Generally I only buy a Guardian on Saturdays and last week’s was the first of the new design. It was nice enough, although it’ll take a while to get used to the new layout — it felt like lots of familiar faces had been spread throughout an overly-sprawling Sunday Times-like paper. But one thing I definitely liked was the appearance of quotes from weblogs and the Guardian’s own forums.
The weblog quotes are used to illustrate in-depth articles, like the one pictured from this week’s Hurricane Rita evacuation story. They provide a few snippets of real lives that readers can follow up online, an alternative to the single-point-of-view one-to-many journalism. I expect some people who think all weblogs are over-important rubbish dislike the prominence these snippets are given. But, then, most of everything is rubbish and we must somehow struggle on, finding the few pearls among the crap. Making readers more aware of the real people involved in, or thinking about, events is no replacement for journalism, but can only help in the grand conversation scheme of things.
The other web stuff in the newspaper can be seen in this page from last Saturday’s ‘Family’ section: quotes on a particular topic taken from discussion on the Talk forums. Nothing earth-shattering about these reader soundbites really. The most interesting bits of the paper’s sections have often been, for me, those created by contributions from readers, such as travel tips and the frequently hilariously hand-wringing Personal Effects financial advice column.
But this week Neil McIntosh has an interesting article about the fall-out from those forum quotes. Some people quoted have felt uneasy about having things they’ve said online printed in a national newspaper. It’s worth a read to bring home how people are able to be more open online if they feel like they’re within a secure and friendly environment. Even if those words are just as Googleable in the long term as something in a newspaper. What you’d say to “friends” online, even somewhere apparently public, isn’t necessarily what you’d send to a paper for publication, no matter the objective lack of privacy.
I’m sure there’ll be more of this kind of thing in the future, as people try to balance their “private” but public conversations. It’s something that webloggers, for instance, learn gradually and despite it being easy to dismiss weblogs as “online diaries”, even the most diary-like of weblogs are often carefully edited versions of their author’s lives. As Danny put it, it’s not about being open, but “that half-way state that most people who have online public exposure built into their daily lives, that state of having the doors to their life slightly ajar.” Even if I had the time to write more on this site, it would only be a sliver of my life, and I’d rarely mention other people directly. For example, my occasional accounts of acting classes aren’t going to be full of me being rude about classmates, even anonymously, because I know it’d only take them a click to read it. This may seem less honest, assuming I have something to be rude about, and may be less interesting, but then it’s not just your own privacy you must think about when writing online, but those of everyone else too.