Despite the fact that blogging has been around for 11 years now, it seems that some journalists are no closer to coming to terms with the fact that *anyone* can now publish their opinions to the world.
I read an article in the Guardian recently about how the letters pages of newspapers have a superior 'quality of debate' compared with comments threads appended to articles. The reason the quality of debate is superior, says the article, is that newspaper letters pages are subject to editorial control.
'Online services, who thought they could do without editors, are now seeing their merits again. Our job on the letters pages is to do the work for our busy readers,' the Guardian's letters editor Nigel Willmott is quoted as saying.
But I'm wondering if Nigel isn't actually doing his readership a huge disservice. In the free-for-all of the blogosphere, there's almost equal representation between men and women. The Pew Internet survey of American bloggers in 2006 discovered that 46% were women, for example. And when I did a mini-survey of the UK blogosphere earlier this year for my old company, I discovered that of 100 blogs selected at random, 39 were written by women and 38 by men (with the others it was too difficult to tell).
Given that men and women make up just about equal proportions of the population, and given that men and women are more or less equally inclined towards expressing their views publicly, it should follow that the Guardian's letters pages should reflect that kind of near-equality.
But I don't think they do, and now I want to prove it. So, armed with my trusty copy of Microsoft Excel, I'm planning to record the division of representation between men and women in the Guardian's - and the Observer's - letters pages, every day from now on, until either I get bored or the entire Guardian Media Group folds under the AWFUL PRESSURE of my AUDACIOUS citizen journalism.
(Obviously I'm going to be deciding a correspondent's gender mainly from their name, so there are going to be margins of error, and some people only give their initials, in which case I'll just put them down as 'indeterminate'. Bear in mind too that the Guardian, by its own admission, receives 300 letters, faxes and emails every day, so it's not like they've only got a small sample to choose from.)
Come with me then, ladies and gentlemen, on a journey into the psyche of the Guardian's and Observer's letters editors, as they exercise their superior editorial judgment over whose opinion merits publication and whose doesn't:
(With thanks to my brother for showing me how to save an Excel chart as a JPEG.)
NNB Of course, if I'm wrong about my hunch, rest assured I will bake an enormous humble pie and eat it LIVE on this blog.