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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2006, 02:08 GMT 03:08 UK
Blogs: To trust or not to trust?
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

It appears that blogs are not much trusted, according to a 10-country survey of the media.

Trust in blogs graphic
They come at the bottom of the list, with just 25% of those questioned in a Globescan poll on trust in the media giving them a thumbs-up. News websites are only just a notch better at 38%, so some way to go there as well.

On the other hand, 23% of people did say they trusted blogs. However, personally I am not sure the question asked was all that relevant to blogs, those often pesky, sometimes tedious and occasionally challenging websites of opinion.

The question was: "How much would you say you trust each of the following media sources to provide you with the news and information you want on current affairs?"

Blogs do not really exist to provide people with the "news and information" they want on current affairs.

They exist to agitate, to question, to swap information, to provide leads and opinions, and generally to act as guerrilla forces against the massed ranks of the mainstream media.


I call them an army of irregulars. One leading practitioner, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit (and a law professor at the University of Tennessee), gives them a more elevated status and has just written a book about them called An Army of Davids.

Blogs are probably best seen at the moment as an additional source of information

His subtitle is not modest: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths.

And that gives an idea of what blogs are about. They are not about providing people with carefully sorted and sifted news.

They see themselves as activists, not just providers. And they like to give it to you raw.

Their aim is to undermine trust in their opponents as much as to raise trust among themselves. Their regular respondents tend to agree with everything the site says anyway.

They have not yet, in my view, reached the level of being a sufficient alternative source of news and information. They are probably best seen at the moment as an additional source of information.

It may be that, one day, and one day quite soon, the different swarms will coalesce into a few powerful groups, though whether in the form of locusts doing harm or bees doing good remains to be seen. There will probably be some of one and some of the other, and your views of them will depend on your political stance.

This is happening already to some degree with a few sites emerging as market leaders.

And in turn the mainstream media websites are rapidly changing themselves to become as much like the blogs as they can be, with editors and correspondents now launching forth with their own columns and the pages opened to readers to express their opinions - and to send in their photos and information.

Politics is also very much part of the blogosphere. Some sites are right-wing and some are left-wing. Rarely the twain will meet. But people will often read both, to see what the other side is saying.

New perspectives

Asking readers if they "trust" such sites does not in my view quite get to the heart of the matter.

Click below to see the poll results in more detail

More useful questions would be: "Do you read them and how do you use the information?" And having posed those questions, let me give my own answers.

Yes I read them, about a dozen each day, mainly in the US and UK, spread across the political spectrum and sometimes falling off the edges.

I use the information carefully. Sometimes they come up with new facts and give you a lead on stories.

During the row over the Danish cartoons, I learned a lot from blogs (and from e-mails sent directly) about Danish politics and previous incidents.

Quite often, however, they just offer you a perspective you might not have thought about. You can use them to test your own judgment.

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Recently, I wrote about the possibility of the US attack on Iran. Somebody e-mailed to ask why, though I had considered military and political options, I had not mentioned the legality of an attack.

It seemed to me sensible to do so. The article was not about the law but I felt the law should not be ignored and added a paragraph pointing out the broad issues.

Not long ago I responded to a suggestion from a site called The American Expatriate, written by an American banker in London, Scott Callahan, who regards the BBC as a bad influence and the TV licence as bad as the tax on tea.

He complained that we had not sufficiently covered the affairs of the alleged Iraqi purchase or attempted purchase of uranium from Niger and tended to re-cycle some information that was at best inadequate. I undertook to write a long backgrounder on the issue and honour was satisfied.

It is true that one does not respond positively every time, much to the annoyance of the bloggers, but at least a dialogue is there.

Do I trust them?

I trust them to cause a fuss, to raise a hue and cry, to ferret out facts and long-forgotten quotes, to apply mass brain and blog power to a hitherto obscure subject, to point or block the way, to embarrass and even at times to praise.

The Trust in the Media poll was carried out by Globescan and commissioned by the BBC, Reuters and US think tank The Media Center.



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