Archive for the 'Mr Fawlty' Category

The old ones are the best

Anybody not from Britain looking at the Twitter trending topics today would have probably been baffled to see Mrs Slocombe’s Pussy near the top. Thanks to the British sense of humour, the catchphrase from 70s sitcom Are You Being Served was all over the microblogging site in tribute to the death of comic actress Mollie Sugden [1]. Jonathan Ross was one of those responsible for getting the topic to the top of Twitter charts.

Sure enough, other countries were a bit puzzled by the trend, so much so that both Techcrunch and Mashable wrote stories complaining that Twitter was getting infected with spam again [2]. They were soon put right in the comments.

I’m not an overly big fan of the show, but this little Twitter trend and the reaction does appeal to my sense of humour. You’d like to think that Mollie Sugden would have found it funny as well. It’s a fitting tribute.

But among all this there is a serious point to be made, with regard to the old blogs v journalism arguments. Especially in light of TMZ’s Michael Jackson scoop, there seems to be a general reluctance to trust blogs ahead of traditional media, even if the blogs have a long and trusted record. Sadly, this little snippet gives the journalist a nice easy own goal.

As many comments in both articles have said, a very quick bit of research would have shown that this was a genuine trending topic and not a story, bar one of those ‘aren’t Twitter users funny’ filler pieces. As it was, both writers immediately jumped to the conclusion that they had a Twitter spam story on their hands and published, seemingly without any checks or approach for comment. Plenty of ammunition for the blogging naysayers.

[But then again some newspaper journalism can’t claim to be a great deal better].

On the other hand, there is a lot to be said here for the fact that both writers visibly corrected their copy very quickly after being called to account, and were prepared to brave the comments. And that’s something you cannot imagine the many newspapers doing, period. Plus, it did bring up the small but interesting question of how Twitter blocks certain phrases from trending.

It doesn’t excuse the rather sloppy research (and desire to pull out a quick post) in the first place [3]. But it does show how news can be more democratic and accountable, and quickly corrected, and that’s got to be a good thing.

[1] For anybody not familiar with the sitcom, it was a running joke where Mrs Slocombe, a very prim and proper lady, would constantly refer to her pet cat in a variety of ways laced with innuendo.

[2] Although it’s easy to forget that pussy has much stronger connotations in the US than it does here.

[3] And I’m writing this as both a fan and a regular reader of both blogs. I think they’re better than a lot of traditional news sources. But when they do mess up, it’s a lot more public.

A wafer-thin slice of the future of TV

For a bunch of aging comedians, the Monty Python crew have always been a bit ahead of many of their younger contemporaries when it comes to the internet. Now they’ve gone where many other TV shows would fear to go – uploading their content for free onto YouTube.

As the Guardian reports, they’ve used the site’s Video ID system to identify their material that’s been uploaded (without their permission), replacing it with better quality footage on their own YouTube channel and attaching adverts to the clips urging watchers to buy their DVDs. That immediately appears to have paid off:

“And there is method in the Pythonesque madness of giving away valuable content for free – Monty Python’s DVD sales are up more than 1,000% following the launch of their YouTube channel, and that’s on Amazon alone. Fans must have been listening to the Python message: “We want you to click on links and buy our movies and TV shows. Only this will soften our pain and disgust at being ripped off all these years …””

As a fan, it’s a great idea – high quality clips for free, while there’s no better way to get you in the frame of mind to buy some classic Python. The quality of the clips is definitely a key hook – why trawl through poor-quality stuff when you’ve got the official stuff in all its glory?

Would this approach work for other shows? Well, the Python team are in a pretty privileged position as they’ve got an established brand and a very large fanbase – not to mention (I’d imagine) hundreds of people searching for clips on YouTube every day.

Whether it’d work for a smaller show trying to make a name for itself or a lengthy drama is an interesting one – but it certainly couldn’t hurt to try.

YouTube is a massive player in online video, so it makes sense to try and utilise it – and if the content’s officially sanctioned, it does give the show’s owner some degree of control. And, as the Python team have already shown, it can have a positive effect on sales.

