25 November 2007

There, but for the Grace of Blogs, go I

Wendy Alexander isn't having much luck with her spin doctors: her soon-to-be employee, Gavin Yates, ran a blog which was openly critical of her and Labour post-May, and quite supportive of the SNP Government.

Funnily enough, now that he's been taken on by her, the blog seems to have disappeared completely. But it's been uncovered by the Sunday Herald.

GY's reaction to the questions now facing him are interesting. Not good interesting, more 'may you live in interesting times' interesting.

"My comments have been taken out of context. I wrote them as a journalist in July and they do not reflect my own views."

Eh? Firstly, given the excerpts quoted in the article, it's clear that these were opinion columns rather than actual reporting. Opinion columns give the writer a good deal more latitude to put his or her own views in. If they don't, if they reflect the views of the people who have paid for the column, then frankly, there is absolutely no value in the piece being written, and Yates has effectively shown himself to be a drone, programmable by whoever gets their chequebook out. If he returns to opinion writing, can we ever take him seriously ever again? And indeed, this programmability may be useful for a PR man, representing the view of his clients - now Wendy Alexander, of course. But the problem is that he will now be advocating how wonderful she and Labour are, just a few months after detailing how rubbish she and Labour were. And this will come back to haunt him whenever he speaks: "Even Wendy's spin doctor thinks she's too abrasive," the other parties will cry. "Even Wendy's spin doctor thinks Labour ministers were impotent in office! Labour's PR man thinks the SNP are doing well! The man behind Labour's message thinks they can't land a blow on the SNP!" See? I can write the lines myself.

But aside from the credibility problem, there's a wider point about bloggery: bloggers have a good deal more freedom to write what they want online. They are not (normally) being paid to write an article, especially not a post with such-and-such a line. They are, therefore, entirely free to express their own opinions. Therefore, Yates has either missed the primary point of this new medium, or he's making an awful attempt to weasel out of this tight spot, and is now lying. In short, either Labour's spin doctor no longer gets the media, or he can't spin his way out of his own PR problem. Neither of those things should inspire confidence in him.

And the first rule of PR is that when you become the story, it's time to go. Brian Lironi, and his relations with Wendy Alexander, became the story, and went. Matthew Marr was about to become the story, and went. Gavin Yates has become the story even before getting to his desk! He might want to think about rescinding his acceptance of the job, or Labour might want to think about rescinding their offer.

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