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Newspapers and the ethics of linking

Ethics seminars for student journalists are often confronted with the questions of whether or not to link to the source of information the paper and its website is not prepared to publish. The case many of us have used relates to a story about a neo-Nazi hate site.

Opinion among the students is usually divided, with some saying the readers should be trusted to see the source material and make up their own minds. Others feel we have a duty not to encourage such sites by offering increased exposure.

Today, The Observer provides pretty clear pointers to a web site that names our besieged deputy prime minister John Prescott’s putative lover. It is not the first. During the past week both the Guardian and The Independent have also pointed the way. Readers of The Herald, published in Glasgow, would not have found much difficulty in finding it either.

The piece in The Observer takes up almost three-quarters of a Berliner-sized page and is headed: “Net provocateurs invade Westminster.” If is a good and interesting piece which examines the impact of blogging on British politics and way the Conservatives are making increasing use of it. The peg, of course, is Prescott’s trouble over plans for a super-casino in the Big Tent (aka The Dome) on a Thames peninsula.

The second paragraph of the Observer story reads:

[Paul] Staines – aka ‘Guido Fawkes‘ – is the most in-your-face of Britain’s new tribe of political bloggers. Alongside Iain Dale, a former Tory parliamentary candidate who helped to run David Davis’s bid for the party leadership, he has led the way over the past week in churning out a battery of allegations about Prescott’s political and private life.

If that is not a clear enough pointer to what The Observer is not printing, there is a panel with a guide to “six of the best”. It starts with the explosive Guido Fawkes and ends up with David Miliband’s anodyne blog which reads as if it is written by press officers at his Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs.

Having also provided the pointers, I am also faced with an ethical dilemma: should I publish the name of the supposed lover. I have decided that I am writing about a journalistic issue and the actual name of the woman adds nothing to my argument.

Printing every bit of tittle-tattle that passes in the bars of Westminster would provide entertaining reading but I doubt if it would further the interests of political debate which is at a pretty low level already.

Blogging is undoubtedly bringing more people into the political debate in a very healthy way but it is also changing the rules of the game. The significant thing to watch will be the extent to which the party headquarters give tacit or active support to dirty tricks in the blogosphere. Or are they already happening as Labour seems to be suggesting?

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  1. Guido Fawkes says

    What a load of self-important hand-wringing.