Tagged: journalism

Where’s Whoopie? In The News Of Course

whoop2

A while back I wrote about the recent trend for tweet-writing, the spiritual descendant of churnalism, whereby journalists outsource their jobs by simply publishing tweets from random celebrities when something momentous happens, even if there is no connection or context.

Earlier today the great Nelson Mandela passed away. Which means it must be Whoopie o’clock, at least for one bored journalist.

whoopie

It’s not Whoopie’s fault she keeps getting used in these ridiculous lists, though I do hold her responsible for her own turn of phrase which manages to be both twee, patronising and pretentious, all at the same time. But it really needs to stop; Pedestrian.tv, I’m looking at you.

And yes, it can get worse. That is Fergie you can see below Whoopie. MENSA must be having the day off.

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Buzzfeed, Facebook & The Rebirth Of The Headline

A few years ago there was a lot of talk about journalists learning SEO. I should know, I was one of those doing the talking.

The idea was that as people moved from choosing what news to read based on what they saw on a news-stand or in a newsagent to what they found in Google, journalists and editors need to rethink the art of the language that would be needed to attract them. I created a programme to train all the journalists at RBI to do just this, and even created a series of posts on the subject. Probably one of the high-points of my career to date was being asked to train BBC journalists in SEO for news writing.

One of the posts was about the art of the headline in which I argued that the modern article needed to move away from the puns and metaphors of the past and become more explanatory, clear and informative; the BBC couldn’t implement my ideas around headlines because their CMS had to be able to push content on to Ceefax.

But if I was re-writing that post today, I’d probably have to make a slight tweak. Though I might describe it as the greatest tweak ever known to man!

Yesterday I mentioned some great ads that have been created by Volvo Trucks; as I said, I think the ads are really rather good, and certainly a refreshing change from a lot of the dross that clutters our airwaves. But I’m not quite sure that:

Advertisers Should Just Quit. Nothing Will Ever Top This Volvo Commercial

No matter how great a piece of creative is, it’s probably a bit much to suggest that nothing will ever top it.

Or maybe it’s not. Certainly, based on some of the other headlines that appear to be popping up more and more, it’s actually rather light-weight in terms of its enthusiasm.

If you watch the video above you might be struck by how generous and selfless people can be. But I’m not sure you will necessarily think that fuzzy footage, with a painfully cheesy soundtrack, of people being pulled off of tube tracks or a car being pushed off a train line, is:

ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL VIDEOS YOU WILL EVER SEE

I’ve seen the footage of Allied troops discovering the concentration camps at the end of the Second World War and I’m afraid some badly spliced footage of good Samaritans doesn’t really compare.

In the same vein, I don’t think that these are “the most thought provoking images of all time“, I doubt that a slowed down version of Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball will “haunt me forever“* and I’m almost certain that a fortune-cookie philosophy speech with a piano backing track isn’t going to “inspire me to live life to the fullest“. But hey, at least it ends with a shot of a model in ligerie biting her lip. Stay classy Jason Silva.

What’s interesting is that it took me approximately 5 minutes to find all of these examples of articles (or rather very short posts which essentially repost content from other places) where the headlines are master-classes in hyperbole.

All of them had been posted to Facebook and showed up in a quick trawl of my newsfeed this morning. It seems that in this world where having virtual ADHD is a feature not a bug, the old adage of under-promise and over-deliver has been consigned to the dustbin. In a world where news, or rather content, is increasingly found via social channels rather than search, it seems that click-bait is getting worse and worse.

Interestingly, at exactly the same time as serious media companies are following down this path that Buzzfeed has blazed, Buzzfeed is setting itself up as more of a serious content creator. This piece on the real numbers behind Snapchat is as good as, if not better, than much of the coverage I’ve seen in the main-stream tech press (which maybe shouldn’t be a surprise). And whilst the argument behind this piece on the British housing market is full of holes, at least it shows a desire to cover serious issues in a semi-serious way.

