Archive for the 'I no understand' Category

NightJacking anonymity

Earlier today, Mr Justice Eady [1] ruled that the author of the NightJack blog could not stay anonymous. This will probably mean nothing to most people, but could be a significant case law ruling when it coming to blogging and, potentially, whistleblowing.

If you’ve never heard of NightJack, he’s a policeman who blogged anonymously and candidly about his job. It was an eye-opener and a great read that made you emphasise with hiss job. The blog won an Orwell Award for the quality of it’s writing.

That blog is no more and the author has been disciplined after The Times ‘outed’ NightJack. One of their reporters worked out the bloggers identity, the blogger took out an injunction, the Times challenged that injunction and today’s ruling is the end result. Bloggers cannot expect anonymity.

The Times says of the ruling: “Today newspaper lawyers were celebrating one of the rarer Eady rulings in their favour.” I’d beg to differ. It leaves me with a slightly sick feeling in my stomach and a slightly bitter taste in the mouth.

Let’s go, if I may, on a slight tangent before getting back to the case in hand. Generally speaking, for both blogging an the internet, I think moving away from anonymity is a good thing. We’re moving to an era, especially with social media, where identity is more open and the internet is all the better for it. It cuts down on trolling for a start.

I’m also a big fan of openness and accountability. If somebody asked me about starting a blog, I’d suggest they do it under their own name, or at least made it clear who they were. It clears up any misunderstandings from the off – setting out your stall so people know who you are.

Let’s also be clear, when we’re talking about anonymity, we’re not talking about identities created around blogging here. NightJack was very different to the likes of Devil’s Kitchen, Chicken Yoghurt, Doctor Vee, Bloggerheads or many of the other well-known bloggers. They have their online identity which sites alongside their real name. Anybody can find out who they are in a matter of seconds – their pen names are their blogging personas.

Moving onto the judgement, I can see why Mr Justice Eady came to his eventual judgement. It’s still a bit of a mess but can be fitted into the letter of the law, by and large (although, and this is one of the wonders of the vagueries of the English legal system, you could easily have seen him ruling the other way).

But the judgement: the reasoning, the logic and the whole lead-up to this just doesn’t feel right. As Paul Bradshaw says:

“… this is a ruling that has enormous implications for whistleblowers and people blogging ‘on the ground’. That’s someone else’s ‘public interest’.

And that last element is the saddest for me.”

Let’s leave aside the judgement itself for a minute (the judge can only really rule what’s in front of him) and look to The Times and their role in unmasking NightJack. This is the part that leaves me uneasiest of all.

Their journalist pieced together who NightJack was and then went to publish. And the question I have is why? [2]

NightJack is a public servant, true, but in the grand scheme of things he really isn’t that important. Certainly, going to all this effort to unmask him seems a little, well, excessive.

He’s a blogger. A well-read blogger, yes, and an award-winning one. But is it really in the public’s interest, as opposed to being merely interesting to the public, to know who he is? If he were a Chief Constable, a high-ranking BBC employee, an MP or a civil servant, I could understand this. But a Detective Constable in Lancashire? It’s hardly a high-level scoop is it? Or, indeed, a high-profile and significant victory for openness, as they portray the judgement.

[The other thing that sits uneasy with me here is The Times have previous in this area when they unmasked Girl With A One Track Mind for no other reason, seemingly, than they could. That, more than NightJack, seemed like a particularly pointless act for the sake of a story].

Justin McKeating makes a very good point with regard to The Times’ victory today: that of anonymous sources for journalists. They may not be bloggers, but you can see where Justin’s coming from – the principle is very similar (and apologies for copying a large chunk of his text here, but it helps place his argument in context:

Would I be wrong in thinking that anonymous sources, insiders and friends are conducting the business of democracy in the media with the willing collusion of journalists? If nothing else, it’s in direct contravention of the ‘different type of politics’ promised to us by Gordon Brown – a politics promising a ‘more open and honest dialogue‘.
It would seem to me that some kind of public interest challenge in the courts is in order. Imagine the story in The Times…
Thousands of ’sources’, ‘insiders’ and ‘friends’ churn out opinions daily — secure in the protection afforded to them by the cloak of anonymity lent to them by obsequious journalists.
From today, however, they can no longer be sure that their identity can be kept secret, after a landmark ruling by Mr Justice Eady.
The judge, who is known for establishing case law with his judgments on privacy, has struck a blow in favour of openness, ruling that democracy is “essentially a public rather than a private activity”.
What could be more in the public interest than that?

