Posts Tagged 'Techcrunch'

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.

Lessons in PR and journalism

The small spat between Techcrunch and TuneCore has provided a bit of minor entertainment on a slow afternoon, but also acts as a perfect example of getting both initial enquiries and PR strategy a bit on the wonky side.

[For those who don’t click the link: Techcrunch intern emails TuneCore press email, gets a slightly curt and defensive email back from TuneCore CEO (Why are you asking? How will this information be used? Who are you? Who funds you?), intern re-emails, gets a bit of a curt reply back].

There’s been a lot of (rather amusing) back and forth in the comment between those who think TuneCore’s CEO committed a howler and those who think the initial Techcrunch query was right to elicit the response it did.

Now the initial query looks harmless enough:

“Hello, I’m currently conducting research for TechCrunch’s company database (CrunchBase.com). Can you give me information on the funding TuneCore has had to date? Can you provide me with the rounds, amounts, dates and investors? Thanks for your help.

Peter”

In honesty, I’ve had a lot vaguer, confusing queries come my way. At least this is pretty easy to understand what they’re after. But if you’re a business and get an approach like this, I could see why you’d be wary, especially if it’s from a webmail account (gmail in this instance). Again, I’ve seen a few similar emails to this in the past which raise a few questions.

So, yes, there’s a web address on there, which helps, but when I was chasing stories or information from people who might not get contacted on a regular basis by the press or I hadn’t spoken to before, then this would all be laid out. And it was largely done by phone and probably still should be, if the person on the other end was contactable or there was a reasonably obvious number.

The web and social media is fantastic for building relationships and developing contacts but sometimes there’s just no substitute for picking up the phone, even if you have to repeat yourself in the email later. At least you get a rapport and can explain yourself and what you need in the first instance.

Now there’s a not unreasonable argument that if you’re a startup you should have heard of TechCrunch, but that’s still an assumption and in journalism and PR you should never assume anything. Just as with PR, the more information you can give, the better the response is likely to be.

But whatever the merits or otherwise of the initial enquiry, it certainly didn’t warrant the response it got. By all means query it but if the email was sent to a press contact address then you’ve got to accept that anything you say could end up in the public domain.

As for the language – fair enough, Jeff Price might not have been too impressed with the initial enquiry (and lord knows I’ve seen enough that make you want to headbutt the desk in sheer frustration) and may have even suspected the email was bogus. But, if it’s come through on the press contact email, as far as you know you’re dealing with the media until proven otherwise.

And, at the end of the day, there’s just no excuse for rudeness. You may think the enquiry isn’t worth your time, you may be in a bad mood, it may have caused you more problems than necessary, but a sarky line will kill any chance of building any future relationship with the organisation. It works on both sides – as a journalist, there were several PR people I’d do my best to avoid because they were more trouble than the story was worth. Similarly, PRs will mentally note any journalist that’s especially difficult to deal with and do the same.

Put simply, even if the person on the other end of the email or phone is making you want to scream, keeping it civil usually pays off in the long term. I’ll never forget the absolutely maddening PR person who rang back a few weeks later with a great lead.

As for setting the press email to send direct to the CEO, that’s just plain daft. Even if you want the CEO to respond to most requests, they’re likely to be a busy person. At the very least somebody should be filtering and responding before it gets there.

The whole Techcrunch post could be printed out and discussed in media training schools across the country, even if it was ultimately a bit unnecessary and achieved nothing bar providing a good giggle for anybody reading it.

As Mark Twain once said, it’s far better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re an idiot than to open it and confirm that.

And yes, given that I file anything relating to me under the category idiot, I most definitely would earn the disapproval of Mr. Twain.

Newsclipper: Why video matters

I’d just finished replying to a comment on the newspapers & video post when a post from Techcrunch popped up in my RSS feed and highlighted exactly why any media outlet who is doing video online needs to take it seriously.

Techcrunch highlights Newsclipper, a sort of Google News for video. It’s only sweeping the big American broadcast networks, and there are copyright issues here, but with video becoming a popular medium or both broadcast and print outlets online it’s only going to be a matter of time before somebody, probably Google or Yahoo, come out with something similar (or buy up a Newsclipper-esque site) that trawls the web for video news from media outlets.

This should, and I realise I’m making a few massive assumptions here, make online video for news easier to search for and will provide a far more effective link than just embedding on YouTube (sites should still continue to embed on YouTube – the more you’re getting your clips out there, the more they’re going to be seen, even if it isn’t easy to get the views up with some much swishing around on there).

A larger Newsclipper-style site probably won’t be too far down the line. That means good video is even more important when you’ve got a tool that will put the wheat next to the chaff and let the audience sort it.

****

While I’m here, it’s worth highlighting an example of video done well by the Reading Evening Post. I really like this video of chef Anthony Worrall Thompson visiting Reading FC captain Graeme Murtyto dish up a spot of chili lobster. It feels like a small snippet from a show like Saturday Kitchen.

A quick browse around Get Reading’s video news is a mixed bag but shows there are clearly staff there who can frame a shot and edit together a 2-3 minute piece pretty well. There are videos on there that do the simple things well and, with a bit of training, aren’t far off broadcast quality.

If I’m being picky, the white balance is out on some videos, while others could benefit from a tad more trimming. A bit more quality control could be exercised in places as well – there are some videos on there for the sake of being videos.

Also, the sound quality varies, although I’d suspect that’s as much to do with low-quality microphones than anything else. [1]

All of which raises the question: if they’ve got people who can shoot and edit properly, why are the news bulletins so poor?

[1] And I’ve fucked up sound more times than I’d care to remember. My favourite was spending an hour driving out to Bridgend and coming back with perfectly shot footage and a well-framed interview and no sound. I had the dunce’s hat on for the rest of the week, not to mention the kitten-up-tree stories.


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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