There seems to be confusion abroad about what exactly this website is. A little local newspaper on the internet? The ramblings of a couple of blokes with nothing better to do? Or something even weirder than that… A conspiracy designed to throw a spanner into the works of the democratic process in Kent (wherever that happens to be lurking)?
No. It’s time to come clean. The horrible, shocking truth is this: save-wye is a blog. Yes, one of those curious things you hear geeky young people discussing sotto voce, without ever quite understanding what they were going on about. But this is important so please bear with me.
A blog is a place on the internet where people can express opinions and circulate them very quickly without the conventional, controlling editorial process that is found in, say, newspapers. Technology makes blogs this way, that and the plain fact that like most bloggers we are doing it all for free, because we happen to think it’s important.
Like all blogs we sometimes get it in the neck for lacking, in the words of one recent correspondent, ‘balance’ and ‘accuracy’. Let me deal with the second point first. Journalists are very used to the accusation that they are ‘inaccurate’. Sometimes it’s true. We are, after all, human. But usually that charge stems from a horrible linguistic mishap surrounding the word ‘wrong’. In English, it can have two distinct meanings. For example…
England beat Paraguay 13-0. No they didn’t (I expect anyway; the match is going on as I write). This is inaccurate. It’s ‘wrong’.
Paraguay were the better team by far and deserved to win. This is an expression of opinion. You might not agree with it and think it is ‘wrong’. But that does not make it ‘inaccurate’.
As someone who spent a decade as a national newspaper columnist I can tell you this is a distinction very few people understand these days. So when we are accused of failing on accuracy, what critics usually mean is, ‘I disagree with something you said’. And occasionally, ‘I wish you’d never said that.’ Well, like it or not, the way of the internet is for discussions to be frank and forthright. It’s something inherent in the medium, so the chances are you will come across an opinion you disagree with from time to time. That’s how it is, and how it will be from now on. Actually, I think it’s a good thing. How do ever learn anything if you only listen to people you agree with? And if you think we get a touch outspoken from time to time you should look at how some of the political bloggers cover their turf, even towards the parties they actually support.
Real mistakes — England beat Paraguay 13-0 — do matter though. For the record we have one outstanding complaint of inaccuracy, and the person who made that has not so far followed up on a point of clarification; if that happens, and it proves the story was inaccurate, I will happily correct it. But no-one — not bloggers or newspapers — hands out corrections without some firm evidence they are justified. For what it’s worth, I have never been involved in any kind of media which has generated such a low level of complaint about accuracy — just one over six months, and that apparently now abandoned.
Then there’s balance. This is a tricky subject even in newspapers where one tries to maintain some kind of equilibrium between differing points of view within news stories, while allowing opinion to be more one-sided in signed columns. A blog is essentially a collection of newspaper columns. Most newspaper achieve balance, if they feel the need for it, by using a variety of columnists representing a spectrum of opinions. As we have said a million times here, we are happy to do the same. But the truth is most people don’t want to write articles, and none that we have met has ever offered us one offering a pro-Wye Park view.
Does that mean the site is unbalanced? Possibly. But you could also say it means that our core audience, which is the community around Wye, is pretty much of a single mind about the idea of turning over protected countryside to the developers. It’s a blog. We can offer the opportunity for a balance of opinions, but if others don’t take that up it doesn’t diminish the value of what does appear.
That said, I became a local newspaper journalist when I was seventeen, and Justin wasn’t much far behind that. There is a sense of standard practice imbued in us after all these years that means we do try to get the other side of the story whenever possible. We are fortunate in having access to people who don’t want their names on the site but are willing to help with research and expert opinion across an impressively wide range of subjects. I wish I could tell you who they are but they don’t want that and it’s their choice.
We also try to get quotes and comment from ‘the other side’. This is rarely easy; some people don’t recognise us as legitimate media. Local councillors may, as we have already read, feel they are constrained from making a comment by the daft rules on impartiality now being enforced. Often we are faced with the choice of deciding: do we run the story without the other side’s input, or do we abandon it altogether? In conventional media, the latter course is one followed more often than you’d think, which is why canny PRs will often try to kill a story by simply saying nothing. In the world of the blogs we run it anyway. If we stuck rigidly to the balance idea, your choice of stories to read here would be very limited indeed.
The point, though, is that we don’t make this stuff up, or rush into anything lightly. Some stories are the results of weeks of quiet inquiry. Sometimes all that effort comes to nothing. Because of the nature of the internet and the blog, what we write is personal, up front and hopefully direct. You may not agree with it all; if you don’t you have an avenue to respond, either as a comment or by writing something yourself. That is how the system works.
We want everything here to be as accurate as we can make it. We strive to cover all the angles. We will not meet the standards we’d like as often as we’d like. But we will do our best, for as long as we think there is something to write about, and an audience out there that wants to read it.