It’s all part of the more social experience that viewers come to expect online today, and shows that YouTube is hear to stay and should be considered in any promotional strategy. Quite how you then drive traffic from there to your own website, and then ensure you make money from it, is another question entirely. But if you’re not engaging in some way with these sites, there’s always a risk of becoming a dead parrot.

FAIL! How *not* to use Twitter

Newspapers, as I’ve been banging on for as long as I can remember, really need to start embracing and testing out new social media applications, especially Twitter. They’re not difficult to set up, can provide an immediacy their website can’t always provide, and give a great opportunity to interact with their audience and liveblog events.

However, there’s experimentation and then there’s just completely not getting the right stories to use Twitter for. I would dearly love to know what was going through the head of the reporter or editor on the Rocky Mountain News’ head who decided it was a good idea to Live Tweet the funeral of a 3-year-old boy killed at an ice-cream store. Have a read of the reporter’s feed from the funeral – it feels like a Chris Morris satire of social media, or an update of a football game.

It’s great that journalists are embracing sites like Twitter and seeing their potential. But it probably doesn’t hurt to also engage your brain when thinking about the best place to test them out are. Local events or breaking news are probably a good bet. Dead children are usually best avoided for this kind of thing.

If you want a good guide on testing out sites like Twitter, Qik, and Flip, the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones has an excellent piece explaining, quite simply, the sites and how he found using them. Any journalist who’s thinking of trying out the sites should have a read.

Twitter borked. Again.

Twitter sure doesn’t make it easy for people to give it the love they want to give. The downtime and the stressing out and the frequent appearances of the Fail Whale would have done in a lesser company by now, but we stick by it because Twitter is so damn useful.

But judging by the reaction to this morning’s problems that have seen people’s following and follower lists decimated or, in some cases, completely deleted, users are rapidly losing patience. Unless these kind of things are sorted, and quickly, then a Twitter-mass migration might be a way away.

That it hasn’t probably says as much about Twitter’s competitors as it does the site itself. I’ve hardly touched by Plurk account because, while it’s a bit of fun, its just not as instantly useful as Twitter. I can’t really comment on Friend Feed as I’ve not joined, although its been on my to do list for a while. Early adopters do seem to like it though.

If something similar had happened with Facebook, say, it would have been major news and covered by all the mainstream media and done some serious harm to the brand, especially when you’ve got a twitchy set of users showing signs of being ready to perhaps migrate elsewhere.

Twitter’s saving grace may well be it still relatively low profile outside the early adopter and blogging crowd. And the fact it’s so damn useful. But too many more snafus won’t do anything to encourage new users, which is what Twitter needs if it’s to grow as a company. Moreover, it can only be a matter of time before somebody builds a better, more stable Twitter-clone than Twitter.

I still love Twitter. It’s clean, simple and easy to use. It’s been so damn useful for breaking news, making contacts, sharing information and publicity purposes that I now can’t live without it. But many more of these kind of problems and I suspect I won’t be the only one looking elsewhere, assuming there is an alternative.,

Pitching to bloggers

Closing your eyes and diving into the unknown is a somewhat frightening prospect. It’s a little like how I feel pitching to bloggers.

The lines of communication between traditional media and PR are well established and any combustion is usually smoothed over. With bloggers it’s a bit different. Often there’s no existing relationship, and you have no idea how the blogger will react. Not everybody who blogs will appreciate PR bods butting in on the conversation and they’re under no obligation to write anything about whatever it is you’re pitching. Frankly, most of the time they don’t actually need whatever it is you’re pushing, and can happily carry on their conversation without you.

Worse still, get it wrong and the blogger’s got an immediate platform to (justifiably) complain about your cackhanded methods, which will do nothing for your Google juice. And, if you’re really bad, you could end up on a blacklist.

(And given that there appear to be some people out there who aren’t able to pitch to journalists properly, that’s not an unrealistic scenario.)

It’s understandable than some people in all areas of the media are somewhat cautious, even reluctant at reaching out to bloggers. But it would be a mistake to avoid attempting to make contact with bloggers for fear of getting it wrong. If your content, and pitch, is good enough then hopefully you can work into the start of a good working relationship that can be beneficial to both sides.

