Archive for April, 2008

An apology, of sorts, and an announcement

On occasions over this last week, having somebody nearby to write the words ‘breathe’ continually on a post-it note would have been handy. The position’s still open for the next week and a bit.

Which is a long way of saying I’m busy. Not in a terse “I’m BUSY,” way, but more of a sighing “I’m busy” way, usually said while reaching for another coffee.

So, work: busy. Double busy. Perhaps even triple busy. It’s not bad busy, because that would be “I’M BUSY!!!!!!!!!” and a lot of this business will be worth it in the end, and the other bit is good experience, good fun, and something I’ve been wanting to do for ages.

But it still means I’m busy.

And then outside of work I’m busy. Not “I’M BUSY” or “I’m BUSY” or even “I’M busy”, and there’s no sighing. But I’m just busy.

And the sun was shining on Saturday, so I went to the park to drink beer and kick a ball around, which isn’t strictly busy but would have been a dereliction of duty not to have done so. And a good time was had by all.

Anyway, outside of work I’m busy because of football. Now, football isn’t usually the biggest draw for this blog. That I appreciate. So, I’ve tried to keep talk of this to a minimum, but Exeter City’s securing of a playoff position and their double-header against Torquay this Thursday is taking up a lot of my spare time, and what spare time that isn’t taken up with Exeter City is being taken up with playing football, nipping down the pub, cinema, and cooking.

And I’m committing myself to do some comprehensive and balanced punditry over at Soccerlens for the Conference playoffs.

Do you see where this is leading…?

So, I’m sorry. I don’t want to bore you all with Exeter City woe and joy and other such nuggets, and even if I did want to bore you with them I wouldn’t have time anyway.

If there’s not much being posted until about next, oooooh, Wednesday, there’ll be a good reason.

I’m busy.

And for the ten to fifteen regular readers on here, I’m sorry about that. Normal-to-average service will be resumed at some point next week.


Is journalism nearly impossible to enter unless your family’s loaded?

Independent columnist Johann Hari talks a lot of sense when he speaks out about low pay in the industry, although I don’t think you need rich parents – just well off ones. Even so, it can’t be good that the majority of new entrants into journalism come from financially comfortable middle-class backgrounds.

On one hand, there is increasing professionalisation of the industry. Although I’ve met some journalists who look down on postgraduate NJTC and BJTC accredited courses, most new entrants are increasingly going down that route, either to find their first job or to make themselves more employable.

As a graduate of one of these courses, I learnt a hell of a lot that will stay with me no matter what media job I find myself working in. And unless you’ve already got yourself nicely set up with a journalism job, I’d recommend them to anybody serious about getting into the industry, especially the courses at Cardiff and City (and Falmouth for broadcasting as well).

However, at around five to six grand, these courses don’t come cheap, and a career development loan is often the only option to fund yourself through it. Chances are you’ll have done a degree beforehand as well, which comes with several more thousand in the way of debts.

Both postgrads and non-postgrads are then faced with low starting salaries, especially if they head regionally (which is usual – there aren’t that many jobs with the nationals for a newly-qualified journo). I know one who started on £11k, while £13-£15k was the common starting salary for a high-trained skilled professional. Pay rises were infrequent.

Even if you skip the postgraduate phase, most media jobs require you to do a lot of unpaid work experience before they’ll take you on. Again, living costs over this period mount up. You can rarely walk straight into journalism without plenty of work experience and/or training but it’s difficult to balance the finances without income.

And, as Hari notes, there are a lot of would-be or junior-level journalists who simply give up because its not worth it financially. At some point you’ve got to become decide if journalism is going to pay the bills.

There’s a few other aspects to factor in though. Journalism’s one of those jobs that has been a surge in popularity and, as is inevitable, there’s more would-be journalists than there are entry-level jobs so wages can remain low. For every trainee who passes on a low-paid position because of the salary, there’ll be another three who’ll bite the editor’s hand off for a job.

[Of course some of this can be traced back to the government’s ridiculously arbitrary target of 50% of school levers to university, which has hideously depressed wages in the graduate job market and reduced the quality of graduates on offer, especially in the general area of media But that’s another complaint for another blog post.]

There is hope. The web provides an alternative way in, not necessarily through the concept of citizen journalists (which is a bit of a loose definition) but through blogging and fan sites and all sorts of similar online ventures.

For example: when I was about 8 or 9 I used to try and create my own newspaper using glue, folded over sheets of paper and crayons (I was a bit of a odd child in many respects, this being just one of them). Sadly there was only ever one copy produced, as I hadn’t got access to a printing press, and the only computer was one of those old BBC machines with huge disc drives. Even sadder, nobody picked up on my front page scoop of “Fence being built in Gran’s back garden”.

But nowadays there’s nothing to stop an equally odd kid setting up his own community newsletter online, sent out via email. He won’t have to use crayons to illustrate a picture of his Gran’s new fence – he can upload a picture via mobile phone, or if he’s got access to some kit with video capabilities, a quick video report.

