Friday, November 17, 2006

Hanging in there

Read all about it! The Press Gazette hangs on by its fingernails.

News just out - and I'm heading out as well. Will expand on this later....

Filed under:
Press Gazette

Saturday, November 11, 2006

'Hot buttered toast...'

Do not click here unless you have a lot of time on your hands. This is the Leo Burnett advertising agency. OK they promote smoking and junk food but the site is fun to navigate.

Filed under:
Leo Burnett   advertising   online promotion   

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The cat-and-mouse game of media relations

Q&As can often prove boring and self-indulgent. They may fill a lot of space in Sunday supplements as a result of fairly minimum effort in transcribing a sycophantic interview by a feature-writer who believes that people really want to know what a celebrity has for breakfast. Even worse is the 'Q&A' based on a ready-made set of 'A's from a PRO determined to get as much exposure as possible for the celebrity client.

It was therefore refreshing to read a Q&A that exposes the sham. Perhaps this was not so surprising as the publication was the Press Gazette and the journalist, Rob McGibbon was clearly feeling anything but sycophantic when he finally managed to pin down Lord Sebastian Coe for an interview on topics ranging from the London Olympics to tabloid revelations of a long-running extra-marital affair.

As a teaching aid for students, the article offers an excellent case study in how not to do PR. Before the Q&A transcription starts, Rob offers a 600-word preamble outlining:
- problems in fixing a date to do the interview
- problems experienced by Coe (apparently) in turning up at a time that had been rearranged by his PA
- the unexplained (and uninvited) presence of Coe's director of communication and public affairs (let's call her flack for short) whose apparent function was to sit, take notes and fidget uncomfortably when the questioning moved onto his private life.

The same edition of the publication includes a letter comparing the relationship between journalists and PRs as one between cats and mice (the writer also offers this view in the Gazette's discussion group), although it isn't clear which is which. In this case, McGibbon clearly felt that the discourtesy that he experienced was justification for exposing the attempts to manage the interview and he embellished his Q&A transcript with 'stage directions' and comments on the flack's actions and interventions.

I'm quite a fan of 'game theory' as a means of explaining the PR-journalist relationship. It highlights the differing set of objectives held by players in the game and the strategies they employ to achieve them. Contemporary definitions of PR, focusing on 'goodwill and understanding', set out an ideal of a win-win game where everyone achieves objectives through open, successful communication.

But this article offers a clear illustration of a zero-sum game in which the success of one player is at the expense of the opponent. McGibbon claimed to 'surrender lamely' to the flack's presence but, in my view, he came out of the game with an engaging and readable Q&A while Coe and his consort tripped over their own hurdles and landed flat on their faces.

My thanks to Paul Bradshaw for alerting me to the article.

Filed under:
Q&A   Press Gazette   Rob McGibbon   Sebastian Coe   media relations   flack   
game theory

Irony is alive and well in the USA

Still focusing on things American - and in particular the mid-term elections - here us an example of online political PR, which arrived from my wife's Aunt in Napa, California.
Things You Have to Believe to be a US Republican Today

1.) Jesus loves you, and shares your hatred of homosexuals and Hillary.

2.) Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush's daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him, and a bad guy when Bush needed a "we can't find Bin Laden" diversion.

3.) Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is Communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.

4.) The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq

5.) A woman can't be trusted with decisions about her own body but multi-national corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.

6.) The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches, while slashing veterans' benefits and combat pay.

7.) If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won't have sex.

8.) A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our long-time allies, then demand their cooperation and money.

9.) Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy, but providing health care to all Americans is socialism. HMOs and insurance companies have the best interests of the public at heart.

10.) Global warming and tobacco's link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.

11.) A president lying about an extra-marital affair is an impeachable offence, but a president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is solid defense policy.

12.) Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.

13.) The public has a right to know about Hillary's cattle trades, but George Bush's driving record is none of our business.

14.) Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you're a conservative radio host. Then it's an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery.

Filed under:
political PR   Republican Party

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Trouble in the Heart of Dixie

Debate rages through the ‘land of the free’ as a new documentary film examines the aftermath of one anti-Bush comment by country singer Natalie Maines.

She is one of the members of The Dixie Chicks, the trio that sparked controversy in 2003 when Natalie remarked during a London gig that she was ashamed that President Bush was from her home state of Texas.

The pro-Bush backlash looked set to damage their career, especially in the Republican south where radio stations banned them from playlists and invited the public to dump their Dixie Chicks CDs in garbage cans.

Now the movie, Shut Up And Sing, looks set to add further fuel to the fire with NBC and the CW refusing to broadcast the trailer ad. At this moment, ABC and Fox haven’t decided either way while CBS has agreed to run the ad.

This information comes courtesy of the film’s distributors, Weinstein prompting an NBC spokesperson to accuse them of turning it into a news story to drum up publicity. PR stunt or not, NBC’s policy is quoted by USA Today as ‘not to accept ads on issues of public controversy — like abortion or the war’.

The premiere of the movie in New York and Los Angeles coincides with the run-up to the mid-term elections in which falling support for US involvement in Iraq is proving a headache for the Republicans.

Reaction by radio stations and TV networks to the Dixie Chick’s ‘unpatriotic’ stance illustrates how some Western media organisations fall back on the ‘market’ as the mechanism that controls information in the public domain. The excuse for banning their music is that it would be commercial suicide to broadcast it in the light of public opinion. Perhaps, with Bush’s popularity now apparently slipping, this would be a good time to air their songs and plug their movie…?

Discussion about the movie, plus clips and the trailer, can be seen on this MySpace site.

Filed under:
Dixie Chicks   President Bush   Republican Party   music promotion   NBC

Monday, October 23, 2006

Bloggers expose floggers and cloggers

The ethical debate continues on how PR is adapting to the Information Age. And language has become richer as a result.

In the wake of 'flackery' and astroturfing - practices that are themselves roundly condemned by the believers in PR as a form of two-way communication and mutual understanding - we now have to wrestle with the concepts of the 'flog' and the 'clog'.

These are terms that are now bandied around the blogosphere. There's also a lot of talk about 'walmarting'.

It's all to do with trust and authenticity. When you read a blog, can you accept it at face value? If the blogger claims to be a member of the public with no hidden agenda, can you believe him or her? Do you feel duped when you discover that the blog is a 'PR stunt'? And how do you feel about PR in general when this happens?

When a nice, ordinary, folksy couple by the name of Laura and Jim decided to travel across America with their RV (recreational vehicle), spending each night in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and keeping a blog of observations and photographs of the happy Wal-Mart staff that they met on their odyssey, it seemed a jolly interesting thing to do.