Strangely, as I started doing some ‘cold’ pitching to bloggers last week I also got an excellent and unexpected example of a ‘cold’ pitch in my own inbox. An email that contains the phrase “And unfortunately I come with no offers of pies, nor biscuits,” in the opening paragraph will get my attention as it’s clearly that

1. It’s been written by a human.

2. They’ve actually made an effort to read a bit about me.

The pitch, from Hyperlaunch, was concise, explained why I’d been contacted, and was detailed on the product I was being pitched. If I’d received it as a journalist and not a blogger [1] I’d have mentally been sketching out a story or a feature in my head by the final paragraph. That’s a sign of excellent PR, even more so when you consider the product being pitched – music site Muzu – wasn’t something I’d normally have paid much attention to. It was professional, personal and an textbook example, if such a thing is possible, on how to make cold contact.

I’ll come to Muzu in another blog post, mainly because I don’t want to head off on a tangent (chance would be a fine thing).

Now contrast this with the only other two pitches I’ve had directed to me-as-blogger. One was a generic press release which was half interesting but I didn’t have time to write about it and there was no sign anybody had made any effort to engage with me. Frankly, if you’re emailing a blogger who runs a one-man site and blogs under his own name, I don’t think it’s asking too much to at least add a hello.

But it was the second pitch that was a classic example in how not to pitch to a blogger. Not only was it something I wasn’t overly interested in, the pitch (now-deleted) went something along the lines of (and I’m condensing and paraphrasing here): “Hello. You’re a blogger. Here’s something we want you to write about. Because you should be grateful we’re bothering with you, please blog this before next week and let us know when you’ve done this.”

This was followed up 18 hours later with a second email along the lines of: “Hello. You’ve not responded to our email. Please indicate if you’re going to blog about it and if you’re lucky we may send you other stuff that we want you to blog about.”

Ok, so I’m being a bit facetious here. But you get the idea. Needless to say, they got a curt ‘no thank you’.

Based on my own experiences, both as a pitcher and a pitchee, it doesn’t seem rocket science to find the correct way to engage with bloggers. To be honest, it’s no different from cold pitching a journalist, and if you can do that, you’re probably not going to hack off the person you want to engage with.

So, for what it’s worth – and these aren’t exhaustive or necessarily to be applied in every situation – a few tips:

  1. Do your research. If you know a bit about the person or blog you’re pitching to it helps. No different from any publication, in that regard.
  2. Don’t assume that because they’re bloggers, they’ll gratefully hoover up any old shite. Group blogs especially will probably exercise a fair bit of editorial control. Much like any newsroom.
  3. Don’t assume that because they’re bloggers, they’re amateurs. Many bloggers are also journalists, or have some experience in these field. Others blog because they know the topic inside out. Or at least better than you do.
  4. Make it relevant. Even if it’s perhaps a bit tenuous, you’ve got to give the blogger a reason why they should be interested in what you’re promoting. Like you would to a journalist.
  5. Be prepared for an open and honest response. A lot of blogs will be happy to build links with PRs, but that doesn’t mean to say if they don’t like what you’re offering, they won’t criticise it. Like journalists should do.
  6. Don’t get offended by an open and honest response. Because since when has screaming down the phone (or email) at anybody ever achieved anything than making you feel better?
  7. Don’t abandon the blogger after they’ve blogged about whatever it is you’re publicising. If they’re favourable to your initial approach, it’s a good opportunity for a long relationship that could be mutually beneficial to both sides. Disappearing after getting what you want leaves the blogger feeling like they’ve just had a less-than-fun one-night stand.
  8. Include a note at the end to say that if the pitch isn’t welcome, then you’re sorry and won’t contact the blogger again. It’s just a nice bit of courtesy at the end of an unsolicited pitch.
For what it’s worth, as a blogger I don’t think it’s worth leaping online and letting rip if you don’t like the approach unless the approach happens to be really bad.
I’ve not blogged about the poor pitch highlighted above because, frankly, up until now it wasn’t worth my time. I’m only mentioning it now because it nicely highlights the point and even then I’d rather not give the company any publicity. If the company repeatedly hassled me, I might consider it. But I’m also willing to accept that it may be a one-off and I’m not going to burn bridges before they’ve been built. Although, writing from a public relations perspective, I’m always likely to say that.
There’s always been the temptation to see bloggers – and other social media tools and sites – in the same light a technophobe may have approached programming the video player for the first time. In fact, programming a video player is a hell of a lot more complicated.
Bloggers don’t usually bite unless you give them a good reason to. And if you treat them as you would any other contact, be it journalist or client, then chances are you’ll get the same respect and courtesy back, even if it’s nothing more than a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’. 

