Boris Johnson in the Telegraph today welcomes the way the internet has opened up journalists to scrutiny and comments by readers.
He says: "There used to be a time when filing these comment page pieces was a lonely sort of business. It was like putting your money into a chocolate bar dispenser on a station platform, or practising your tennis serve. Nothing came back. It was fire and forget, hit and run, drive-by opinionising. OK, so if you said something particularly outrageous, a handful of letters would eventually turn up, depending on the mails. If you really put your foot in it and did something that no reader could forgive – such as confusing a yellow labrador with a golden retriever – a few people might be moved to ring the Telegraph switchboard.
"But when any of us write something these days, it is like tiptoeing to a cage with a hunk of meat, and nervously prodding it through the bars. Sometimes the blogosphere will seem happy with the offering and the beast will briefly growl approval; and sometimes there is such a yowling and clamouring that we feel like Clarice Starling as she sets off down the corridor of mental patients, in search of Hannibal the Cannibal."
Johnson admits he has been abused by a poster called "pheasant plucker" but , in a reference to the way MPs suffered when the Telegraph published their expenses, adds: "Now, at last, the journalists are getting something like the same treatment; and of course, as a politician who loves writing, I must tremble before the wrath of pheasantplucker, but I also rejoice at the change that has taken place. A broadcast has been turned into a dialogue...
"Politicians are being held to account by journalists; journalists are being held to account by their readers – and it cannot be long, the internet being what it is, before the wind of popular scrutiny blows through all the bourgeois professions. What are we going to do about the lawyers?"
- As an example of the abuse journalists now get, Johnson gives the example of his Telegraph colleaguue Toby Harnden, who wrote a piece about Sarah Palin. "Poor old Toby, " writes Johnson, "came in for a fair pasting from the Right-wing bloggerati of America. One contributor to the debate was called 'Hostile Logic', and he decorated his entries with a red blood-spatter motif. 'You are living proof that s--- can grow legs and walk', he said at one point."