Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Why News Can't Cope.


I don't like the term 'commit suicide'.

It still has the overtones of a criminal offence; you commit homicide, or matricide, but not suicide.

In the UK an estimated 7 people per 100,000 kill themselves each year and to characterize them all would be a horrible disservice to them and their families. Everyone is different, with different needs, and hopes, and emotional drivers pushing them on through life; and people who kill themselves have reached a point of desperation or calm or decision... they choose, for whatever reason, to end themselves.

None of this is news.

When L'Wren Scott killed herself was a model, a stylist, a designer, a business woman, she was a rounded personality.

A person.

None of this is news... unless you have an interest in the fashion world.

At the time L'Wren Scott killed herself she was in a relationship with Sir Mick Jagger the front man of The Rolling Stones.

This is news.

News organisations have difficulty with the dichotomy of being respectful and telling the story.

On the morning after her death was announced the UK Newspapers were evenly split between "L'Wren Scott, designer and partner of Sir Mick Jagger" and "Sir Micks Girlfriend". The Ex BBC Radio 4 newsreader Alice Arnold tweeted
Whoever wrote @BBCRadio2 headline on death of L’wren Scott - be ashamed..”Mick Jagger’s girlfriend”..you didn’t even name her for ‘30 secs.
 L'Wren Scott's death has highlighted a problem in reporting.

Would this be international news if she wasn't Sir Mick Jagger's partner? And if not, then how do you report something without making the error of forgetting that she is a person.

When I was managing journalists there were a number of inaccuracies that I didn't want to see or hear; people die of AIDS related illnesses not of AIDS, murderers murder women who were working as prostitutes / in the sex industry they don't murder prostitutes, people are wheelchair users not confined to wheelchairs, people live with a disability they aren't disabled...

The way the news uses language is important, not just for the sense of a story but for the way we feel about it.

Coverage of L'Wren Scott has shown us how journalists thinking "What's important?" Sometimes don't think "what is right?".

For a journalist covering this story "Mick Jagger's Girlfriend" is what they see as the important bit, is easier and quicker than "L'Wren Scott, designer and entrepreneur, girlfriend of Mick Jagger". It doesn't make it right and it certainly doesn't add to the moral health of an industry that has such power.

My heart goes out to those affected by her death and those affected when anyone kills themselves.

I'm sad that this horrible, private event has become news fodder.

I'm sorry so many journalists don't think about language as much as they should.


Friday, 14 March 2014

Media Training - The Media Landscape; Radio - Frequency Modulation

Dennis McCarthy
I first appeared on the radio in 1995, and my first live broadcast was with Dennis McCarthy who was a legend.

Dennis had the ability to stand in a street in Nottingham and say on-air, "I wonder who's house we're doing the programme from this morning" and 60% of the doors would be thrown open by eager listeners who wanted Dennis to come and sit in their best parlor and do a radio show.

Everyone listened to Dennis...

His avuncular style belied a prickly nature. He was bigger than the station he worked for; it was BBC Radio Dennis.

The first and longest conversation I had with Dennis went like this...

Dennis (in the studio some 1000 yards from where I was, in a bunker, under a car-park, looking at the traffic cameras) - Hello Travel, who's that?
Me - I'm John, Dennis.
Dennis - John? John? What happened to Annie, or Claire?
Me - They're not on today, it's my first day, sorry.
Dennis - Pick up after the sting.

For the next year, every weekday afternoon all he said to me was "Pick up after the sting". I may have said "afternoon Dennis, are you well?" or "How are you today Dennis?" all he ever said to me was...

"Pick up after the sting..."

When he said that to me for the last time I didn't know that one of my colleagues was wrestling control of the studio from him. He was seriously ill, and the decision had been taken to get him off air for medical attention. He was having none of it, and every time someone pressed the control button in the other studio to take his signal away from the transmitter, he pressed it in his studio.

He was determined to finish the show...

That night he went home, and died.

20,000 people turned out for his funeral.

The days of Dennis are long gone. In Nottingham you had the choice between national stations and 3 local stations; BBC Radio Nottingham, Radio Trent & GEM AM (later re-branded to be Trent FM & Classic Gold Gem) both of the latter were owned by the same company.

There was little choice and that made for massive loyalty.

In Nottingham, a city of 730,000, there are now... well, there are around 10 stations serving the city, others serving other parts of the county and then you have the nationals, DAB and the internet.