But when word got out that the whole trip (including the payment for the RV) was sponsored by Wal-Mart under the direction of their PR consultant Richard Edelman - and that Laura was freelance journalist, Laura St.Clair and that Jim was Washington Post photographer, James Thresher - the ethical debate moved into top gear.

The site, 'Walmarting Across America' has been derided as a 'flog' (fake blog) while other pro-Wal-mart sites, Working Families for Wal-Mart and its offshoot, hitting-back-at-anti-WalMarters site Exposing the Paid Critics are regarded as more blatent forms of 'clogs' (corporate blogs). I've previously commented on Richard Gunstone's Carphone Warehouse blog which also comes under this category.

Here's one typical comment on the Wal-Marting stunt:
Edelman's non-transparency about its Wal-Mart programs erode the trust that makes the Blogosphere valuable. It also forces the question of whether professional PR has any place in the Blogosphere.

Another blogger sees it as a failure to understand the ethos of online communication:
...they are still thinking in old media terms: This was a typical 'broadcast media' stunt, an attempt to change the way people think about Wal-Mart by playing up the warm fuzzy angles and neglecting to mention that the whole thing was set up from the start. That is such an old-school way of thinking and it reveals just how much of the bloggers' ethos has percolated through to the heart of what Edelman do, i.e. 'not a lot'.

Richard Edelman eventually apologised for his misjudgement. Stuart Bruce leapt to his defence with the view that 'hey anyone can make a mistake' although one of Stuart's respondents, Heather Yaxley reflects on the potential damage that this type of practice can have on PR's own image:
The damage to the reputation of PR and the potential lack of confidence of others to engage in online initiatives, must be overcome by seeing this as an opportunity to learn from Edelman's mistakes and ensure PR online is genuinely open and credible.

The whole incident demonstrates clearly how the discourses of blogging and corporate communication reflect very different mindsets. Chris Lake of e-consultancy offers 12 reasons why British businesses don't blog. One is tempted to suggest that there are plenty of reasons why they shouldn't.

The blogosphere is the space where the dissident may roam free and expose the claims, prophecies and promotional motivations of corporate communicators. This is where the grey suits find themselves laughed out of town, while the unfettered individual can turn activist and ride roughshod over carefully crafted corporate identities.

Filed under:
online PR   flack   astroturfing   flog   clog   corporate blogging   Wal-Mart   Richard Edelman   Carphone Warehouse

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Eye of the beholder

Dove's 'Campaign For Real Beauty' raises some fascinating issues for media students.

Not only does it highlight classic Media and Culture Studies concerns about image, identity and representation of women, it also demonstrates the application of what is effectively a pseudo-PR campaign in the advertising and promotion of product ranges.

This short film works at a lot of levels. It makes a very strong point about the manipulation of image - and our sense of self - in the promotion of 'beauty' products. It also shows how the distinction between 'reality' and 'image' is blurred and - by making a claim to 'campaign' for reality - it re-presents a promotional campaign for a brand as if it were a PR campaign, engaging public opinion on how society understands the concept of 'beauty'.

It's a product of a promotional industry, made to look like an attack on that selfsame industry and the messages it sends out to women. If you're a 'real' woman - join our cause. (and buy Dove products!)

Filed under:
Media Studies   Dove campaign   advertising   brand   beauty products

Friday, October 13, 2006

Don't sue them - woo them

Don't get a lawyer - get a PRO. That's the advice to celebrities of former journalist, now PR person Ian Monk on how to handle the tabloid press.

PR Adviser to Wayne Rooney, Mr Monk commented in last week's PRWeek on the popular media's attitude to people in the public eye. Celebs, politicians, footballers, anyone remotely high-profile is 'public property' whose private lives are open to redtop scrutiny.

In a situation where 'self-regulation through the Press Complaints Commission offers limp and belated redress for past wrongs', he argues that smarter celebs turn to a PRO rather than a lawyer for better results and cheaper bills.
The advantage of the PR strike is that it can be pre-emptive, offering real protection of reputation and brand. And, with no legal battle and ensuing bitterness, there remains a positive, rather than negative, implication for the client's future media relations.

Clearly an advocate for win-win situations, Monk even presents an argument for how this can benefit the media themselves ('editors have been ordered by cost-cutting executives to cut out legal bills') and indeed lawyers ('...growing opportunities for PR and law professions to work together')

One of this week's guests on BBC1's Question Time, Tommy Sheridan clearly recognises the effectiveness of combining the PR carrot with the legal stick in his ongoing dispute with the News of the World. PRWeek also reports that he has now hired the former press secretary of the Scottish Socialist Party, Hugh Kerr to act as his media advisor.

Filed under:
celebrity PR   media relations   tabloid   PRWeek   PCC   Question Time   Tommy Sheridan   News of the World   

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Fox and the Wolf

Fox News is proud to be biased. Now celebrating 10 years of one-sided reporting, Rupert Murdoch's popular cable news channel continues unabated. The anniversary is reported in this week's Media Guardian which set out to investigate the polarised opinions in the US on Fox's treatment of political and international news stories. The attempt was apparently thwarted by the channel's own media relations executive who refused to play ball when she discovered that the article might contain views of Fox's critics.

I watched Fox News a few times during my last visit to the States, a nation that was reflecting on the 5th anniversary of 9/11. At one level I found Fox's items entertaining and engaging, giving you a real sense of a dedicated news team moving heaven and earth to get the story on the screen. But one couldn't help thinking 'Why this story? why this treatment? why this angle?' Even if the story didn't have an obvious pro-Republican bias, I found myself looking for it. It was quite refreshing to switch over to watch CNN's anchorman Wolf Blitzer tear into Condoleezza Rice's claims that the invasion of Iraq was justified despite faulty intelligence on weapons of mass distruction.

Filed under:
Fox News   Rupert Murdoch   Guardian   CNN   Wolf Blitzer   Condoleezza Rice   

I rather like this....

Following earlier posts about online news, here's a little vision of the future :o)

Filed under:
online news

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Well that's a pork pie...

Downing Street's denial of Cherie Blair's 'Well that's a lie' comment during Gordon Brown's conference speech has itself produced similar comments across the news media. Nobody believes them - or wants to believe them. And no news editor in his or her right mind is going to ignore the story on the basis that the Bloomberg editor who overheard Cherie's comment might have got it wrong.

It's a classic example of a news story generated by the very presence of the news media themselves. It is no headline-grabbing revelation that Cherie doesn't like Gordon. Her husband admitted as much in his carefully formulated 'bloke next door' joke in his Conference speech yesterday.