 

Would I be wrong in thinking that anonymous sources, insiders and friends are conducting the business of democracy in the media with the willing collusion of journalists? If nothing else, it’s in direct contravention of the ‘different type of politics’ promised to us by Gordon Brown – a politics promising a ‘more open and honest dialogue‘.

It would seem to me that some kind of public interest challenge in the courts is in order. Imagine the story in The Times…

Thousands of ’sources’, ‘insiders’ and ‘friends’ churn out opinions daily — secure in the protection afforded to them by the cloak of anonymity lent to them by obsequious journalists.

From today, however, they can no longer be sure that their identity can be kept secret, after a landmark ruling by Mr Justice Eady.

The judge, who is known for establishing case law with his judgments on privacy, has struck a blow in favour of openness, ruling that democracy is “essentially a public rather than a private activity”.

What could be more in the public interest than that?

This comes back to Paul Bradshaw’s earlier point about whistleblowers and ‘on the ground’ bloggers.

When it comes to the majority of bloggers, it probably doesn’t matter too much whether they’re anonymous or not. It’d be nice if we knew who they were, as I said earlier, but, at the end of the day, most of the time it’s not really a huge issue.

But those bloggers who write detailed and informative posts about their profession are much rarer and are worth treasuring. Blogs like NightJack, PC Bloggs, Dr Crippen and The Magistrate’s Blogs are essential reads.

They are candid and often eye-opening and enables you to get a better idea of the problems facing our police force, judiciary and NHS. They lift the lid, often a very small lid, on the inner workings of these professions. If anything, they give the public a remarkable insight into the inner workings. And to my mind, this is largely a good thing, as Tom Reynolds points out:

 

“What bloggers do is humanise and explain their section of the world – public sector bodies do well to have bloggers writing within them, after all these are the people who careabout what they do, about what improvements should be made and about where the faults come from. They highlight these things in the hopes that, in bringing this information into the public consciousness, they can effect a change that they would otherwise be powerless to bring about.

Anonymity provides a protection against vindictiveness from management who would rather do nothing than repeat the party-line, or lie, that everything is perfect, there is no cause for concern. Having seen management do, essentially illegal things, in order to persecute and victimise staff – anonymity is a way of protecting your mortgage payments.”

 

You can understand why they are anonymous [3]. The blogs probably contravene the terms of their employment. Yet, in their own small ways, they are important for the public to read, more so than the person writing them (in all honesty, the writer of NightJack could have been any Detective Constable). [4]

There are very few bloggers for whom anonymity is a near-necessity, and if it stops others coming forward to give their insights then the internet will be poorer for it. And for what purpose. One article that doesn’t really amount to much.

Not everybody will agree with this. David MacLean makes some very good points as to why NightJack shouldn’t remain anonymous, although even he calls The Times’ decision to publish “a tough one”.

In the grand scheme of things, The Times’ unmasking story by itself really isn’t overly big. The legacy of if could well be.

 

[1] A name familiar to anybody who’s studied media law.

[2] Anton Vowl asks the same question.

[3] Not all are. Tom Reynolds from Random Acts of Reality, who has some fairly strong words about this case, and Suzi Brent from Nee Naw are more public examples. But I’d wager they’ve had some awkward conversations with their line managers at some point.

[4] One of The Times’ arguments was NightJack was committing Contempt of Court with his posts, and there is an argument here. Certainly if the blog had collapsed a trial there would be little argument against naming the author. That said, the internet is a hideously grey area when it comes to contempt. A reasonable amount of time on Google would probably produce enough to piece together extra information on any significant trial covered in either the national or local press. You’d probably have to do a fair bit of work to piece together events from a trial and link them back to the blog, and the level of threat the blog posed to a fair trial… possibly minimal. It doesn’t make it right, but I’d be surprised if anything NightJack wrote would have led to a trial being abandoned.

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Our survey says…

… or why you should take Twitter lists with a pinch of salt.

There’s nothing a geek likes more than a good list and as Twitter is full of geeks, there’s nothing us geeks like more than a good list about Twitter. It’s pretty common to see lists of top Twitterers on certain topics or locations.

Of course the lists also can provide a useful guide to who’s who and who’s getting it right, especially where brands are concerned, especially as more and more companies realise it’s worth being on Twitter.

Earlier today Brand Republic released a list of the most mentioned brands on Twitter. It was interesting stuff and looked like a pretty comprehensive list of who was getting Twitter right.

Except it wasn’t. It was a useful snapshot, but shouldn’t be viewed as the be all and end all as there were more than a few flaws.

A quick disclosure at this point, as the following may sound like sour grapes on my part. The company I work for, ITV, wasn’t on the list, whereas the BBC and Channel 4 (3rd and 28th respectively) were.