[1] And there’s no reason why these can’t be one and the same.

Journalist in not getting blogging shock

It’s hard not to raise a smile at Dave Hill’s gentle fisking of his local newspaper’s rather arbitrary leader on why teh blogging is rubbish. The column is the kind of thing you’d have expected half or dozen a so years ago when blogging wasn’t as mainstream or as popular as it is now, and everybody (read: the media) seemed convinced citizen journalism via bogs was going to take down traditional media and rule the world and journalists were worried they’d become redundant. Or something.

Fast forward to today (or, if you happen to be reading this light years in the future, 2008) and bloggers haven’t exactly killed off the medium of print, although they have changed the nature of journalism, and how that change will finally pan out is unclear.

But the two are sitting, if not exactly comfortably together, in closer proximity than perhaps was expected. Most major papers now have blogs where journalists and, horrors, the great unwashed interact. Even more shocking is the number of journalists who maintain their own blogs. In their own time! Lawks! Who’d thunk it. Look, there’s one. And here’s another. And, my gosh, another. They’re bloody everywhere.

And what’s more it’s not just journalists who can write and have opinions. A lot of other people do it rather well, often in a niche area. One of the trouble with journalists is, unless we end up seriously specialising, our knowledge is spread a little thin and there’s invariably people out there who know more about the topic than we do. Which is, I think, largely a good thing. Holding the fourth estate to account and all that. And, blimey, occasionally you can learn something. Hell, transparency, which is pretty hot on the web these days, is a good thing. After all, journalists call for it all the time, right?

Ok, blogland does have more than its fair share of tub-thumping nutters who do like causing a shit-storm and enjoying the controversy. That’s largely the nature of a free and open platform for publishing. I’d hazard a guess than the majority of the tub-thumping nutters can also be found among the retired colenels in the letters pages of local newspapers. At the very least, they’re no less nutty than some of the people who write in.

But one of the great things about blogs and other social media is how they’ve changed the nature of newsgathering.

Certainly, today’s journalists are as likely to be tracking a breaking story online using Technorati, Summize and Twing as they are door-knocking (and both have their merits and disadvantages, and are best used in conjunction). Similarly, they’re turning into a great source of news as more newsworthy people get blogs. 

So it’s just slightly depressing to read the following comments in the leader column:

“It’s accepted practice – particularly if a public figure makes controversial remarks on a blog – for newspapers to use them as source material for their follow-up story, subject to the paper contacting the person quoted to check that what appeared is accurate.”

“For a blogger to moan that what they themselves put in the public domain has somehow been pillaged because a newspaper hasn’t acknowledged them smacks of breath-taking petulance.”

