West Wing lessons on how to go out with a blog

As I may have pointed out before, everything necessary to know in life can be learnt by watching The West Wing. This week’s lesson comes from the third series episode The US Poet Laureate, where Josh Lyman, the White House deputy chief of staff, discovers he’s being discussed in cyberspace.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  June 25, 2006

|~||~||~|As I may have pointed out before, everything necessary to know in life can be learnt by watching The West Wing. This week’s lesson comes from the third series episode The US Poet Laureate, where Josh Lyman, the White House deputy chief of staff, discovers he’s being discussed in cyberspace. He somewhat foolishly starts posting replies on the website in question as he attempts to justify the government’s policy. It ends up far more embarrassing than if he’d never responded at all, and draws far more attention than if he’d left it alone. Which is just one of the many issues one needs to grapple with in a world where blogs are becoming a serious, if hugely fragmented, medium. As our columnist Alex McNabb has previously discussed, any organisation that cares about its image needs to be aware of what’s being said about it. For instance, if a senior executive from Etisalat were to spend a day surfing the UAE blogs, I suspect they’d go home weeping and probably not return to the office. Perhaps ignorance is bliss after all. So I felt particularly gleeful when I was able to break the news to McNabb that his own column was being blogged about. But the more difficult question is whether to make a posting in response. When you feel that somebody’s got you wrong, the temptation is to instantly post a comment. The impulse has certainly been there for me to respond from time to time. There was one media blogger, now departed from the blogosphere (and they do seem to come and go very quickly) who appeared to base virtually all their postings on stories that appeared in that week’s Campaign — and then claimed that they never read it. Or another anonymous sore loser who made some outlandish — and untrue — claims about the Campaign Awards judges. In each case, I’ve started to post a response, then decided to sleep on it — and eventually been glad I left it. The issue is this — with a few exceptions, blogs are little read. As I say, it’s a fragmented medium. There are a lot of blogs out there, but with a few exceptions, each one tends to have just a handful of readers. So the danger of responding is that you make the blog more interesting — and more people link to it, drawing more attention to the original offending piece anyway. It’s an issue that a Dubai-based PR company has been grappling with over the last few days, since Campaign launched its own blog. So far, we’ve been running a test version, with no publicity. But it goes fully live today. You can view the whole thing at www.campaignme.com/blog. Anyway, one of the postings I made last week was about an amusingly farcical PR trip to Abu Dhabi. Despite the low profile while we were testing the blog, word got out and we’ve been getting a steady stream of comments on postings. I had an apologetic phone call from the agency behind the trip, so I know they saw the posting. Very wisely — as I didn’t name them — they’ve so far resisted the temptation to respond online. Another issue we’ll need to grapple with I’m sure is where we set the bar in moderating comments. Blogging invites a different sort of reader interaction. Particularly because we are among the first magazines in the region to go for it. So while we’ll be barring libellous or culturally inadmissible stuff, we intend, nervously, to allow most other types of comment, including criticism of Campaign. We may come to regret it, but I suspect not — perhaps naively, I think we’re going to have some good debates. Please do join in. And while Campaign starts on its new blogging venture, I’m stepping down to spend more time watching The West Wing. From next week, there’ll be a new editor. He’s called Tim. The best editors usually are. Toodlepip.||**||

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