This struck me as slightly odd. We’ve been on Twitter for over a year now (unlike many of the brands in the list [1]), and have 4,778 followers. This is more than Amazon, Ford and eBay, all of whom appear in the top 15 (of course followers don’t necessarily equal mentions).

What’s more, I know ITV gets between 50-100 mentions on a quiet day because I have assorted Tweet Beep alerts set up. Even allowing for a very quiet few days, I’d comfortably expect us to be above Dulux on 208 mentions.

Again, at the risk of sounding like a sulky teenager who realises there’s a party that they’re not invited to, it does seem there’s some serious flaws in this research. For a start, there’s no sign of Facebook anywhere on the list, which is an even more surprising omission than ITV.

First of all, there’s no word what the methodology is, so it’s difficult to work out how Jam, the agency that carried out the research, came to decide who to monitor and who didn’t. What qualifies as a brand and what doesn’t?

Also, there are thousands of brands out there, so it would be useful to know the scope of research and monitoring. Were they just given 100 brands to monitor? 200? What were the parameters? There’s a wide and varied range of companies on the list, so it’s safe to assume the scope was pretty wide.

Then there’s the way the brands were monitored – over three days in April this year. This is also problematic. The short timescale and lack of repetition increases the likelihood of a fluctuation in Twitter mentions for a brand that could be regarded as an anomaly in the Top 100.

For example, at the height of the Swine Flu panic, you’d expect Tamiflu to pick up quite a few mentions. If you’re including Chelsea FC as a brand (which I would), they’d trend very highly this week. When Woolworths went into administration, mentions alone would probably have placed it in the top ten.

The research doesn’t allow for rinsing out these random results. If the timescale were longer – say three months rather than days – you’d probably get a more accurate picture of which brands were mentioned the most. Or you could repeat the three day monitoring over, say, three weeks and see which brands consistently trended higher. The point in, a brand that finds itself in the news – unexpectedly or otherwise – will probably make it onto this list.

These are the main flaws, but – and although this probably goes byond that rather narrow parameters of the research commissioned – the list itself is probably more useful to the brands not on Twitter than those who already are. But mentions themselves don’t tell much about how the brand engages on Twitter.

Sure, they may get plenty of mentions, but is the brand passive or active? Also, it’s impossible to tell if the mentions are good or bad. For example, GMail had a brief hiccup early today. It would probably have made a significant spike in mentions of Google, which would a) as likely be negative and b) beyond Google’s control on Twitter.

Again, I’m well aware this sounds like moaning – and, yes, this does somewhat influence it. But it ties into a more general problem I have with these kind of lists.

Brand Republic’s Top 100 is useful as a snapshot, providing we accept the flaws. It also may provide the catalyst for some slightly sounder, more detailed research. But it’s also slightly misleading.

The list itself doesn’t mention the three-day limit until right at the end, and below an advert. It would be easy enough for people to look at the list, see ITV aren’t on there and assume we’re doing nothing on Twitter, in comparison to the BBC and Channel 4, which then gives the online reputation a bit of a dent.

There’s nothing wrong with these type of lists – they’re interesting, useful and generate a good amount of discussion both within and outside the brand. But if there’s no preamble to place it in context, there’s a danger they could be taken in the wrong way.

It also comes into the fringes of a pet grumble of mine – badly designed surveys and data collection. I’m a bit of a stats geek and number cruncher and have a firmly held belief that if you’re going to do research then you should at least open up your methodology and let the rest of us poke around for holes and flaws.

Ok, so it’s not exactly hard science, but there’s still science in there and if you give the research a good going over, you can either make it stronger or disprove it.

Which is somewhat of a lengthy way of saying there’s potential for some significant objective research of brands on Twitter (which would be tricky, but there’s no reason, with the right design, why it couldn’t be done). As opposed to a list like this which is interesting but not very useful as a piece of research.

[1] And even then I’m convinced I’ve seen Twitter accounts for a few of the brands on the list who aren’t meant to have a Twitter presence.

Social media and the soapbox

Gosh, there’s nothing like a few well placed words for kicking off a party political crisis. Or, rather, there’s nothing like a slightly weird video that presents the Prime Minister of this country looking like a strange gurning alien for kicking off a party political crisis.

Earlier this week, Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, wrote in the Observer:

“YouTube if you want to. But it’s no substitute for knocking on doors or setting up a stall in the town centre.”

It’s pretty obvious what her target was here: the YouTube video where Gordon Brown announced plans to reform MPs expenses without telling Parliament first. It also contained a few somewhat frightening impromptu smiles that didn’t help his image one jot.