It's the fact that Cherie was (might have been) heard to utter the remark by a journalist, that makes it such an interesting story - even more significant than the conversation between Blair and Bush that was recently overheard through an open microphone. It provides the hook for the story and sets an agenda for much comment and analysis. The fact that the agenda is not the one that the Labour Party was trying to orchestrate, makes it even more attractive.

Contributors to the Guardian's Organ Grinder blog have certainly had a lot of fun with Downing Street's suggestion that Cherie had actually said something else that just sounded like 'Well that's a lie'. Here's one example of a comment that all political spin is ultimately futile.
If I was married to Tony Blair, I'm sure that 'that's a lie' would be one of my most used phrases.

WMDs in Iraq? That's a lie. Didn't expose Dr David Kelly. That's a lie. Didn't sell peerages. That's a lie. Didn't agree to a war with Bush. That's a lie. Will be whiter than white. That's a lie.

Filed under:
Cherie Blair   spin   Labour Party   

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Does PR need to work on its own PR?

Last week's Press Gazette put the spotlight on Talk PR's 'gloves off' approach to journalists invited to a party sponsored by Perrier Jouet champagne. Everyone knows that a major part of PR work is getting positive media coverage for your client but it is clearly stepping over the line for many journalists to be told that they must name-check the client as a condition for accepting the invitation.

This is the sort of practice that some journalists love to expose, if only to enhance their credentials as crusading seekers of truth who would never follow a news agenda dictated by PR people. Ten years after BBC's Panorama made public the practices of political spin doctors, the PR industry still has its work cut out to counter hostile media representation. The term 'PR' often carries negative connotations when used, for example, in political interviews - 'are you telling us the truth or is this just PR?'

Edward Bernays claimed to have invented the term 'public relations' to put a positive gloss on the practices of 'propaganda'. Today, PR practitioners scorn any suggestion that their work has anything to do with propaganda and that PR is much more about maintaining equilibrium and building up relationships. But listen to how PR is discussed or referred to by some journalists and you may wonder whether it's time for a new alternative term to be invented.

Filed under:
Press Gazette   Panorama   spin   propaganda   Bernays   

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Telegraph gets radical

Things are likely to get quiet on the Screaming Headlines front for a couple of weeks while my wife and I visit friends and family in the USA. We'll be living out of suitcases for much of the time but if I can get access to a computer I will check in and pass on any observations that seem fit.

Meanwhile - just so that I have it here as an archive - here's a link to Strive PR's comments on a digital revolution taking place at the Telegraph. We’re looking here at some radical changes, indicating how newspapers are responding to changes in technology and how that impacts on the dissemination and reading of news.

The blog refers to this Press Gazette story which quotes the Telegraph group Chief executive Murdoch MacLennan:
Readers are migrating online, and advertisers are following them. People are demanding customised news, wherever and whenever they want it.
Whether its customer-driven or technology-driven, the concept of the ‘newspaper’ is shifting from a definitive factual account of ‘today’s big stories’ landing on your porch every morning, to an ever-changing, constantly updated narrative delivered on ‘a wide range of platforms’.

Filed under:
Telegraph   new_media   online news   Press Gazette   

Monday, September 04, 2006

Confessions of a folk music journalist

My colleague Andrew Dubber is putting together a report on last weekend's IASPM conference in Birmingham. I gave a paper entitled 'Regulating the amateur: traditional music and cultural control' - slightly off topic for this blog although my perspective as a music journalist (specialising in folk music) is relevant to the argument that I was setting out.

I argued that amateur music practices (such as folk clubs, music sessions, etc.) have to deal with sources of 'tension' which effectively impose a dominant construction of popular music and the circumstances in which it should be performed. These sources come in various guises, which I grouped under three headings: the music industry as a commercial practice, bureaucratic and adminstrative regulators (e.g. the PRS, local authorities granting entertainments licenses, etc.) and the transformation of folk and traditional music into commodified forms (Irish theme pubs, medieval banquets, etc.)

As a music journalist I often find myself having to 'interpret' folk music events into 'news' stories that make them more accessible to some imagined 'average reader'. I had the same challenge when I used to host a folk music programme on BBC local radio that was scheduled for the latter part of 'drivetime'. Anything less obscure that Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon or Steeleye Span couldn't be broadcast until after 6.30pm when 'drivetime' was deemed to have finished.

I recently suggested to readers of Mediations that the ultimate PR challenge is to make folk music socially acceptable. The idea was so incredible that no-one took it seriously.

Filed under:
IASPM   folk music   music_journalism   music_PR   folk journalism   

Sun reveals plot to divide and rule

This blog would not live up to its name without comment on today’s Sun headline: MAD MAP TO LEAVE BRITAIN IN BITS

The story presses all the right buttons: Europe, threat to our nation, the Germans… the map even looks like something from the opening credits of Dad’s Army

‘The Sun Says…’ column adopts a robust response to the ‘masterplan’ to redraw the boundaries of Europe and revive the idea of a single Europe superstate:
Their Federal Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee says: “There is great hope underlying the goal of a United Europe that we can permanently overcome old borders”.
Not if The Sun has anything to do with it, Wolfgang.
Hope I don’t sound complacent, but I can’t see my address changing yet to UCE, Birmingham, North Sea Region – unless the cunning Germans are trying to pre-empt the effects of serious coastal erosion.

Filed under:
Sun   Europe

Thanks to Philip Young of Mediations

Lively, breezy news for Londoners

Copies of Rupert Murdoch’s thelondonpaper being are now handed out free of charge to our capital’s commuters, a week after the launch of Associated Newspapers’ London Lite freebie. The
BBC News Magazine website
asks if all newspapers in the future will be free.

The article covers topics that are already raised in this blog: the potential ‘market’ of young people who don’t read news papers but get their fix of news online; and predictions of the death of newspapers altogether.

It also raises what should be an obvious but nevertheless important point about producing newspapers on the cheap to get people into the ‘newspaper consumption’ habit, ready to be targeted by advertisers. The article cites Roy Greenslade:
Ultimately they will breed in people the idea that news shouldn't cost anything, even that news is cheap. But in fact, news, done well and properly, requires investment and money.

Try telling that to the market. Copies of the latest free newspapers to hit London have yet to found their way to my quiet little backwater in the Provinces, so I can’t yet comment on whether ‘free’ news in these publications is news worth reading. The Press Gazette announced last month that thelondonpaper was planning to take on some reasonably heavyweight journalists – an attempt presumably by News International to establish it as a ‘serious’ rival to the ominously named London Lite. Head of Associated Newspapers’ Free Newspaper Division, Steve Auckland
is reported
as saying:
We are convinced that its lively, breezy format will be very attractive to advertisers and to a large audience of young Londoners, who have given up on newspapers such as The Sun.