Now fast forward to the end of school. The old Press Gang idea will have changed somewhat. With wi-fi, Twitter, social media sites, and a whole host of Web 2.0 tools they’ll be able to beak scoops at any time of the day on their websites and blogs, and won’t have to worry about getting the whole thing printed and past the school authorities (naturally, it’ll be available for download though).

Now if a teenager approached me with that on his CV already, I’d be pretty impressed. Here’s somebody who wants to be a reporter, and knows and understands the web, and has potential. Ok, so they’d still have a lot to learn, and the unpaid work experience would naturally come into the equation, but it’s still a hypothetical example of how you don’t need to have money to enter journalism.

But back into the here and now, low pay is a huge issue for many of my ex-coursemates or friends from student journalism days. I can immediately think of around a dozen who’ve voiced ideas about leaving the industry because they’re demoralised and simply can’t afford to stick with it as a career, while others are freelancing every hour God sends outside of their job to get extra cash. And yes, a lot of them are talented and could make it to the very top, if they could afford it.

That’s not to say its all gloom and doom. I know just as many who love what they do, and wouldn’t dream of quitting, even if they’re not exactly flushed with cash, while there’s several others who’ve landed plum well-paid positions on regionals and nationals either on their first job or through sheer hard graft. But that has often involved a hand-to-mouth existence for the first couple of years in the latter case.

But Hari’s wrong about one thing – they don’t necessarily move to less-rewarding industries. Although I get twinges of nostalgia, and keep up writing and journalism when I can, I don’t regret moving on from my reporting job into PR for one moment – it’s a job with difference challenges but one that is no less enjoyable.


Appropriate, I think

How to win online friends and influence people

Guardian blogs can sometimes be a bit of a bearpit, while over at the sport/football sections you piss off your readership at your peril. So, when that part of the Guardian’s site got an overhaul, collective breath must have be drawn by editors and readers alike to see what the response would be.

But pre-empting this came’s sport editor, Sean Ingle, with an excellent example of how to engage and interact with your online readership. His blog post explained why they’d mad the changes, what was new and asked for feedback.

And feedback he got. Lots of it. But, here’s the impressive thing, a regular intervals Ingle popped up in the comments to address the assorted points brought up, explaining why certain things couldn’t be done, noting small tweaks that could be made, and on a couple of occasions , thanking people in the comments who’d pointed out a few missing bits or oversights. One comment cheekily asked if the sports site was hiring, to which Ingle responded ‘Maybe. Send me your CV.’

The thread was one of the most civil and intelligent I’ve seen, and benefited both the site and the readership but engaging with regular users and taking their points on board seriously. I’ve lost count of the number of defensive responses I’ve seen in other places when change has been made – Ingle’s thread should be held up as a model example of why bloggers and columnists should engage in the comments on their threads., as both sides can get an great deal out of the resulting discussion.

[And yes, I like the Guardian’s football and sport sites as lot. It’s intelligent, funny, and one of the first sites I visit every morning, and while the redesign does take a bit of adjusting to, I reckon the site will get even better].

Tweet Tweet

Twitter, it seems, is definitely flavour of the month. Last week it got a front page mention of the Guardian due to Downing Street, no less, dipping its toe into the Twittersphere, and the amount of Twitter-related articles and posts in my RSS reader keeps on growing by the day.

Twitter’s tipping point, if not already here, is close to arriving. And that means both the company and PR Tweeters need to start sitting down and thinking out their respective strategies.

Firstly, here’s an example of how Innocent, a company that is usually pretty with it when it comes to social media, seems to have got Twitter a bit wrong. It’s a bit embarrassing when a government aide can work Twitter better than most companies. Usually this government is one of the last to leap on board new web projects and gets it hideously wrong in the process.

But Innocent’s misstep shows that in the age of social media, you can’t just stick out a press release or fire out updates. Perhaps that’s fine for a standard Web 1.0 website, or even a corporate blog. But if you’ve going to join Twitter then you’ve got to understand it’s a conversation not a lecture or an high-tech information pamphlet.

Whatever you’re promoting, you’ve got to be prepared to interact with your audience. You may even be promoting a brand that has lots of fans. But what’s in it for the fans if they’re just getting links or updates but no conversation? Other than the immediacy, why should that make Twitter any better than just sticking a regularly updated website into your RSS feeds.

Another side issue is brand v trust. Depending on how big the brand or event or whatever you’re publicising is, perhaps its worth having a trusted employee with an established Twitter presence on there. It’s a question I’m going to have to answer soon, with a football (sorry, can’t quite bring myself to write soccer) related bit of publicity for work. I’m getting plenty of football-related followers on my feed. Would they get annoyed or offended if I start using Twitter to publicise something I’m working on, or would it be more successful than if I launched a branded feed?

There’s also a fine line between PR on Twitter and spam. At what stage does targeting those who might be interested in your product cross the line and make your average user reach for the block button quicker than you can say tinyurl?

Finally, in Japan Twitter have started running adverts. As David North cautions, they need to handle this carefully, lest the company themselves cross that line into spam.