Sadly, this kerfuffle has somewhat shown British politics in a somewhat unfortunate light again when it comes to social media. You’d think when you’ve got Barack Obama and his supporters embracing the web, that politicians in the UK from all parties could learn from this.

But, no. We’re still on either dismissing tools like YouTube out of hand or, worse still, condemning any attempt to engage online as a waste of taxpayers money. 

Take this rather ignorant post from Conservative MP Nadine Dorries on her attitude to Twitter.

In some respects it’s no different from what you’d hear from others who don’t get or don’t want to get Twitter. But to hear it from an elected representative is somewhat disappointing.

It essentially implies that she’s quite simply not going to bother engaging in a growing platform that provides an excellent way to directly connect with voters. As Chris at Clicking and Screaming says:

“I see little difference between the banal comments of the Twittersphere about ‘In the Loop’ and the banal opinions of a Member of Parliament on anything outside her remit. If it’s interesting to you, follow it. If not, don’t. But don’t lash out at those who do.

The compulsive need of those not involved to discuss it at length shows a fear of the unknown which, for a politician (and I generally have more respect for politicians than most do), is short-sighted.”

Let’s come back to Blears’ comments that You Tube is no substitute for door-to-door canvassing or taking the soapbox on tour. Again, it’s dismissing a wide-reaching social media tool used by a lot of the voting and non-voting public. It sounds a lot like one of those people back in the day who thought email would never catch on.

Local electioneering still has its place but YouTube has the potential to reach millions – many more than the town centre soapbox [1].

A few MPs even have their own YouTube channel, including Blears’ colleague Sadiq Khan [2]. But even then, this reveals a whole new set of problems. The most popular video on Khan’s channel has 227 views. The rest average somewhere between seven and about 150. Still, it’s a start.

The problem, to me, is one that’s all too common in any business or organisation or industry. You have some people who get social media and want to engage. You have some that know that they should probably be on these sites in some way, shape or form but aren’t sure how, and you have those who just don’t want to know.

Politicians, largely, are in the second and third groups. Brown’s office is probably in the second – they’re making the right moves but aren’t really utilising it properly.

So, for Brown’s YouTube videos, it has a feeling of somebody suggesting it as a good idea but with no real strategy behind it or a proper feeling for how YouTube works.

It feels somewhat like The Thick Of It special where the opposition MP’s advisor starts a blog, while the politician himself doesn’t really care.

In all honesty, it probably wouldn’t take a lot of work to join together all the aspects. There’s no reason why, say, Brown couldn’t have announced the expenses measure to the chamber and then had a YouTube video posted immediately after the announcement (sans gurning, you’d hope) and then followed it up with, ooh, a blog post and the like.

Then, on the other side, perhaps Labour (or perhaps an apolitical body) could pull together all the politician YouTube videos, and Twitter accounts, in one place so it’s easy for constituents to find and engage with their MP (which is, after all, one of the main reasons why they were elected, right?).

And there’s no harm in giving the Twitter feed or YouTube channels a plug. I only stumbled across Sadiq Khan’s feed when I was looking for something else – in 18 months living in Tooting, I’d never had information offline that he had a web presence and it wasn’t top of my agenda to look. Many other voters probably have similar mindsets.

As The Register points out, moderating comments isn’t that difficult (and it doesn’t seem as if Downing Street had even thought of it) and there’s so much untapped potential for politicians in this country to get involved in social media, engage and perhaps win back some of the trust that they seem so keen to squander on a regular basis.

But instead Labour (and, via Dorries, the Conservatives as well) have managed to get social media, their strategy and response so spectacularly wrong. Which leads to another spat. Which turns voters off even further.

Add to this the smeargate emails, and the media’s obsession that Iain Dale, Gudio Fawkes and the unlamented Derek Draper, are the only web-politics that matter, well, it just doesn’t want to make you get involved online.

In the US, Obama used social media and the web to bring about a positive movement that engaged the average voter in politics. In the UK, all we can do is sling political mud at each other online. How very depressing.

[1] It’s worth saying that the soapbox offers politicians a direct way to engage and spend time talking to constituents, but there’s no guarantee that the constituents want to engage. With social media – You Tube, Facebook, Twitter et al – you can measure the level of success much more effectively AND engage in conversation.

[2] The only reason I’ve chosen Sadiq Khan is he used to be my local MP so I’m slightly more familiar with his online presence (he has a Twitter feed as well) rather than any particular like of dislike of the politician.

jfffffffI see little difference between the banal comments of the Twittersphere about ‘In the Loop’ and the banal opinions of a Member of Parliament on anything outside her remit. If it’s interesting to you, follow it. If not, don’t. But don’t lash out at those who do.
The compulsive need of those not involved to discuss it at length shows a fear of the unknown which, for a politician (and I generally have more respect for politicians than most do), is short-sighted.