News International didn’t want to hang around to let Associated Newspapers establish a strong foothold. The launch date of the londonpaper was brought forward from September 18th.

I wonder which newspaper will be the first to pay people money to read it.

Filed under:
thelondonpaper London Lite News International Associated Newspapers
free newspapers advertising Press Gazette

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

When does PR become spin?

1. When it's Government PR
2. When there are 3200 press officers employed by the Government.

Great story for The Telegraph

Filed under:
spin   government PR

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Who's afraid of Media Studies?

Whenever I hear the likes of BBC Radio 4's John Humphrys or Radio 5 Live’s Peter Allen knocking Media Studies degrees, I wonder what these guys are afraid of.

Do such critics really believe that the media are so transparent, so unproblematic, so inconsequential and with such little impact on the way we think, consume, vote, choose our friends, choose our enemies, etc., that they are not worthy of critical study? Would they prefer it if students didn’t learn about such things?

It’s usually around the time that A-level results come out that those of us who teach Media Studies find ourselves having to defend our existence against a barrage of mainly media-inspired propaganda against such courses.

The argument rumbles on with this article that appeared in the Independent On Sunday. The debate sets up the usual positions of academic-vs-vocational education and the value of each although the article does attempt to offer a balanced view.

There are still many media organisations which look to media course providers to concentrate on vocational skills and ditch the theory. But this leaves open the scary prospect of newspapers and broadcasters staffed by people who know how to use a computer or microphone but have no idea how to construct an intelligent argument or give an objective interpretation of what’s happening in the world. We've all witnessed the inane gibberings of those lifestyle journalists, television continuity announcers and local radio presenters who fit into this category.

It’s interesting that the article equates Media Studies with Journalism courses. One of my family members is studying for a Joint Honours in Media AND Journalism at De Montfort University, which clearly does draw a distinction between the two disciplines. I teach on a degree at UCE which offers a wide range of specialist routes through Media Studies - journalism, radio, TV and video, web design, photography, music industries and, interestingly, PR.

PR has been (still is) traditionally seen as part of the domain of business schools and degrees in Marketing. However, its agenda-setting influence on other media practices (especially journalism) and its central role in promotional culture makes it an important and valid – some would say vital – object of study for students of media and culture.

If media studies graduates spent three years simply learning which buttons to press, then the critics might have a point. But a degree course is more than a training programme. It should be encouraging would-be media workers to address some fundamental questions about media production – not only ‘how do we do it?’ but also ‘what is it doing to us?’

Filed under:
Media Studies   journalism education   journalism training    Independent   UCE   
De Montfort University   PR education

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Do newspapers have a future?

Well, do they? And does journalism? These are questions that were raised last week in The Economist’s cover story and commented on by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and Independent editor Simon Kelner on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The article asks whether the demand for newspapers will disappear as more of us turn to the Internet for our news. Much of the Radio 4 discussion focuses on the market and money – whether the impact of the fall of readership and advertisers and the costs of investing in new technology will see the demise of newsprint. Both editors, from their perspectives in the quality sector, don’t believe this will happen in the foreseeable future but comment that newspapers will have to adapt to survive the digital age.

The impact on journalism itself is something else that The Economist raises. As readership declines, economies are made in the newsroom itself:
In order to cut costs, (newspapers) are already spending less on journalism. Many are also trying to attract younger readers by shifting the mix of their stories towards entertainment, lifestyle and subjects that may seem more relevant to people's daily lives than international affairs and politics are.

Lifestyle, consumer-orientated and celebrity ‘journalism’ costs considerably less than journalism that investigates, travels the globe and holds politicians and governments to account. There is a growing number of ‘news’ sources – PR and promotions people – who are only too happy to make life easier for the journalist and cheaper for the newspaper in a professional environment driven by market pressures.

As a consequence, news media are increasingly dependent on PR, a situation that many commentators have seen as a threat to the status of journalism itself. The Economist continues:
Journalism schools and think-tanks, especially in America, are worried about the effect of a crumbling Fourth Estate. Are today's news organisations “up to the task of sustaining the informed citizenry on which democracy depends?” asked a recent report about newspapers from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The article reminds us that democracy has survived television and points to positive influences of the Internet – news aggregation websites, online versions of specific newspapers (especially The Guardian) and the ‘new force of “citizen” journalists and bloggers … itching to hold politicians to account.’

Last year, one of the most popular topics selected by my first-year journalism students for a research assignment was the impact of the Internet on news reporting. It’s encouraging to see that journalists of the future are taking such an active interest in the future of journalism.

Filed under:
online news   new media   Guardian    Independent   Economist   Today programme   
PR sources   lifestyle journalism   Fourth Estate   journalism education

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Corporate Blogging la la la la la

‘Blogosphere loosens grip on communication controls’ screams one of the headlines in this month’s edition of the CIPR’s Profile magazine.

The article by Torin Douglas describes how large companies are now testing the waters. BT’s chief operating officer John Pettifer is about to start his own blog. It continues:

The decision follows much internal debate and some nervousness in the company’s communications department, because blogs are by definition interactive – a conversation, not a column – and employees and customers are invited to join in the discussion.

It’s interesting that a company’s communications department should be nervous about employees and customers having something to say. The article also referred to the Chief Executive of Carphone Warehouse Charles Dunstone, who’s been running his own blog for a few months now and using it as an opportunity to tell the world how his company is better value than BT.

As a Carphone Warehouse customer, I certainly have something to say. My mobile phone is faulty (it’s actually a design fault) and I want to get it changed. One of their shop managers haughtily informed me that I couldn’t as there are still five months on my 18-month contract. I could get it repaired but there was no loan phone available. I told her that my wife and I wouldn’t be renewing our contracts if they weren’t willing to give us phones that are not faulty. She said there was nothing she could do about it.

At least I could go into the shop and talk to her. I’ve not been able to speak to their Customer Services people by phone (the phone lines are usually too busy). I’ve sent emails and not even received any acknowledgement. So, here I thought was a perfect opportunity to speak to the man at the top.

But no, actually his blog isn’t interactive at all. There is no link that I can see for comments. All we get is a list of Mr Dunstone’s proclamations in reverse chronological order. It might look like a blog, but actually it isn’t. It’s as interactive as the regular receipt of Talk Talk junk mail that lands on my hall carpet.

When channels of communication for customers are restricted to the point of hardly existing at all, an image of the company is conjured up in my mind. It’s an image of someone with their hands over their ears and singing ‘la la la la la’ while others are trying to say something that this person doesn’t want to hear.