There has never been more choice in listening in the UK if you want to listen to music. If you want news and speech content then you're pretty much stuck with the BBC it's the only place you'll find documentary, discussions and opportunities to be interviewed.*

In the UK it's a speech monopoly we have choice but only in very particular ways... you may as well have Dennis back.


*there are a couple of important Metropolitan exceptions LBC TalkSport et al.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Attractive Men are, more attractive...

Here's an interesting article I've been quoted in...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/10689948/Does-being-good-looking-really-help-men-get-on-in-business.html

Here's the text of that -

Good-looking men give more convincing business presentations, while a woman’s physical appearance has no impact on how her pitch is received, according to a study by researchers at Harvard University.
For the study, 60 experienced investors were asked to view recordings of business pitches by entrepreneurs from various sectors.
The men deemed good looking consistently had more positive reactions to pitches than their averagely attractive counterparts, whereas for attractive women there was no difference in feedback.
Dr Alison Brooks, of Harvard Business School, said that “the power of male attractiveness to persuade evaluators to select one pitch over another” showed good looking entrepreneurs were more likely to get ahead in their chosen field.
But Harry Key, a speech coach and author based in the UK, says it is unlikely that the men’s good looks in themselves were winning over potential investors.
“Good looking men generally give better presentations because they are more confident,” he says. “It’s a no-brainer that people prefer to look at attractive people, but that’s not enough to win a pitch.
“There’s also the ‘halo effect’ where people tend to group together positive attributes; you see that someone’s good looking and on some level you assume on some level they’ll be smart and thoughtful as well.”
So why is it only with men that this makes a difference? Are attractive women not as confident with it?
Key has a depressing suggestion to explain results of the study: “I do coaching with a lot of start-up owners, and I have heard men say ‘I don’t want to hire women because you never know when they are going to want kids, and I can’t afford to lose any member of staff’.
“So that’s something that might be continuously in these investors' minds, even if they’re not consciously thinking about it when giving feedback.”
Branding expert Mark Borkowski has another idea about why attractive women might be taken less seriously.
“We’ve been fed this idea by the media that an attractive man has hidden depths,” he says. “But because of the glamour and fashion industries there’s the assumption that if a woman’s beautiful she won’t be intellectual.”
He adds of the study in general: "I think it's true that people are increasingly being attracted by youthful exuberance. If we fall into this trap we're going to miss out on some of the brightest and most creative brains."
Commentators also suggest the study’s findings might be less true of business culture in the UK than America. Key, for example, says he encourages his British clients to be funny rather than slickly confident.
“Being attractive doesn’t help you make the audience laugh or engage with them, which is important for people in the UK. In America presentations tend to be more flashy and like a commercial.”
John Rockley, a presentation and media consultant, agrees that American audiences tend to be more focussed on appearance than British ones.
“In the UK, if someone’s speaking with confidence then people are willing to listen. In America, they’re much more used to having very polished news anchors and media experts, so how someone looks might be more of an issue.”
But Rockley agrees that good looks are still an advantage for a man in business anywhere in the world. If that’s the case, then, what can the averagely attractive do to make up for it?
“Work harder and prepare more,” he says.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Media Training - The Media Landscape; The Press - Who Owns Your Message?

If you're interviewed by the press, why does it matter who owns the organisation?

Media ownership is a thesis all on its own, but the main things to remember about the press, are the political standpoints of the owners and the readers.

People buy a newspaper because it reinforces their world view, it feels like a friend that's on their side, that stands for the things that they think they stand for. If your political leaning is to the right then The Daily Mail, The Express, The Star, The Sun are all for you. If your political leaning is to the left then The Guardian, The Mirror, The Independent should be of interest. If you're vaguely undecided then have a look at the ever wavering Times.

The voice of the outlet is as important as your message. If you take an example of the 31st of January 2014, then there wasn't much that the front pages of the papers agreed on, but it's worth looking at how 2 papers covered 1 story.

The i (a slimmed down version of the Independent paper) appeals to the left leaning, possibly younger audience. It's an easy digest of the news. On the front page a report into University demographics is hailed as a win for women. Women race ahead... a positive spin on the story.

Then look at the way that The Daily Telegraph (often referred to as The Daily Tory-graph) a right leaning paper covers the same story. This time Boys are being left behind... not celebratory, but warning of a disturbing 'gender gap'.

This is the same story, with the same figures, with the same information, presented in 2 different and opposed ways.

Where does that leave the interview that you're about to do?

Before agreeing to be interviewed ask yourself...
"Does this newspaper represent me or my organisation?"
"Does this newspaper have the same message we are buying into?"
"Is this the newspaper of choice for my clients, consumer base, customers, stakeholders?"

