LEADERSHIP: MEDIA - It's Time to Stand up for Bloggers' Rights

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THE joy of blogging is that anyone can do it - but that’s as dangerous as it is exciting.

Over the past 10 years there has been an uprising in ‘citizen journalists’ against a backdrop of savage cuts to regional newspapers and I think it's about time they were properly represented.

Bloggers have an increasingly powerful voice but do they really know how to use it without running the risk of losing everything?

My email inbox is choked full of sales pitches telling me how I can be on the first page of Google and the Facebook digital forums I’m a member of are full of discussions on how to make the most of social media or the best photo editing software but rarely about copyright, insurance and never about defamation.

And that scares me.

Just because it’s a hobby or you’re not writing about the news makes no difference in the eyes of the law - bloggers are subject to the defamation act just like reporters but most lack basic legal knowledge and that could cost them a lot more than their domain name.

I’m a blogger, but I’m also a trained journalist who had to learn the ins and outs of libel law and drill shorthand at 100 words per minute until I was let loose to write a story.

Fifteen years later and it’s still one of my most valued qualifications as it’s my protection against anything going horribly wrong which I’m so grateful for because during that time the media industry has changed beyond recognition.

Traditional forms of communication are struggling to keep up with the internet to the extent that President Trump is by-passing the press and engaging with the world via Twitter instead.

The threat of ‘fake news’, the pressure to be first with a story and the hunger to engage and increase followers has made integrity and reputation more valuable than ever.

Several newspapers are some turning to their readerships to supply pictures and content and whereas once only journalists could report on council meetings or from the front row of fashion week, now a new breed of influencers are sitting alongside or, increasingly, in their seats.

But this can have serious consequences - Press Gazette reported recently that a Welsh blogger now faces losing her family home over non-payment of legal fees and damages in excess of £220,000 after losing a libel case three years ago.

So I think it’s time for bloggers to be properly recognised and have a formal ‘body’ offering training courses, legal advice and digital forecasting.

While the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) does welcome bloggers under its umbrella, personally, I think a separate organisation is needed - a National Union of Bloggers (NUB) to cater for this niche whether content is created on YouTube or on WordPress.

It could link in with blogging conferences and digital companies to offer practical and relevant support and advice to empower and educate bloggers because one thing's for sure - the blogging industry is only going to get bigger, we just need to make it better too.

Lucy Richardson

Journalist blogging at Express North magazine - inspiring women to celebrate in the North East.