But for those Web 2.0 fans, and casual supporters, Twitter seems to be finally arriving. And now us in the media need to deal with it.

UPDATE: Ben Ayers asks if Downing Street has peaked on Twitter.

Angry Monday

As I’m a bit irritable currently (what’s new) and am a bit too busy to post a few longer (but no less ill-thought out) pieces, I thought I’d resort to the blogging equivalent of the comfort food that is Macaroni Cheese: the list.

Specifically, things that generally make me angry:

  • People who run for tubes. There’ll be another one in 60 seconds
  • People who jab buttons in lifts. It will not make the lift go any faster or skip to your floor.
  • Internet Explorer. Nuff said.
  • Linda Barker. Ditto.
  • People who stop in the middle of walking, thus precipitating you walking into their back.
  • People who get annoyed with you for walking into their back due to their desisting of motion midway through a busy street.
  • Excessive vowels in Scrabble.
  • Signs that tell me nothing I didn’t know, often accompanied by pictures that make no sense should you take away the writing (see also: Michael Bywater’s Big Babies).
  • Computers. Namely PCs. Not Macs. I like Macs.
  • Plymouth. Self explanatory.
  • Misuse of the word tragic.
  • People. Mostly stupid people, but depending on how misanthropic I’m feeling, this can be expanded.

That’ll do for now. I’m now off to work off my aggression by kicking a ball around some astroturf for an hour. I’m fully expecting a case of hamstring-twang or ankle-knack tomorrow, as is oft the case following this activity.

Ian Wright: You wot?

I’ve read some pretty baffling comment pieces, but Martin Jacques claim that Ian Wright’s departure from the BBC was due to racism and cultural apartheid at the Beeb is possibly one of the strangest columns I’ve read in a long time.

Wright had a good on-screen persona that works well with entertainment shows. I’ve no doubt he’ll be a decent presenter of Gladiators. But the court-jester aspect of his persona was one he seemed to play up to, no matter what show he was on. Wright always comes across as a reasonably forceful personality, so if he had a problem with his role, why didn’t he raise it before now?

This is without even touching on the fact Wright was simply not a good pundit. He rarely had anything insightful to say and much of his comments were at best naively jingoistic and at worse downright xenophobic. If he’d managed to produce some good punditry when he was starting out, he could have happily balanced the jester/pundit role. As it is, although he often articulated the tabloidised opinions of plenty of England and Premiership fans, when you contrast his opinions with those of Hansen, Lawro, Marcel Desailly, and Gavin Peacock, to name a few, they were ill-thought through, added nothing to the programme and dragged the general tone of the broadcast down.

The assumption often goes that good players make good pundits, when often the opposite is true. Wright’s certainly no worse than Alan Shearer, Jamie Redknapp, or, on the occasions he’s asked to comment on a game, John Terry. But he pails in comparison to those players who can see beyond the idea that the game is all about passion and don’t describe what everybody else can see.

The Beeb’s dropped some pretty awful pundits before now. Graeme Le Saux, Peter Schmeical, and Tony Adams spring to mind. But, and Jacques notes this, they also employ Marcel Desailly, whose input in the African Cup of Nations was excellent, and Ruud Gullit. Both have outside interests, and it may have escaped Jacques notice that Gullit’s actually now employed by LA Galaxy and probably doesn’t have time to pass comment on Middlesborough v Reading. More’s the pity.

Pundits should be judged on their performance, regardless of the colour of their skin, and Ian Wright was simply not good enough. Jacques comment on his skin colour reads as somebody who had a belief and tries to shorn-horn in an example that doesn’t fit.

Where he’s probably more on the money is that lack of black football managers in the British game [1], and he highlights Paul Ince as an example. It’s certainly worth asking why the likes of Roy Keane, Bryan Robson, and Gareth Southgate, all of whom have had equal playing careers, have reached top level jobs before Ince, who’s had to ply his trade in League 2[2]. Jacques might also want to ask why there are so few Asian players in the league.

But neither of these are the fault of the BBC. And once they find a pundit who is as good as Alan Hansen (nigh-on-impossible) or better than Mark Lawrenson (ok, that should be achievable) then he should be there on merit, and colour should have nothing to do with it, just as the same is true for players on the pitch.

In fact, if the BBC want to be really brave, they should stop signing big names to act as pundits and push forward those who have something to say, and say it intelligently. Gavin Peacock for one, and poach Don Goodman from Sky as another.

UPDATE: An analysis of Wright’s performance as a pundit:

“BBC have two choices, they can either hire Bradley Wright-Philips to provide such groundbreaking analysis in between serving time, or BBC may see this as a time to shift focus and give disproportional coverage to another England fringe player. Perhaps Jermaine Defoe’s father would be interested.”

Also, Martin Jacques really has pulled a Max Gogarty judging by the hammering he’s getting in the comments. 316 last time I looked, and about two of them were complementary.

[1] I lost respect for Ince when he went to manage Franchise FC.

[2] Although this may not necessarily be a bad thing. There’s a lot you can learn from the lower leagues.

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April 2008
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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com