If not, then you may find that the interview will be more confrontational than you expect, it may even go down roads you don't want it to, especially if you're defending a politically left leaning action in a right wing newspaper.

What about journalistic impartiality?

When you're dealing with newspapers don't expect impartiality. They are there to serve a self selecting community of readers that have been drawn to that publication because they have their world view reinforced. Whether that world view is that women need more opportunity and university numbers signal a change for the better, or that masculinity is in crisis and boys need to be helped in the struggle to succeed because they are being let down by the left.

That said, news is news.

If you're asked to defend bankers bonuses, industrial accidents, killings, and embezzlement, no one will be on your side.

That's 'ownership' from the point of view of the intellectual ownership by the audience. Physical ownership will also have its effect on editorial, even if the papers protest that it won't.

If you are in competition with the owner of a newspaper, you won't get coverage, if you are in competition with the owner of a newspapers other companies, you'll get lots and lots of unwelcome coverage...

 Take the Wowcher / Groupon situation. Both are companies that offer deals and vouchers over the internet for various services.

Wowcher is owned (at the time of writing) by DMG Media, who own The Daily Mail. 

Groupon is not.

A quick search on The Daily Mail website brings up 1 page of results for Wowcher; generally favorable stories from the money saving pages.

There are 11 pages of stories featuring or mentioning Groupon. Mainly very bad news about the website putting people out of business.

I wonder if there's a connection there?

Both physical and intellectual ownership will affect your message. It will affect how your message is spun, used, and in some cases abused. You always need to know what's going on behind the scenes before you become involved in sending your message out.



Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Media Training - The Media Landscape; The Press In Numbers.

When I was growing up I had a paper-round and all of my friends had paper-rounds, because everyone had papers delivered.

My parents read The Daily Mail, and it appeared that everyone else read The Sun. I can still remember the early morning calm, the smell of the dew-damp air, and the yapping of the 9 or so Yorkshire Terriers that lived at the corner of Crookdole Lane and Broom Road.

I haven't seen a paperboy or girl for years.

It may be because I'm not awake at that time, it may be that I live in the Forest Of Dean and no one wants to cycle up and down the hills, it may be that Newspapers are dying.

In 1987, when I was delivering papers, The Sun had a circulation of nearly 4 million copies, The Daily Mail had 1.7 million copies, The Mirror had just over 3 million and the Guardian had half a million. Now you look at the circulation 26 years later, and in the last sample The Sun dropped 1.6 million to 2.4 million, The Daily Mail stayed steady with 1.8 million, The Mirror dropped by 2 million to 1 million and the Guardian more than halved it's circulation and dropped to 2 hundred thousand copies.

What do all those numbers really mean?

In 1987 the population was on its way to 57,439,000 (1991 Census) and the total copies of daily national papers sold was 14,867,000 about a quarter of the total population (and a much greater proportion of the adult population) was reading a daily national paper.

In 2013 we have a population of around 63,182,000 (2011 Census) and the total number of daily national papers sold was 8,151,000 about an eighth of the population (and a much greater proportion of the adult population) is reading a daily national paper.

Newspaper Circulation has halved in the last 26 years.

Halved.

So what does that mean for the companies that run these newspapers? They aren't making as much money as they used to so they've had to cut costs. Cutting costs means employing fewer people and asking them to do more.

Don't forget, much of a newspapers output is now available online, the Mail gets around 8 million unique users a day (worldwide) and the Guardian gets around 4 million (worldwide)... none of those users pay for it, but it has to be serviced somehow.

News organisations have to do more with less, journalists are over-worked, there isn't time to do 'journalism' which is why this happens
NOAH’S Ark Zoo Farm has achieved recognition for the education programme it runs at its Wraxall site. The zoo hosts more than 15,000 school children each year, ranging from infant school pupils to teenagers studying A-levels, and has now been awarded the Quality Badge from the Learning Outside of the Classroom scheme (LOTC).
The badge is a nationally-recognised benchmark that demonstrates that those places awarded it have met several stringent indicators for education.
Assessments are conducted by the Government-appointed Council for Learning Outside of the Classroom.
Noah’s Ark education coordinator Catherine Tisdall said: “We are very proud of our unique hands-on approach to learning at Noah’s Ark.
“Achieving the Quality Badge is the result of an awful lot of hard work from a team dedicated to providing an exceptional educational day out for visitors.”
This is a local news story taken from The Weston & Somerset Mercury. A zoo has got an award.

