Many a CiF Watcher landed on these pages as a result of having been censored, banned or both on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ website and therefore has first-hand experience of just how ‘free’ comment there actually is. But an aspect of the title we do not often address in relation to the Guardian’s website is the financial one. It now appears that far from being free, comment may actually be downright expensive. 

Guardian writer Ally Fogg, in a piece from April 26th, raised the subject of a recent article in the New Statesman which estimates that the Guardian spends half a million pounds a year keeping ‘Comment is Free’ going. 

“One of the most active cheerleaders of commenting is the Guardian, which employs a dozen or so moderators, plus another dozen “community co-ordinators” who monitor Facebook, Twitter, Tumblrs and so on (the paper doesn’t give out an exact number). Assuming these people are on a modest £20,000 each, that’s nearly half a million pounds a year spent on making sure that the “community” – 1 per cent of readers – is well-served.”

Whether or not the New Statesman’s calculations are correct is anyone’s guess; Ally Fogg isn’t telling. But he does claim to have identified some vacancies in CiF’s stable of commenters. 

Of course the Guardian’s dire financial straits are common knowledge, with the paper (together with the Observer) having reported losses of £33 million in 2010 and £34.4 million in 2009. 

So, taking Ally Fogg’s idea one step further, perhaps the Guardian could recuperate some of its losses by hiring out its existing regular commenters to other blogs and websites seeking to up their traffic. The advert might go something like this: 

Rent-a-comment: exclusive GMG service takes care of all your weblog commenting needs. Our reservoir of experienced commenters includes:

The former ISMer:

His expertise is the spinning of tear-jerking yarns about his jaunts to the West Bank, featuring evocative descriptions of Palestinian cuisine and hospitality, the ‘apartheid wall’, settlements which expand faster than the speed of light and 7 foot tall Israeli soldiers. Can throw in the odd word of cod-Arabic for added authenticity and has a suitably progressive profile photo featuring himself in a Viva Palestina T-shirt personally signed by George Galloway.

The amateur expert on International Law: 

Able to instantly prove any political point necessary by means of an unreferenced and/or misquoted clause from the annals of hallowed ‘international law’.  OK – he’s actually a community organiser in real life, but he did read the entire works of Ilan Pappe on his last summer holiday and once went to a talk by Daniel Machover. 

The dictator apologist: 

Cut his commenting teeth at Socialist Unity and gained added credits at the knee of Simon Tisdall. Post-colonial guilt, anti-Americanism and cultural relativism added liberally to every comment at no extra charge. 

The ‘asaJew’ anti-Zionist: 

Invaluable when the credibility of wobbly claims such as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘apartheid’ is questioned. Can always be relied upon to lend ethnically-authentic support to the claim that ‘critics of Israel are invariably accused of anti-Semitism’. Conveniently located in north London and thus able to give first-hand accounts of Palestine Solidarity Campaign candle-lit vigils and Christmas carol services,  (except on Mondays when she’s at Friends House and Thursdays – volunteers at the Islington Interfaith Circle knitting raincoats out of recycled plastic bags for the Negev Bedouin).

The conspiracy theorist:

9/11? The financial crisis and the banks’ lost millions? Control of politicians and the media? Organ harvesting? He always knows who really dunnit. Prefers to be described as an ‘independent thinker’ (got that idea from David Miller at ‘SpinWatch’) and makes particularly proficient use of the words ‘sheeple’ and ‘hasbara’. 

The BDSer:

Since finding BDS (and getting a new asymmetric hairdo) her cup runneth over. No more boring bring and buys and flower-arranging at church for her: now it’s international fame and glory on the pages of the ‘Friends of Sabeel’ newsletter (circulation 493) and jazzy acronyms such as EAPPI. Almost takes her back to her ‘Age of Aquarius’ halcyon days… that keffiyah makes her feel so young and alive. But of course it’s not about her: everyone knows that this is the defining issue of our times and – as she was telling the hairdresser the other day, just before she went off with the girls to get filmed protesting about cherry tomatoes in Tescos – we all have to do our bit. 

On second thoughts, maybe relying on Auto Trader isn’t such a bad plan after all…