And is also one of the fastest ways to severely hack off the blogging community.
I’m not disagreeing with the idea of using blogs as source material, providing the information is verified. There’s fair comment, and taking chunks to build the article around is, in my book, fine, but it helps if you at least let your readers know where you got your information from. Hence trackbacks and links and the like in blogs.
But there’s a world of difference between quoting a blog (or any other piece of work) and lifting the whole thing wholesale, not that national organisations would ever do such a thing.
Put this another way. I have no problem with people quoting or referencing this blog, especially if they find it interesting. To me, it’s a great way of getting feedback, extending conversations, getting points of view I wouldn’t have thought of and, yes, a slightly nice feeling that somebody actually thinks what I’ve written is worth reading and discussing further. And that’s a feeling I got in journalism as well. But if anybody thinks they can lift an entire post, they’ll get an invoice off me for work. Like they would from any freelancer. And I’m not in blogging to make money. If I was, I’d have been out on the streets long ago.
It may seem like I’ve probably just sat grandmother down and spent over an hour teaching her to suck eggs with the help of every egg-sucking training aid on the market. But sometimes it’s worth repeating these things, especially when you combine said leader with the Gripe section in the last issue of The Journalist (thanks to Pink Sunshine for sending me a copy).
When you have a member of the NUJ’s national executive write the following:
“Too often, blogs seem like slags or slogs, probably both; disappointing slogs through slaggings off. Perhaps when blogs have grown up a little more they’ll be better. For many, still, maturity seems a long way off.”
it makes you realise that even though blogging is very much part of the media, there’s still a large number of journalists who don’t or won’t get the potential benefits to their own industry.
[In fairness to The Journalist, there were several good pieces on why bloggers and web-writers need to be accepted into the Union, and how social media can be used for journalism].
Not every journalist makes a good blogger, and certainly not every blogger makes a good journalist. But there’s so much more to the internet, and the communities, and the conversations that take place around these communities. Conversations that don’t necessarily need newspapers to facilitate them.
Quite whether the two writers of the respective columns utilise social media for journalistic purporses, I’ve no idea. But I know if I were at a local paper, I’d like to be engaging with people who can shape my paper, buy my paper, engage with my paper, produce ways to make my paper more profitable, and ultimately help gather news for the paper.
Because, at the end of the day, journalism, local or otherwise, done well will be read accordingly. And journalism done well than engages online with its audience stands a chance of being read, shared and trusted by far more people than a print run could manage.
[And, just to round things off, I stumbled across the initial post from Dave Hill via Martin Stabe]

42: The meaning of [insert own comment here]

I try, largely, to avoid politics on here these days. I also try to avoid hyperbole. In the light of yesterday’s narrow victory (if, indeed, you can use such a word) for the 42 days issue, avoidance is difficult, nay impossible.

Politics has, for me, long stopped being about any idea of governing, having descended into a mixture of bearpit shouting and self-serving interests of those in charge. Yesterday was another day further down whatever slope we’re slowly sliding down into.

There’s never been a decent argument put through for 42 days other than it might be useful at some point in the future and the police would quite like it. It feels more like Gordon Brown’s desire to look tough and reinforce his Premiership than any particular matter of national urgency or necessity, and he failed on both account. It’s just made him look both overly authoritarian and hugely incompetent.

Essentially, we can now been thrown in prison for six weeks if the police feel like it and the government says its necessary. As a matter of interest, even China’s number of days you can be held without charge is lower. Do our elected representatives feel proud of the fact that we now have a more repressive law on the books than that bastion of liberalism, China?

To quote Justin:

“It really doesn’t seem to have occurred to Gordon Brown in his scramble to look hard that if he had a rock solid, utterly convincing, based in evidence case for 42 days he’d have little opposition and none of this tawdry haggling and dragging politics through the shit once again would have been necessary.”

And what really sticks in the craw – and what I suspect will put even more people off politics – is the way the vote was won. I have no problem with votes being won that I disagree with if people are voting because they genuinely believe change is for the better. Take Boris – I didn’t vote for him, but he won the election fair and square, even if you may disagree with the result and despair and the reasons why people voted for him.

But to offer a series of costly concessions isn’t democracy – it is, quite simply, buying votes. And to all those who brought it, I hope you feel proud that you’ve sold out your principles just because somebody dangled a large wodge of cash in front of you in exchange for your support. I hope, whatever you got the money for, it was worth it.

I’m now going to crawl back to my media world and hope to God that the majority of the electorate and politicians see this for what it is, and that this proves to be the last throw of the dice for one of the most illberal governments we’ve ever experienced, who came to power promising so much and will leave doing more damage to their party and ideology (whatever the hell that may be, I’ve no idea anymore) than any piece of investigative journalism or opposition attack ever could have done.

See what they’ve made me do? I’ve lapsed into hyperbole again.

UPDATE: When, as Vee points out on Twitter (which is where I first got the news from), when David Davis finds a Labour policy too right-wing, you know something’s wrong.


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