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