This week’s Net Office spot went live today. Raw copy below. Edited version here.
“The thing is that people are complex. People lead complicated lives”. So said research scientist Dr Brooke Magnanti, when she came out in the pages of The Times as blogger Belle du Jour earlier this month. The identity of the ex-London call girl who has been blogging pseudonymously since 2003 and whose exploits have been turned into a hit TV series, has been described as one of the best kept literary secrets of the century. But if there’s one profession that should know about discretion, about the need for human beings to keep different parts of the lives tucked away in distinct compartments, it is the world’s oldest.
Identity is the biggest fault line between old and new media. Offline, the truth is not the truth until someone stands by it. Even if that someone is “a source close to the actress”, the audience is unlikely to suspend their disbelief unless there is a clear and identifiable trail leading to a named personage with whom we presume the buck to stop. Thus the fairly modern concept of the media whore, several examples of which – Rowan Pelling, Toby Young – were initially and mistakenly fingered as the elusive Belle. A good broadcast journalist will have several of these lined up in his little black book, ready to be called upon to express a point of view whenever tomorrow’s news cycle demands it. The contrast – Fox News’ “some people say” – leaves us intuitively uncomfortable.
Online, the story is different. Though we might pay brief attention when a previously pseudonymous blogger is outed by the mainstream press – the Times has the form here, the obvious case being the police blogger Nightjack – finding out the “true” identity of our favourite bloggers appears to please journalists more than it does readers. Online, we swap accountability for context. Any tale of the realities of a life – be that driving ambulances in London, working on the crime frontline, or servicing the sexual needs of rich city types – will make its own reputation, will stand or fall on its intrinsic plausibility. With Belle, most of us had nothing to compare it to anyway – broadcast journalists don’t have many high-class call girls willing to go on record should the need for a spokesperson from that community arise. And for that, we should probably be thankful that the cloak of the web allowed Belle to speak so clearly for so long.