Come on PR, you can do better than this

Somehow, somewhere, one of the email addresses I use at work has got itself onto some kind of PR mailing list. How this happened I’m not exactly sure, but it’s the only explanation I can think of for the sudden influx of assorted press releases landing in the inbox each day.

Given that the address in question is a PR address, I doubt they’ll be getting coverage any time soon.

Interestingly, I’ve had a few colleagues and fellow PRs mention that they’ve been getting assorted press releases as well. There are clearly a few people out there in my chosen industry who haven’t done their homework.

It’s a tad depressing, to be honest, to see such bad PR first hand on a daily basis. I don’t want to indulge in a round of PR bashing – it’s not overly constructive for one thing – because I also see much more good PR than bad PR on a daily basis as well.

Nevertheless, my heart still sinks at the idea that there are PR people and companies who still think a mass mail out to all and sundry is an effective way of working. Sure, you’ll probably get a bit of coverage but, by the same token, if you throw a handful of tennis balls into a crowded street, chances are you’ll hit a couple of people.

Once, in a hurry, I did a mass send-out cobbling together a list from assorted sources. The pick-up was poor. I’ve since gone back to that list, made individual dialogue, established what form of contact and what type of stories they’re looking for, and the response has generally been a lot more receptive towards whatever I’m doing. I know, bad me for taking the lazy way out.

In many respects, I have some sympathy for Charles Arthur and others who’ve been known to lose it on occasions with PR. If you’re on several of these lists and constantly get an endless stream of emails, it can get very irritating. I’d never completely give up on emailed pitches though. During my full-time newsroom days, every now and then, amongst the dross, you’d find a little gem. Sure, it’s not substitute for actually going out there and getting stories, but it always a welcome surprise.

It still doesn’t excuse the arbitrary mail-out lists though. Part of me pities the companies who hire whatever firm it is that sends out these releases. The other part thinks that if they’ve chosen such a bad PR representative they deserve to see their cash go down the drain.

It’s so easy to do lazy, bad PR (then again, it’s also easy to do lazy, bad journalism). You wonder what they must do at work all day. Checking that you’re actually contacting the right person? That surely shouldn’t be too hard, no? I still wonder how this work email got onto the PR list. It’s not exactly easy to mistake for a journalist’s address.

Every now and then I consider emailing them back pointing out, politely, that they’re contacting the wrong person. Then again, I’ve had somebody insist I was the right person and got angry when I pointed out I couldn’t give his release coverage (reminding me somewhat of that woman from the Apprentice last night who insisted on arguing with the customer).

And then you occasionally get the truly impressive PR fails. Like today, when I emailed one of the random releases back, again politely pointing out they were going to the wrong place. I got an out of office. Ten minutes after we’d received the release.

Thankfully I know enough people in the industry who are doing inspiring stuff. My colleagues for one. Or the people I meet at varying networking events. But then it’s always the bad examples that drag down the industry’s reputation (justified or otherwise), and cause journalists to tut and sigh and roll their eyes and declare PR to be useless.

Generally speaking we’re not useless. But when, as a PR, you get pitched with hideously bad PR you wonder how these people managed to land a job in the industry. Or if they’ll still have one in a couple of years.

From despair to where?

Otherwise known as a quick, likely-to-be-ill-thought-out, ill-informed pondering on the state of the media industry.

Everywhere media-related seems to be making cutbacks. Even places that you would normally have put down as safe are tightening their belts. Friends, colleagues and people I don’t know but have heard of are all getting laid off, and many of these have surprised given, given their jobs.

It’s not just that we’re in a global recession. It’s also that this industry really doesn’t know where the hell it’s going. Journalism. Broadcasting. PR. None of them safe. Or with any real idea of where they meant to be going.

If this were an interview and the media was asked where it would be in five years time, it’d have a hard job in answering. If it were then asked where it saw itself in ten years time, it’d find the question impossible to answer.

You do wonder if the skills you’ve been trained in, and others you’ve picked up along the way, will be completely redundant in the not-too-distant future.

Everywhere seems to be in trouble. We’re constantly told online is the future – and it IS the future – but it just doesn’t seem to be entirely sure how it wants to be the future.

I have an inkling things will pick up. Not in the sense of green shoots of recovery, but more to do with the fact that when this recession, and downturn and general media crisis of identity is over, there will be a need for quality journalism, PR and broadcasting.

