Here is the piece I wrote for the Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging about what bloggers should do when bad news about themselves breaks.
When things go wrong or bad news breaks, it can be tempting to hunker down and say nothing. If you’re a blogger, particularly one who allows comments, the idea of having to write something for your blog can be very off-putting. The thought of ignoring the keyboard and just wishing that time would move on more quickly can be very alluring.
But is that the right response? It is a situation on which I have advised various people over the years, and nearly always the best advice is actually, “keep blogging”. That is for a mix of three main reasons: your own blogging credibility, the opportunity to put your case to friendly ears and the need to put the facts on record for future search engine queries.
The clearest illustrations of the issue of blogging credibility and often those where an election result has gone against you or your party. If you do not talk about the bad news at all, your credibility when talking about subsequent good news will be much diminished. Labour minister Tom Harris’ response to the SNP’s victory in the July 2008 Glasgow East by-election is a good example of the art of blogging on regardless. There really was not much good that could be said, so he wrote:
I’m now in a huff. Please respect my raw feelings and post only sensitive, supportive, sympathetic comments. I will get round to approving them at some point, in between avoiding media coverage and ignoring my phone.
As Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone put it:
It can get difficult – when your party is going through convulsions and you would rather not be accessible or saying anything – you have to be true to the blog. You can’t pick and choose and ignore the embarrassing or the challenging.
By hitting the keyboards and keeping blogging, you can put out your side of the story, making it readily available both to journalists who might want to follow up on the news and also to colleagues and supporters who may be looking for information and reassurance about what had happened.
Another factor to bear in mind is the way in which internet search engines are changing the dynamic of negative stories. Whilst in the past the correct response was often to either say nothing or say very little and wait for a story to blow over, the big risk in the internet era is that as a result only one side of the story is laid out there waiting for search engines to find when people research the person or the topic in future years.
Perhaps you will stand in an election in a couple of years time and a journalist will turn to the internet to do some background research. Don’t you want them to find your side of the story on events? Unless there is a response, the story won’t be there waiting to be found, and given the way in which search engines generally like blogs, putting the response on a blog is a good way of increasing the chances of it being found.
Where your moment of adversity has been caused by you getting something wrong online, it is worth noting the technical decision you have to take between deleting or updating the erroneous words.
It is a choice I faced in spring 2007 having messed up completely a story about the number of local election candidates the Conservatives were standing. Tempting though it could have been just to delete my blog posting, the better response, as I chose, was to edit the piece with copious use of striking-out so people could see what I had originally written and the correction. This approach fits in with the culture that many bloggers expect of openness about edits. But also it has the benefit that simply removing a piece will often leave all sorts of loose ends around the internet – and links that stop working often make people think that what has been ‘covered-up’ must have been far worse than it actually was.
These pointed on blogging in adversity do not apply only to politics by any means, and particularly notable example is the way Dell helped turn round its corporate image over the “flammable laptops” disaster of 2006 by starting to open up and talk about the issue on its corporate blog (for example, see for Dell’s original post, which occurred at a relatively early stage in Dell’s adoption of blogging for corporate communications).
Of course if you do respond, you still run the risk that someone will criticise for you not having responded sooner (a criticism that is often particularly misplaced in the immediate aftermath of an election campaign, where anyone sensible involved may well be doing things like sleeping or putting names to children’s faces again rather than trying to beat a blogging speed record for posting), or at greater length, or answered the 38 points that they are absolutely convinced must be answered if the world is not going to end.
But then misplaced criticism will happen almost regardless of what you say on your blog. And in the end, you need to remember a sense of perspective. As Robert Fulghum put it, “If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience.”