Readers’ Editor: publishing and being damned…

It is, I suppose, an inevitability that, from time to time, an article published on a political website such as Liberal Democrat Voice will be controversial. Sometimes, the controversy is expected, occasionally it comes as a surprise.

For example, anything to do with the Israel/Palestine situation is almost certain to degenerate into an increasingly polarised slanging match, with pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian commenters quoting atrocity and counter-atrocity until the neutrals run for cover. And, if in doubt, the moderators make a good target if your comment breaches the comment policy – it’s obviously because they’re biased, right?

However, Leon Duveen’s recent piece calling for a merger of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel and Palestine into one organisation did generate a surprisingly hostile postbag. Given that it spoke of creating “one voice to call for a secure Israel and a free Palestine”, the vitriol that ensued was rather more than might have been expected. And, for the record, rejecting a comment because it describes a participant as “that idiot X” is not an anti-Palestinian argument, it’s a pro-courtesy argument.

Liberal Democrat Voice has, for some time now, placed all articles on the Middle East into auto-moderation, as a minority who tend to repel support rather than attract it cannot resist the opportunity to launch organised pre-emptive strikes on the opposing side. It’s all rather depressing, in truth, but we will continue to welcome articles on the subject from all quarters without fear or favour. All that is required is an ability to construct argument rather than insult…

An unexpected controversy came in the form of a sponsored post on proposals for a redesign of Heathrow Airport, courtesy of Heathrow Hub. Concerns were expressed about an organ of the Party taking money to publish a piece which runs contrary to Party policy, and these led to a lively debate within the Editorial Team.

Perhaps some context is helpful here. Liberal Democrat Voice receives some of its income from advertising, and we were approached with a proposal involving the occasional sponsored post, which was accepted on an experimental basis. The Heathrow Hub post was the first such post.

It is clear that the question of sponsored posts is a difficult one. On one hand, maintaining the website costs money, and donations cannot be relied upon. On the other, there are reputational issues to be considered, both for Liberal Democrat Voice and for the wider Party. Whilst we are financially and operationally independent of the Liberal Democrats, that independence is not necessarily an emotional one, and others may choose, deliberately or otherwise, to blur the lines. Accordingly, the matter is currently under review within the Editorial Team.

As usual, readers are invited to let us have their thoughts on these issues in the comments thread which follows, and I’ll attempt to respond as best I can.

At the third stroke, Mark Valladares will be forty-nine, precisely…

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8 Comments

  • I did not know you had two bottoms, lady Mark.

    (bi-assed, you see. Sorry. I blame having spent all bleeding day designing leaflets)

  • If you like ldv and object to sponsored articles, then you can always donate.

  • I have no issue with lib dem voice using the occasional sponsored post to raise funds for website maintenance. So long as they are clearly marked as this one was, I do not see how one could complain.

  • No issue with sponsored posts, as long as they are very clearly and distinctively flagged up, as the Heathrow one was. I particularly like the green headline colour. The points made in the article were all a valid contribution to public debate and the comments underneath, as usual, subjected the post to scrutiny. Not an issue in my view.

  • Michael Parsons 14th Nov '13 - 5:07pm

    @Paul Walter
    Absolutely right. The issue is transparency versus supression of articles. Well done ldv! Of only newspapers were as frank?

  • I see no problem with sponsored posts. The LDV team did well to make sure it was very clear it was a sponsored post and I’m happy to see another way to fund the site we all find so useful. Going forward there is a need to be careful about the frequency of any sponsored posts so as not to turn regular readers away from the site. Sponsored posts have become a regular occurance for many blogs – and they aren’t always so transparent as LDV’s. At the end of the day anyone who doesn’t approve can opt to not read any particular post.

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