Sadly this need will be because there will probably be huge holes in the market by this stage and, as with any good market, where there’s a hole and a demand, something will inevitably plug it.

So, yes, there will be an upturn. At some point. But when is anybody’s guess. If this were a Hollywood war movie, the sergeant would turn his face away and to the ground and sadly say: “We lost a lot of good men out there.”

At this stage it’s common for a blogger to offer his twopence worth on “hey, but this is how you can get through it.”

If only it were that easy.

All those of us in the industry – be it journalism, PR, broadcasting or a combination of some or all of these – can do is watch, learn, adapt to developments (both online and offline), try innovative stuff, and never ever compromise on quality or belief that nobody else, to quote Carly Simon, nobody does it better, no matter what we do. There, by the grace of God, we will survive. Hopefully.

(Then again, you do wonder if any print papers will survive when you read something like this.)

If anybody has any idea what they think this industry will look like in five to ten years type, please do leave a comment below. I’ll post my own thoughts at some point in the near future.

Just *what* do you want?

If, in the future, we’re all going to be sat at our desks blogging, Tweeting, Flickring and whatnot, for the rest of eternity, we’ll probably need e-numbers to get through it.

Whether or not that was one of the reasons behind Skittles taking their home page all social media-like, we’ll never know. But they are one of the more high profile brands to experiment with the various tools online. Whether it’s worked or not is another matter.

To recap: anybody logging into their Twitter last Monday would have probably found a slew of tweets with the hashtag #skittles. These were then fed into the Skittles home page which was updating all mentions of the sweet on Twitter.

After a while people started cottoning onto this and includes tweets about paedophiles and the like to watch them get onto the home page. Social media types are a nice bunch, but we do have a somewhat borderline/evil sense of humour.

Regardless, Skittles were THE trend on Twitter that day, even if it’s difficult to say if this takeover was a good or a bad thing. In the short-term, it definitely worked. The brand was being talked about and I’d imagine there’s a high chance consumption of the rather icky sweet went up among users of the mircoblogging tool.

But there’s still one nagging question here – just what exactly were they hoping to achieve?

Yes, it was a bold move. Yes it was reasonably innovative for such a mainstream brand. Yes, it got them talked about for a short period of time. But, to be blunt, what for? And what now?

Currently their homepage brings up their Wikipedia entry. Which is nice but, um, what precisely are we meant to do with it? Sure, it’s more informative than a garish flash page, but if I wanted to find out about Skittles on Wikipedia I’d, well, go to Wikipedia.

At Econsultancy, Patricio Robles is similarly nonplussed:

“What exactly did Skittles reinforce by turning its homepage into a Twitterstream? That’s the $64,000 question the people in charge of the Skittles brand should be asking themselves because the truth is that buzz doesn’t build, reinvigorate or reinvent brands.

A coherent message does.

I think that’s something marketers need to keep in mind when they experiment with the ever-growing world of social media. If brands see social media as little more than a cheap tool for getting some short-term attention, they might as well stay home. Branding is a long-term game.”

And that is really the problem a lot of brands or companies have with the internet in a nutshell. Most media people have probably been in at least one meeting where somebody asks “Can we get this on the internet / blogs / Twitter?”

Even if it’s the kind of thing that fits well with any given social media site, the ‘what now’ question remains. Skittles have got some great short-term publicity and have shown a lot more social media savvy than a lot of other brands, but now that they’ve got Skittles out there in social media, what do they intend to do with it?

This may well be part of a slow strategy to get Skittles out there bit by bit. If it’s just doing it for the sake of, well, doing it then they’ve got their buzz and then, a few months down the line, everybody will have forgotten about it.

Building a social media presence, be it for your own work, a brand, a personality, a TV show, or whatever isn’t just a case of putting it out into the internet and leaving it.

Sometimes this does work, admitedly, but this usually means you’ve got a simple little thing that users love and start doing their own thing with.

But more often than not, the brand is thrown out in a great blaze of glory and is then sadly neglected when it’s this second step on continual engagement that can yield the greatest benefit in the long run.

And on a slight tangential note, if you want an excellent guide on how to pitch your brand across Twitter, Kai Turner’s post on Mashable is one of the best possible pieces you can read.

The NUJ and online media

Adam Tinworth’s two posts on the National Union of Journalists and their attitude to blogs and social media in general makes for rather depressing reading.

I’m well aware that this is just one discussion on one blog and isn’t necessarily representative of the whole organisation, but it’s illuminating on the (one) mindset of NUJ.

It all started when Adam’s colleague Martin Couzins wrote an impassioned plea for better online training from the NUJ on his personal blog.