Filed under:
blogs    corporate blogging   marketing    online_PR   BT   Carphone Warehouse

Monday, August 21, 2006

Increase your word power with Big Brother

I’m no fan of Channel 4’s Big Brother but I have to admit that this series has been educational. I’ve learned a new word – ‘coprolalia’ – a condition where sufferers can’t help swearing. This is a symptom of approximately 10% of people with Tourette’s Syndrome.

One of these people is Pete Bennett, the obvious favourite to win this year’s programme. He might yell out an embarrassing expletive when he’s nervous but it seems we’ve all taken him into our hearts. In PR terms, Mr Bennett is a big success.

The Observer reports that his win has been hailed as the best PR possible for Tourette’s, despite initial concerns expressed by the Tourette’s Syndrome Association that Pete was being exploited and that his language problem would reflect badly on all sufferers.

The Sun however describes the win as ‘causing havoc with the schedules’ as Pete’s involuntary outbursts mean that he can’t appear on live television before the watershed (presumably because little darlings who should be in bed by 9pm have never hear of the W word!).

This series of the programme itself had some stormy moments in PR terms. Earlier this month, the premium phone line regulator ICSTIS started investigating 2700 complaints from viewers who had voted housemates off the programme only to see four of them reinstated. This followed the golden ticket fiasco when the winner, Suzie Verrico gained more exposure than she bargained for with allegations of her ticket being fixed.

The important thing was that the series ended on a positive note with a popular choice of the overall winner. Public opinion is likely to gloss over the earlier problems and feel well-disposed towards the series, which means (oh joy of joys) it will be back next year.

Filed under:
Channel 4    Big Brother    Tourette's    Observer    Sun    ICSTIS

Friday, August 18, 2006

Snakes in the Grassroots?

One frequently used explanation of PR goes like this: Advertising is what you say about yourself; PR is what others say about you.

‘Others’ of course includes journalists. So in PR terms, this morning’s ‘news’ item on BBC1’s Breakfast show certainly hit the mark. Others still might say that the item was pure hype.

The item did bring into sharp focus how the promotion of a new consumer product – in this case, the ‘cult movie’ Snakes On A Plane – can worm its way into the news agenda through viral marketing techniques, including the use of blogs and YouTube. Feel free to debate whether such techniques count as ‘PR’ but in my book, when these techniques become headline news themselves, we are witnessing a successful PR campaign.

Snakes have had a bad press since Eve bit the apple, and the filmmakers couldn’t have wished for better timing in news terms to release a movie about out-of-control evil beings let loose in an airliner flying over the ocean.

However, ‘SOAP’ is also destined to become a classic case study of the internet’s impact on marketing and PR practices. Here’s an account of how promotional messages about the movie are targeted at phones, not by the marketing company but at a fraction of the cost by members of the public. You get a call on your mobile, you see it’s from someone you know and you find yourself listening to a personalised recorded message from the movie’s star, Samuel L. Jackson because that someone you know logged onto the movie’s website and set it up.

It seems that the filmmakers have kept up a regular dialogue with fans through their own websites, even taking on board fans’ suggestions to change parts of the script. Fans have also been invited to compose songs, poems and sketches about the movie that get worldwide distribution via YouTube – superb exposure at the fraction of the cost of an advertising campaign.

Are we on the verges of Astroturfing territory here? The campaign is certainly using the latest web-based interactive devices to whip up grassroots interest. But the ViralOne website argues – in response to concern expressed by Paull Young – that ‘stealth’ or ‘guerilla’ marketing doesn’t fit into this activity, presumably because the grassroots response of fans is (sort of) genuine. All the marketing people have to do is sow the seeds and add the fertiliser.

Filed under:
astroturfing   stealth marketing   guerilla marketing    Snakes on a Plane

Monday, August 14, 2006

PR - a glimpse into the dark side

Paull Young is an Australian PR man who has taken a stand against ‘astroturfing’. This term describes the practice by organisations with vested interests of creating a false impression of grassroots opinion which appear to support their interests by targeting letters to newspapers, calls to radio phone-ins, and so on.

He provides a link to this article in the Australian journal Overland, describing a workshop event in which tactics like astroturfing are advocated to discredit NGOs, activist organisations or anyone else who might get in the way of questionable corporate behaviour.

The event was organised by Canadian PR 'consultant', Ross Irvine who argues:
The stratagem is to promote not with facts but values. This is what activists do, and what industry must do better.

The article is worth reading, especially if you believe that all PR is concerned with telling the truth, building relationships and keeping channels of communications open. It offers a disturbing insight into the dark side of PR. And it’s pretty scary.

(Thanks again to Philip Mediations Young for enabling me to follow the links to these sites.)

Filed under:

Net gains in news for young audiences

Thanks to Gillian Rutledge for spotting this article on the BBC News website. It raises an interesting question for people like me who teach journalism - how does one enthuse students to take note of what's happening in 'traditional' news media (especially newspapers, magazines and radio) when 15-24 year-olds in particular are moving away in their droves to plug into new media?

This is part of a worldwide trend, also reported by the BBC last May. For young people, the internet is becoming the main source of news and is even challenging the dominance of television.

The implications of this could provide some worthwhile topics for seminar discussion. What is the impact of the growing popularity of online news on the concept of public service broadcasting? Does journalism as a profession need to rethink its approach to training? Can anyone log on and become a journalist?

Filed under:
journalism training    journalism education    online news    new media

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Tony turns the tables

I caught most of Channel 4's programme earlier this evening - Tony Benn Interviewing The Interviewers. It was trailed by the Press Gazette, which used the word 'grill' in its headline to describe Benn's approach to interviewing John Humphrys, Jon Snow, Nick Robinson and Jeremy Paxman.

I wouldn't describe any of the interviews as a grilling. In fact, Benn deliberately avoided using such tactics as bullying or interrupting to prove a point that interviews could elicit more light and less heat if conducted in a less aggressive manner.

Interestingly his approach did seem to unnerve his interviewees. Especially for Robinson and Paxman, Benn gave them plenty of rope and they almost hung themselves by waffling on and admitting that they are accountable to their audiences - which means that ratings do matter - and that certain phrases, e.g 'the international community' are overused and meaningless in political news reporting.

But he did get some candid responses as well. Snow argued that any point that couldn't be made by an interviewee in 30 seconds isn't worth making. Robinson defended the news media for not covering certain public meetings that were 'boring'. And Paxman's bottom-line was that his basic motivation behind any interview is to 'find out things', which would explain why he is noted for asking the same question over and over again until things are found out.

Benn's own motivation was to reiterate his concern over the power of the news media to set the agenda of public opinion and the responsibility of presenters to allow the public to have full access to the facts.

