issuing this helpful advice and those headbangers out there will simply continue marching to the Tories’ tune. But at least, in the later years when the party has completely dissolved into a mess of squabbling, you can’t say you haven’t been warned.

by James Graham on October 12, 2007 at 11:03 am. Reply #

Graeme. I supported Ming in the election and I want hom, to go. I think that is clear enough for anyone to recognise.

by Nich Starling- Norfolk Blogger on October 12, 2007 at 8:30 pm. Reply #

That isn’t clear at all. What has a Chinese celebrity chef got to do with the Lib Dem leadership?

by James Graham on October 12, 2007 at 8:41 pm. Reply #

I regularly have discussions with my 11yo son about how cruel children can be and how wrong it is to pick on people because of their disabilities. I believe this is a fundamental liberal value. It is totally inappropriate and literally childish to use this type of language in a grown up debate about the future of our party. I respect the people who think I am wrong in calling for a debate on the leadership, I don’t think they are mentally deficient. As a member of the party for almost exactly 34 years I believe my views are as valid as the next persons. It is all very well to be a clever dick and pick up on typos or insult your colleagues but this just shows the weakness of your arguments.
I talked to my wife about this tonight. She is not a member but always votes for us and does loads of work (delivery, Ears etc) and she said “Its a shame Ming has become such a figure of fun.” Nuff said.

by John D on October 12, 2007 at 10:50 pm. Reply #

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