The chair of the NUJ’s Professional Training Committee, Chris Wheal then responded in the comments, starting with the opening of “Try to be more constructive.” Not exactly a great start to addressing the question, although, in fairness he did offer a list of what was available.

Adam then picked up on this despairing that the response was rude and not overly helpful, and followed up a day later noting he’d had traffic to his blog from an NUJ internal email entitled “Effing blogs”.

What’s followed in the comments in both blog posts is uncomfortable to watch as it shows some very basic (wrong) assumptions on the behalf of Wheal and an attitude to blogging that, at worst, has the potential to alienate digital journalists the country over (please note: that says at worst.  And potential).

I don’t want this to seem like I’m picking on Wheal [1] but while he comes accross as web-savvy, his comments in both pieces just don’t seem to grasp how social media (God, sorry) operates.

Now, it’s certainly the case that there’s a massive grey area in the whole blogging / journalism arena. There are many blogging journalists and many journalists who blog (there is a difference), as well as many bloggers who do journalism and bloggers who just blog.

It can sometimes get a little tricky to sort out which shows how difficult it is to define what constitutes journalism in a Web 2.0 world, which, in turn is probably one huge problem the NUJ face. I don’t envy them trying to sort that definition out, as it often escapes those of us who work in the online medium on a daily basis.

But, if you’re really insisting on a straight definition (if such a thing is possible) then a blog (usually a group blog) that’s set up with the intention of making money through articles and opinion that resemble traditional journalism, kind of comes under the first.

That’s a completely imperfect definition, I know. It’s the best I can do on a Friday evening. It was rewritten half a dozen times before I gave up.

But then plenty of journalists blog on a personal level in their spare time. Adam’s One Man And His Blog is clearly a personal blog musing on the industry and other things he finds interesting, just as this blog is a personal blog. What I do elsewhere, mostly at Soccerlens, I classify as journalism.

Does that rough definition make sense? It’s the best I can give.

The reason for going into this somewhat lengthy and winding discussion on what classifies as journalism on a blog, his because Chris (and apologies if I’ve misinterpreted what he’s written as this is how it reads to me) seems to think all blogs should be lumped into the principles of journalism while at the same time utterly dismissing the notion that blogs have journalistic worth.

Now, there’s undoubtedly a point to be made on the standards on blogs. If blogging wants to be taken seriously as journalism then it should certainly hold it up to the same standards as offline journalism [2].

But, by and large, I think the best blogs do that. Why are, say, like likes of Shiny Media or Techcrunch any different from Roy Greenslade blogging at the Guardian, or a non-professional blogging for a local newspaper site on a community issue? Or Ben Goldacre who writes for the Guardian and blogs on the same topic and is VERY passionate about journalistic standards.

Or how about my writing for When Saturday Comes and Soccerlens. They’re on the same issues (slightly different audience) but one is print and one is online. Does the fact that you can’t hold a copy of Soccerlens in your hand make my articles have less worth?

But, by the same token, if you’re clearly writing personal thoughts on a personal blog, should you contact the subject of your thoughts (often personal posts are written on a whim in a spare moment) as Chris indicates?

I’ll leave that one hanging, if I may.

But, no, what has really got the digital journalism and bloggers fired up is not just the rather dismissive and condescending attitude in the comments (sorry Chris, that really is how it comes across) but this following comment:

“The NUJ fails to maintain standards in blogs because bloggers themselves rejoice in having lower standards.”

Ouch.

And Chris had earlier complained about huge generalisations in Adam’s post as well.

I honestly think that any points or arguments Chris made about encouraging bloggers to contact the NUJ have been undermined in that one sentence.

How many blogs actively make a point of celebrating the fact they’re, well, a bit shit? One of the joys of blogs and the internet in general is that it’s far easier to call out bad writing and journalism than ever before.

But let’s put blogs to one side for the moment and go back to the NUJ and the future of journalism itself, starting with a quick detour on my own quick history and thoughts on the organisation.

I’m not a member. This isn’t out of any conviction or protest on my part. I was a student member when I was at university in Cardiff. The Cardiff branch were excellent at keeping in touch and keeping me informed even though I never got in touch with them. That was comforting.

When I left Cardiff and moved from student to full-time journalist, I had a quick go at upgrading my details and signing but didn’t get anywhere.

A couple of emails went unanswered and I couldn’t get hold of anybody on the phone and it wasn’t high on my list of priorities, and I forgot about it. I’ve thought about joining over the years, but again, it’s always slipped by the wayside. No bitterness, just absent mindedness on my part coupled with no real pressing need to join.