By the way, Nick Robinson's blog is worth the occasional visit for an inside view of the life and thoughts of the BBC's political editor. Actually he's on holiday at the moment and the blog is being kept up to date by BBC News 24's James Landale.

Filed under:
interview    politics    Channel 4    Press Gazette    BBC

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Smoke alarm at Reuters

OK, can you spot the difference?

The photo was taken last Saturday by a Reuters freelance, Adnan Hajj, depicting the effect of an Israeli air-strike on a suburb of Beirut. However it appears that the original image (on the right) did not make its point strongly enough and so it was doctored to portray more smoke. What surprises me is that it took Reuters a whole day to decide that the smoke in the image on the left looked unnatural, that the picture should be withdrawn and that no more of Mr Hajj's should be used.

News photos are meant to be snapshots of reality to add authority to the stories. Of course in these digital times, photos are often anything but this. If memory serves me, the Evening Standard had its knuckles rapped by the PCC for showing an image of John Prescott in a pub with a bottle of champagne on his table - portraying him as a 'champagne socialist'. In fact the image of the bottle had been superimposed over the bottle of beer that had actually been on the table.

The last General Election saw a Tory candidate getting into trouble when his campaign team altered slogans on placards, shown in an image of himself and Ann Widdicombe at a demonstration supporting a Malawi family facing deportation. The words were changed to appeal to the more hard-line Tory vote.

And who can forget the Daily Star's claim that the Pope was a Fulham supporter and published an image of His Holiness wearing a Fulham scarf!

Filed under:
Reuters    press photography    Middle East    Evening Standard    PCC    Daily Star   
war reporting

Who's that tapping on one's mobile...?

I've only been running this blog for a couple of weeks and for the third time I find myself commenting on the News Of The World itself becoming the subject of headlines. This morning I woke up to the news that the NOTW's royal editor, Clive Goodman was one of three people arrested for alleged taps of voicemail messages left on mobile phones of staff in Clarence House, home of Charles and Camilla. The story is gleefully reported by The Guardian.

On BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Sir Christopher Meyer said he will be interested to see how the police investigation goes on.

You bet he will. The PCC's Code of Practice states that:

The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs.
(Clause 10: Clandestine devices and subterfuge)

There is a public interest defence available to newspapers that break this clause, i.e. it's OK to tap people's phones to get a story if it is in the public's interest to do so. So for students of journalism, here's something you might want to think about - if the NOTW were reported to the PCC (assuming none of the NOTW's staff got convicted first) and if you were the editor, how would you put together your public interest defence?

While you're pondering on that, here's some interesting background information. The PCC's code is subject to review and revision by the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, which is chaired by Les Hinton. He also happens to be Executive Chairman of Rupert Murdoch's News International, parent company of NOTW.

Oh yes, and one of the Committee members is Neil Wallis, deputy editor of NOTW.

Filed under:
News of the World    phone tapping    Prince Charles    Guardian    BBC   
Today programme    PCC    Rupert Murdoch    journalism education

Monday, August 07, 2006

Welcome to the world of hacks and flacks

Thanks to Philip Young of the University of Sunderland for giving Screaming Headlines a mention in his excellent Mediations blog.

Philip comments that I describe myself in my profile as a ‘PR lecturer and as a publicist’ and asks ‘Why publicist and not PR practitioner?’

I nearly did describe myself as a music PR practitioner, but stopped short when I reflected on what I actually do in this area. Apart from playing in a band that specialises in mainly Irish and Scottish traditional songs and tunes, I organise music events and promote them, i.e. let people know that they’re happening and try and encourage them to turn up.

Some might see this differently, but to my mind this isn’t quite what PR is meant to be about. In the Behind The Spin blog, Chris Taylor of the London Business School defines PR as “... the discipline that works to align what others think of you, with what you think of yourself, and seeks to elevate both”. In this sense, PR is in the business of managing public opinion, not at a superficial level, but seeking to get others to think well of you and to place you in a relatively high position in their view of what’s good about the world. If I were trying to boost the public reputation of mainly Irish and Scottish traditional songs and tunes, then I would probably describe my work as that of a PR specialist.

What I actually do falls closer to Taylor’s reference to ‘publicity’ which happens when a message is ‘received by the desired audience, who respond favourably’. But you may well argue that there is a very fine line between the definitions of publicity and PR. Indeed, students of PR will know that there are several competing definitions of the subject and that these reflect changes in society, culture, economic activity and the motivation of whoever is doing the defining.

For example, there are journalists who would define PR as a regular bombardment of information systematically designed to conceal the truth and would describe people who practise PR as 'flacks'.

Most of us are familiar with the derogatory term ‘hack’ when used to characterise reporters who write badly and often with little regard of the impact of their scribblings on the lives of those they write about. ‘Flack’ is a term that has become more popular in the last few years (especially in the US) to describe PR people who adopt a similar attitude in their own work. ‘Flacks’ are people who will say anything for and about their client with little regard to whether their statements are actually true or false – spin-doctors without the subtlety!

Here's one dramatic illustration of how a ‘flack’ allegedly invents news, or gives out ‘news’ that people want to hear. While many journalists see PROs as ‘flacks’, you could define ‘hacks’ as those journalists who are more likely to accept and reproduce the claims of ‘flacks’ in their columns or on the airwaves.

Ironically, the terms ‘hacks’ and ‘flacks’ reflect the universalising qualities of one of the primary tools of spin – the sound-bite. They are instant signifiers that deny any space for qualification by implying that all journalists are ‘hacks’ and all PR practitioners are ‘flacks’.

There may be scope for discussion on whether I should describe myself as a PR practitioner as opposed to a publicist, but would my music promotion come under the heading of ‘flack’? When describing headline acts, I often use terms such as ‘legendary’, ‘award-winning’, ‘spectacular’, ‘internationally acclaimed’ and so on, mainly because I’m not likely to convince people to come to their concerts if I described these artists as ‘everyday’, ‘picked up an obscure award from a little-known website,’ ‘wear gaudy clothes’ or ‘once did a gig in Belgium’.

That’s not so much ‘flackery’ as ‘hype’.

Filed under:
PR definitions    blogs    music journalism    music PR    publicity    hack    flack

Friday, August 04, 2006

Sex, lies and News Of The World

There's no mention yet in the current online version of News Of The World of Tommy Sheridan's success in suing Rupert Murdoch's Sunday organ for libellous stories about the Scottish MP's sex life.

The tabloid has been ordered to pay £200,000 damages although it plans to appeal. Meanwhile, it looks as if this Sunday's edition will regale us with claims that one of the brothers, whose home was raided in Forest Gate by police looking for a 'cyanide bomb', was collecting child porn images on his computer. Ah well - no longer the anti-terrorist squad got confused. Terrorosts, sex fiends, they're all the same...