Well done them.

With a little bit of digging you can quickly discover that this is a Creationist Zoo that denies Evolution... which is why, after a number of comments from the website and from the page getting shared shared on social media the following was added to the story a day after the first publication...

The award comes after Alice Roberts, professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, published an article in the Guardian in December raising concerns about how the creationist zoo promotes religious views to its visitors through posters.
Professor Roberts wrote how she fears such posters, which she said ‘distorted scientific fact’, could interfere with a child’s education.
* * *
* We have acknowledged there are contrasting views on this issue, and have added a line to make that fact clear – however, the award presented to Noah’s Ark is a reputable one, and we have reported on that fact without taking sides or passing judgment on the merits of the facility itself.
 The original piece looks like a "copy & paste" press release from the zoo, the addition looks like the stable door being closed by a journalist who has seen that people are angry about the celebratory tone.

This is what some press journalism has become, the recycling of press releases.

It's because there's a tiny number of journalists rattling around news rooms that used to be filled with people.

The individual journalist has to do more and more and more, and a press release with pictures of nice people from a zoo about how the zoo has won an award is easy to cut and paste.

The journalist can now get on with their real job.

I have a friend who was an editor at a local paper, she left because the owners had decided that her journalists were going to be managed by the commercial manager not the editor, because they were there to find stories to support the advertisers. I know people who have seen their jobs in national publications get harder and harder... you can almost understand why phone hacking started being used; it was an easy way to get good stories that sold papers and kept journalists employed.

When the press come to you for an interview, remember the background of a changing world, remember that the journalist may have 10 other stories to get done, and you're just another one, remember that the person you're talking to may just want sensationalism to keep in with the boss, or even rarer than that, they may have actually had the time to find some real news about you.

On the next blog we'll look at how owners, influencers, and audience can affect your press coverage.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Media Training - Introduction

She let out a small scream and ran away… she actually ran away.

I looked at her retreating back, looked at my microphone, and then looked at my other guest. My voice seemed to come from a cave a long way off. I recited one of the great journalistic ‘thinking time’ phrases “So, if I can turn to you…” as I tried to work out if what had happened, had actually happened…

…and then time returned and the interview continued.

I had never had an interviewee let out a little strangled scream and run off.

I was presenting a program from a large college; we had already interviewed seven or eight people including some of the college’s special needs students and were building up to talking to the management. Two of the senior people were standing with me in the entrance hall, the producer in my headphones told me that we’d be live in thirty seconds; I relayed that information and carried on explaining to my guests just what would happen.

I was live, I greeted them both, and I asked something ground-breaking like ‘you must be proud of the work you do here?’ or some other soft warm up question, and then she let out a small scream and ran away… she actually ran away.

Until you’re in front of the media you don’t know how you’ll react. This senior manager probably thought she’d be fine, presenting and talking are all part of the managers role, however, when there’s a branded microphone, a journalist, a producer, a runner, and a waiting audience of thousands, you may suddenly give a small scream and run away. Or worse, your common sense, good judgement, brand identity, ability to speak, bowel control and higher functions all run off and your physical shell is left to try and respond to a journalist whilst your brain is doing something else.

Media training isn't just getting the story straight, it’s learning to be comfortable with the media, it’s learning the rules, it’s learning to play the game properly, and until you can do that your media interactions will always be average, at the best.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Get Past The Black Knight.

If you think your audience is your market segment, your customers, your potential customers, and those who may be persuaded to be your customers then you're wrong.

When it comes to media engagement and press relations your audience is a journalist.

Forget about getting your PR to your target, it won't happen unless you can get past the journalist. Journalists are the gate keepers; they stand on the bridge, sword in hand, saying "None shall pass." You can fight with them if you want, but you'll never win, they'll just keep standing there.

So what do you do?

1) Think Like A Journalist - What is their audience and what is the best way to engage with them?

2) Play The Long Game - Offer content that can move a recurring the story on, add to the debate, or give a starting point to a new strand of content.

3) Be Realistic - If it's just a commercial 'puff' expect to be knocked back or asked to pay for coverage.

4) Use Their Voice - Approach your media outlet with something that sounds like them. You wouldn't send a 'Sun' style pitch to the 'Independent' News room (and vice versa); even if they can see the story they'll be nervous about using something that won't sit well with their audience.

5) Be A Consumer - Journalists love to be read, watched, and listened to. Make a point of consuming the media you want to target so you can link it in to what that journalist may have already published.

Now you can get past the Black Knight, or at least give him a scratch...


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