I certainly wouldn’t go as far as Dave Lee, who, a few weeks ago, asked what the point of joining was. If anything, I think Dave’s given them too much of a harsh ride, although he has several valid points as well.

If I were freelance, I think joining the NUJ would be top of the list of my priorities, as I know they’re excellent in supporting that area of the profession.

The NUJ also offers excellent legal protection and help, from what I’ve read (thankfully I’ve never needed this) and if you’re a journalist facing redundancy, I’d imagine their support is second-to-none. They’re also very good at protesting against job cuts.

However, as Dave points out, it can sometime feel with the NUJ that the protests against job cuts fail to take into account the rapidly-changing nature of an industry that is all-too-often desperately short of money and facing an uncertain future.

It’s all too easy to say job cuts = bad. But, and this comes back to the point I think Martin was making that originally sparked this little brouhaha, while protesting about job cuts is one thing, giving efficient practical training and advice to help make journalists more employable in a digital age is quite another.

This isn’t to say that the NUJ is necessarily behind the times. After all, with a membership that vast, there’s plenty of online evangelists [3]. They had a very good article on Twitter in the Journalist magazine about nine months ago, showing they were very much awake to the potential of the microblogging site as a newsgathering tool. General Secretary Jeremy Dear has a blog, which is a good thing.

Again, in fairness to Chris – and without ever having been on the courses listed – from his list on Martin’s blog there looks like a good basic level of online training.

But, again, Chris’ comments on Adam’s blog combined with the Effing blogs email combined with the NUJ really don’t having a great reputation in the online and social media community really doesn’t help things.

Adam is (or perhaps soon to be was) a member of the NUJ and is a different generation from me, who could see the usefulness but never got around to joining, and we’re both different generations to Dave, who can’t see the point and hasn’t joined.

Ok, now three out of God knows how many isn’t representative. I know that. But it highlights a couple of issues, I think.

Dave and I have both grown up in an era where unions aren’t as influential or prevalent than they used to be [4]. We’re not expected to join a union. Indeed, of all the people who I trained with, I don’t think that many joined the NUJ.

Now, to bring in Adam, we’re all working in a digital age and environment (although, in my case, my day job is now in PR). The NEXT generation of journalists will have grown up not only without unions but immersed in that online environment.

They will blog, Twitter, podcast [5], vodcast and whatever else comes along between now and then. They will work for web-only publications, some of whom probably haven’t even been conceived at this point in time.

And if you’ve got their professional representative body taking a dismissive attitude to blogging on Adam’s blog and throughout the web (and this will all show up in Google when they search for the NUJ) then it’s hardly going to encourage them to join.

Putting my PR hat on, I could easily tell Chris that one of the quickest and most surefire ways to damage your brand online is to lash out in blogs comments, especially on blogs of respected people in their field, like Adam (who is well-known and highly regarded in his field).

No matter how wronged you feel your organisation has been, getting angry doesn’t help the cause. If there are any perceived errors, politely point them out. Offer to help with any of their gripes (which Chris did try to do at various points).

Above all, don’t get drawn into a slanging match. Your brand will be better off for it. If you feel the blog is that influential and the matter is that important, then you can always drop the author a polite but firm email and ask for corrections.

I love the openness and transparency of blog comments, both as a PR and whenever I turn my hand to journalism again. I can correct and acknowledge mistakes, enter into debate and learn things I didn’t know. What’s not to like?

The fact that the NUJ’s Chair of their Professional Training Committee doesn’t seem to understand blogs and comments – one of the most basic aspects of social media that has been around for ages – does not bode well for the organisation’s future. And it does not encourage me, or, I suspect others that work in an online or digital environment, to want to join the organisation. God alone knows what it says to young, digitally aware journalists of the future.

This is a personal view. It’s not written as a professional article (although if it were an opinion piece for a media industry publication, the sentiment would be the same).

But if anybody – and that includes Chris and anybody from the NUJ – wants to disagree with me, correct me, or add something to the discussion I’ve not thought of, then I’d love to see the comments used for this purpose. Because that’s what they’re their for, regardless of who I am or what I do.

[1] Who, again, does seem to have a good grasp of the tools available on the net. He’s already a better man than me if he can use Yahoo Pipes to their full extent – something I’ve never really tried, and something I know I should try.

[2] Offline journalism is, in itself, a ridiculous notion, as very few ‘old’ media don’t have a web presence. And those who don’t probably won’t be around for much longer if they don’t.

[3] Yuck, sorry, hideous terminology there.

[4] Not saying if this is a good or a bad thing, but certainly Thatcher and Murdoch did their best to get to this state of play.


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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