The NOW will also be delving into the sex life of another politician - this time the avuncular TV pundit, Michael Portillo who seems to have been reinstated in the public eye as a hot-blooded heterosexual. The story uses quaint, old-fashioned language which is more in keeping with tales of Jeeves and Wooster - Portillo is described as having 'romps' with a 'Hungarian beauty' who has been joining him for 'trysts' during her lunch beak. What-ho!

Filed under:
News of the World    Rupert Murdoch    Tommy Sheridan    libel    Forest Gate    tabloid    newspaper language

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Good morning Coventry!

My local newspaper, the Coventry Evening Telegraph is changing to a morning newspaper in October. This is reported in the excellent Hold The Front Page website (which I recommend to all students of journalism and would-be journalists to check out on a regular basis!).

The Editor, Alan Kirby talks about readers' changing buying habits as the reason behind the change. Apparently it used to be a morning newspaper but switched to 'evening' (actually the lunchtime edition at 11am and 'city final' at 3.30pm) in the 1950s. But I'm less certain that the paper will fare so well when it is in direct competition with the national dailies these days, despite the general shift by newspaper readers from national to local.

A few years ago I was visiting BBC's Coventry and Warwickshire radio station when the news broke that the former Labour Party leader, John Smith had died. Obviously, the radio station was able to broadcast the 'hot' news immediately. But after only half an hour, I stepped out into the streets of the city to find that the Evening Telegraph's lunchtime edition was brought out earlier than normal with the story on its front page. This makes me wonder - if people have already bought an early morning edition (carrying yesterday's news), would the newspaper be able to bring the day's breaking news to its readership? Kirby believes that the newspaper's website will be the best vehicle for the day's breaking news.

I guess he's done his market research but I can't help thinking that this local newspaper is taking a big gamble.

Filed under:
Coventry Telegraph    local newspapers    Hold The Front Page    online news

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

British Tabloids - weapons of mass deception?

One of my former students at UCE, Ros Tappenden has built up an impressive online portfolio of her work in print and multimedia journalism. Of special interest to this blog is her dissertation which examined and analysed the contrasting stances adopted by The Mirror and The Sun on events related to the Iraq War - the search for WMDs, the death of David Kelly, the Hutton Report and its explosive impact on the BBC - offering useful contemporary insights into the practices of political spin.'In the age of political PR', she asks, ' does this reflect the ability of the press to act as a fourth estate?'

She includes reference to several key theoretical concepts in the study of journalism - not only 'fourth estate' but also public sphere, hegemony, news values and theories of propaganda. Surf around her site and you'll also find some interesting work on embedded journalists in the Iraq War and the impact of media ownership.

Ros works for ITV Central and the 24 Hour Museum and is about to join Newsquest as a trainee journalist. Any students reading this blog might well want to check out her portfolio for resources and indicator on how to land a first class honours.

Filed under:
Mirror    Sun    tabloid    Middle East    Hutton Report    BBC    spin    politics   
war reporting    media ownership    journalism education

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

News to make you laugh or cry

According to the Newspaper Marketing Agency, ‘It’s a common myth that newspapers are a purely rational medium… good for informing people but the wrong environment for the more emotionally-based communication ideas. Just as newspaper articles can move us deeply, so newspaper advertising provokes a strong emotional response.’

Ads for cars, supermarkets, deodorants, even moistened toilet paper were tested ('Newspapers improve Andrex bottom line!’) and judged to prove more effective on newsprint at an emotional level with consumers. The NMA argue that reader loyalty, the fact that advertisers can target precise audiences and the level of reader receptiveness (people take time out from the daily grind to read the paper and indulge in ‘me time’) all contribute to the effectiveness of newspapers not only for direct product advertising but also for promoting brand loyalty.

They compare the press with other media as vehicles for advertising and attempt to dispel suggestions that TV is better at hitting home with promotional messages. It seems that twice as many 16-24 year olds read about the last series of Celebrity Big Brother in newspapers than actually watched the final programme.

Without advertisers, newspapers would cease to exist. But their dependence on advertising has always raised questions about their objectivity, values and news agenda.

The NMA's website is a very handy resource for anyone preparing essays or seminars on the relationship between the press and advertisers. You have to register to get access to the good stuff.

Filed under:
NMA    marketing    advertising


Thanks to colleagues at UCE Birmingham who have been plugging this blog on their own sites. I'm happy to return the favour. Links are to the right of your screen, but here they are in slightly more detail:

Interactive PR - Paul Bradshaw's blog on all matters relating to new media and PR. Paul was Editor of Internet Monthly Magazine and now lectures on the www and designs websites.

The Wireless - Andrew Dubber's wide ranging blog on various aspects of radio, online music, new technology and the media. Dubber lectures on music industries.

New Music Strategies - another Dubber site - 'a blog on its way to a book'.

PR Student - Caroline Wilson's blog of excellent resources and links for anyone studying or practising PR

Good Green PR - Caroline's worthy attempt to present PR in a good light, indeed a green light, by showing how it may help to change people's behaviour to make this world a happier place.

Always happy to plug more blogs.

Filed under:
blogs    journalism education

Monday, July 31, 2006

Do journalists and PR professionals live on different planets?

As a music journalist, this strikes a chord - especially as I am increasingly reliant on musicians' web sites for information to write a good story.

Many web designers for musicians, agents and tour organisers seem to have problems understanding what journalists need. Biographies that contain no substantial information but just eulogise on the artistic merits of the latest CD, photographs which are of too low resolution to be used in a newspaper or which cannot be published without permission of the photographer or which cannot be downloaded at all, information provided as pdf documents, or worst of all, websites that are inaccurate, out of date or still 'under construction' - these are just some of the difficulties that have frustrated me in my attempts to give an act some decent exposure in my weekly newspaper column or in the pages of a music festival programme.

This problem isn't confined to the music industry. I recently received a white paper entitled What journalists want to see on your web site, published by Vocus, a provider of software for PR and corporate communications. This was based on surveys of journalists who turn to corporate websites in the hope of finding useful information and parallel surveys of PR people on what they think is important to include on their web sites.

The differences between their perspectives is remarkable. Just to illustrate, 98% of journalists value the inclusion in web sites of press releases, 93% value media kits and 89% photographs. The figures for PR respondents who thought these were important are respectively 83%, 71% and 59%.

The Paper cites one magazine editor who scans hundreds of corporate web sites every week. On the day he was questioned, he only found one in five web sites that provided basic name spellings, mailing information and phone numbers. The advice from the authors of this paper is 'Don't send the reporter away empty-handed from your site.'

