Sorry, but I’m not sympathetic to the Guardian’s gap blogger

Now, I know it’s the case in journalism that dog should not bite dog, and even more so that dog should not bite dog (nor even puppy) within the same pack. But this stuff about the 19-year-old son of an occasional contributor to the Guardian’s travel section who somehow (how?) got a blog spot on, um, the Guardian’s travel blog where he was going to regale us with his experiences deserved the abuse it got, for one simple reason:

It wasn’t good enough.

The reality is that very few 19-year-olds are competent at writing anything well enough that it deserves to be on a national newspaper’s site in a prominent position. Nothing I wrote at 19 would have deserved that sort of publication. The stuff I wrote at 20 managed to get me published for the first time, in a tennis magazine read by perhaps a few thousand people. OK, I’m hardly a shining light to the skill of writing, but I have what is maybe an old-fashioned approach: national newspapers ought to be only the very best you can get – at least, that you can get within the time constraints you’re set.

Gap year travel blogs, though, are the sort of thing from which you should be able to choose from a vast, vast field. I’d expect to spend days, weeks even trawling through them to find the one, perhaps two, that really shine.

And nowadays, when you put something up there which isn’t good enough, you get kicked. Which is what David Cox points out (only 200 comments! An easy read!).

Quality: it’s a simple formula. But hard to do consistently. Let’s hope Max goes off and gets a blog somewhere (Blogger and WordPress do them free, you know) and practises, practises, practises.


  1. Sorry, but I stole this. It is simply too good to avoid mentioning.

    Thanks, Charles.


  2. He made an impact though didnít he? Got more hits and comments than would be normal for a blog entry about someone off on holiday. So you could argue that the quality was immaterial. Iím not, and I agree with you Charles but like they say no publicity is bad publicity. I do think some of the vitriolic comments were a bit harsh and bordered on jealousy (Iíve been writing for a hundred years and never been commissioned by the Guardian Bah Humbug) rather than the fact it was a bit crap. Still, Iíd bet more people read that this week than a lot of other guardian blog entries even if was only to make themselves feel superior to a 19 year old whoís got connections. Iíd love to have a relative who could get me work at the Guardian. Does anybody there want to adopt? Iíll be no trouble, honest.

  3. Charles

    Friday 22 February 2008 at 1:25 pm

    @Chris: no publicity might be bad publicity, but this was just bad publicity, full stop: it made it look as though the Gdn’s only commissioning criteria were who you know or are related to, which isn’t the case.

    The vitriol was, well, par for the course (I’m glad to have done my early work away from that sort of spotlight). And I think you mean that they bordered on envy, not jealousy. (They’re not synonymous.)

    And I’ll commission you – just drop me a line with a feature that’s worth putting in the paper. Easy really. Meritocratic, even.

  4. Isn’t the whole thing just a storm in a teacup?

    I don’t think it’s true to say the copy “wasn’t good enough”. The Guardian blogs (and most particularly CiF) are hardly all brilliantly written and seem to be published according to how likely they are to provoke debate (or “engagement” in the 2.0 parlance) In that context, what this guy wrote doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy. It was a 19-year-old, writing a bit like a 19-year-old. Other 19 year olds probably didn’t think it was THAT bad.

    On the issue of perceived nepotism, I think there are other – way more egregious – examples in the media of people who get into positions in broadcast and publishing because of their family name rather than any particular talent.

  5. @Charles “just drop me a line with a feature thatís worth putting in the paper.”

    I’m of on holiday soon I could do you a blog entry…. ;-)

  6. “The reality is that very few 19-year-olds are competent at writing anything well enough that it deserves to be on a national newspaperís site in a prominent position.”

    Not sure why you make this an age thing. Few people any age write well enough enough to make it onto a national newspaper’s site. A (very) few teenagers write stunningly well – far better than most of us ever will, however much we practise, practise, practise.

    I don’t see any hard and fast rules to be drawn here. My impression is that family members (I’d include partners as well as children) of successful journalists often do get a helping hand, in different ways, into the trade. But unless they turn out to be good enough, they don’t last long. Seems reasonable to me. And unavoidable.

  7. Charles

    Monday 25 February 2008 at 2:19 pm

    @PJ – well, the age thing is relevant inasmuch as you’ll find more 24- or 30-year-olds who have had the years of experience of writing for newspapers and mags, where editors have (by repeatedly editing out their crap edges until they get a clue) shown them what works and what doesn’t, than you will 19yos.

    Yes, a few teenagers do write really well. But I think that this case was parlous – not least because that sort of helping hand (cough*nepotism*cough) is so easy to sniff out these days. Except that if Max had been a fantastic writer, then I don’t think the backlash would have been at all comparable.

  8. “Except that if Max had been a fantastic writer, then I donít think the backlash would have been at all comparable.”

    Agreed. And if he’d been aged 47, I suspect it wouldn’t either. Some of the backlashing looks like an unleashment of pent-up hostility to middle-class young people in general.

    Savage criticism of poor writing is one thing. Personal vitriol based on age and class, another.

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