I won't bombard you with any more figures and unfortunately, I cannot link to the White Paper as it is itself a pdf document! However, I will be happy to email it to anyone who asks.

Filed under:
music journalism    websites    media relations

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Beeb under scrutiny in Guardian blog

If you haven't checked it out yet, I would recommend the 'Comment is Free' blog as an interesting forum where Guardian readers discuss their perspectives on current stories and issues. For a lively interchange of views on how the BBC (described by the Daily Mail's Melanie Phillips as the 'Beirut Broadcasting Corporation') is covering the current hostilities between Israel and the Lebanon, here is a good example of how the blog comes into its own.

The blog was started by Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain. He makes some useful reference to the Glagow Media Group's recent publication, 'Bad News From Israel' which suggests that Israeli perspectives are given greater priority in British broadcasting than Palestinian views.

If you're a media student, you might find the Comment Is Free a useful case study for discussion if you ever get asked to write an essay on whether the Public Sphere is alive and well on the World Wide Web.

Filed under:
Guardian    blogs    BBC    Daily Mail    Middle East    Glasgow Media Group   
Public Sphere

RAMming the message home about asylum-seekers

Should journalists learn about cultural and religious diversity as part of their training? Should it be a prerequisite for entering the profession that journalists actually understand the people they write about?

This is one revolutionary idea referred to in an article by the Director of MediaWise, a registered charity set up to provide advice, information, research and training on media ethics. The suggestion is one of several in response to concerns on how some British newspapers have portrayed asylum seekers and refugees in prejudicial terms and falling back on racist sterotypes.

Until recently, MediaWise ran a project called RAM (Refugees, Asylum-seekers and Media) which encouraged good practice in media representation of refugee and asylum issues. This role has now been taken over by the Exiled Journalists Network which was set up last year to support journalists who have themselves fled their home countries to escape persecution.

Filed under:
journalism education    MediaWise    asylum seekers

The intelligent interface between journalism and PR

If you haven't latched on to this buzzword yet, let me introduce you to the concept of Editorial Intelligence. Actually, it's more of a club than a concept. It describes itself as 'an Information and Networking Club for all public and private sectors of PR and Journalism which captures and digests the world of comment and opinion in the U.K.'

It has a pretty nifty website that has some useful links and resources available even to non-members - for example, click on 'the media and e.i.' for relevant press articles and 'downloads and briefings' for podcasts.

But it is a little scary as it suggests some form of regular collusion between journalists and PR people to control the news agenda and keep the information flowing to sell newspapers while keeping PR clients in a positive light. You might think that the role of a truly 'intelligent' journalist is to see through the spin and tell us what's really happening.

Filed under:
Editorial Intelligence    media relations    spin

Distilling the truth

We heard a lot about embedded journalists when the US and UK sent troops to Iraq. We haven't heard much about the role and experience of journalists currently dodging the missiles in the Lebanon and Northern Israel. So turning yet again to the Press Gazette, I found this article by CNN's Nic Robertson to be an interesting if brief account.

In the penultimate paragraph he describes his role as distilling the truth from the different messages that come from both sides of a conflict. OK you might think - he's a reporter defending the role of the media so he would say that wouldn't he?

But truth, as Hiram Johnson (who he?) (look it up!) once said, is the first casualty of war, so fair play to correspondents who do try to provide a lucid picture in the fog of violence and propaganda.

Filed under:
war reporting    Middle East    press freedom    Press Gazette    CNN

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Guardian - an online newspaper that you can still wrap round your fish and chips

The Internet's impact on the consumption of news continues unabated. We have not yet reached the stage where commuters sit on the train reading their morning news on their palmtops but today sees the launch of the Guardian's latest venture, G24, a print-and-read pdf newspaper. Not a broadsheet, not a tabloid, not even a Berliner, G24 is an A4 document of 8-12 pages that you can print off as you get ready to catch the 8.14 to St.Pancras.

The only drawback is its short shelf-life. It is updated every 15 minutes so the news will be out of date by the time you find a seat in the end carriage. Well there is so much news about these days!

Read all about it here - and download your copy of G24!

Filed under:
Guardian    online news    new media

Another fine mess for Maz

Investigation or incitement? That's the question that was on the lips of many commentators on the ethics of Mazher Mahmood's approach to undercover journalism when his failed 'Fake Sheik' sting of George Galloway last October provided excellent copy for The News Of The World's rival newspapers. This week he blew it again when his dubious methods resulted in the acquittal of the 'Dirty Bomb' trio.

The Press Gazette covers the story here and has set up a discussion on whether Maz's approach is justified, although it has attracted no comments yet.

One clear lesson to be learned for any journalist thinking of applying Maz's methods is: make sure that the big story is the subject of the investigation, not the antics of the investigator.

Filed under:
Mazheer Mahmood    News Of The World    investigative journalism    Press Gazette

Thursday, July 27, 2006

...and monitoring the manipulators

Click here for a useful US site that I will be no doubt plundering for resources at regular intervals. Run by Source Watch (formerly the Center for Media and Democracy), it espouses the cause of uncensored and unrestricted journalism to expose malpractices by the State and by big corporations. It does include references to the UK press but generally seeks to expose spin and media manipulation. Check out the links to some revealing articles in the Center's journal, PR Watch.

Filed under:
Source Watch    PR Watch    spin    flack    politics

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Monitoring the Mail

Click on the title of this blog to link to the Daily Mail Watch - a blog site that's been going for two years, monitoring the priorities of the press that serves Middle England - mainly the Mail, Britain's second biggest selling newspaper, but also the Express. The front page of both newspapers is displayed and contributors are invited to comment on the news values behind the stories. It's interesting to note for example how the Express digs up a Diana story at regular intervals (and often on a Monday) - presumably because market research has shown that potential Express readers are more likely to buy copies if she is in the headlines.

Filed under:
Daily Mail    Daily Express    Diana

Can I quote you on that?

Quotes about the practice of journalism tend to be tongue-in-cheek. More often than not, comments about the profession are critical, even when made by journalists themselves.

Cultural critic Matthew Arnold described journalism as 'literature in a hurry'.

Malcolm X warned us of the political effects of journalism: 'If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing'.

Helen Swaffer takes a swipe at the British press whose business interests seem to take priority over freedom of expression: 'Freedom of the press in Britain is freedom to print such of the proprietor's prejudices as the advertisers won't object to'.

As a music journalist myself (not rock music I hasten to add!), one of my favourite quotes is from the late Frank Zappa: 'Rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read'.

Filed under:
quotations    music journalism    press freedom    spin    politics