It will be interesting to see who wins out, or whether there is space for both to thrive, even on one site. It strikes me that products like Flipboard reward high-quality imagery rather than headlines that appear to be written by a ten-year old who has just chugged two-litres of Red Bull, but Flipboard is nowhere near as big as Facebook. If it scales this trend towards ridiculous hyperbole might fade, otherwise it will probably require a Facebook algorithm change such as the ones that did for social readers.

Back in the real world however, Bon Jovi are back in the US charts because of a site that reposted a 4-year old YouTube clip of a guy dancing to Livin’ On A Prayer at a basketball game. Here’s hoping that this really is the perfect time to be launching a newspaper.

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A Week’s A Long Time #10

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 10.08.05 PM

Back after a well earned break, I’m going to have another bash at providing a weekly round-up of tech, media & marketing.

Tweet As…

Twitter had a busy week, launching a new product and two updates to its ad systems.

Twitter #Music is an app, built off the back of acqhired Australian start-up We Are Hunted, which is designed to help people find and connect with new and upcoming music. It’s a lovely use of Twitter’s platform which understands, and makes use of, how people are using that to connect to music. Importantly, it builds off of existing music services, in the form of iTunes, Spotify & Rdio: this means it’s in the interest of the latter two for this to succeed, and helps ease the pain of Apple after closing Ping.

At the same time Twitter announced that it is to allow ads to be targeted at Twitter users based on words in their tweets or tweets they have interacted with, and it was rumoured that Twitter is trying to tie-up deals with TV networks so that it can monetise video content within tweets.

Whilst the #Music announcement is a smart effort to drive deeper audience usage of the product, whilst creating lots more lovely user data in the process, the keyword launch, and TV rumour, show that Twitter also wants to get much better at making money off of the audience it already has. Tie the two together and you can imagine a scenario where TV stations target their video content based on what other TV shows people have tweeted about, and then Twitter gets to monetise it. Meta.

Home And Dry?

Last week also saw Facebook Home hit the streets. It’s since seen 500,000 downloads which is impressive, but not a patch on Instagram which saw ten times as many downloads in the same amount of time after launching on Android.

It’s early days yet, and, to be honest, in some ways it’s hard to understand exactly what Facebook Home does for people. Perhaps the fact that one of the main features of Home, Chat Heads, is now part of the iPhone app, will help to really kickstart Facebook’s mobile landgrab. At least that would mean they wouldn’t have to rely on this ad doing the job.

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Race To The Bottom

Finally, and a lot more seriously, the web showed its darker side in the aftermath of a tragedy in Boston. reddit, which likes to call itself the front page of the internet, decided to try and capture the bombers. And failed.

Which would be fine, if it’s misguided attempts to play Sherlock didn’t result in plenty of innocent people being named as terrorists. It was, to repeat one memorable turn of phrase, like a racist Where’s Wally. To be sure plenty of people have pointed out that ‘traditional media’ is hardly blame free, and they’re right. But reddit has history, and it’s not as pretty as its cheer-leaders would like to claim.  

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Nothing Crap About Educating People

So, earlier this month, Facebook revealed that laptops belonging to its staff had been infected by malware. Whilst Facebook was adamant that no user data had been compromised, a large number of publications saw fit to cover the story. Which is unsurprising and, I would argue, entirely reasonable.

After all, it’s one of a large number of hacking stories recently, suggesting that we should all be considering what data we share with companies, and what sort of security systems they use to protect it. Add to that the fact that Facebook holds data, on over 1 billion people, that could easily be used by cyber-criminals (birth-dates, names of friends, family & spouses – all things that are regularly used in online banking) and it seems reasonable to at least consider the implications.

Not if you’re Jeff Jarvis it doesn’t. Invited on to a late night slot on BBC News, he decided to dismiss the relevance of the story completely, and instead insist that the BBC were engaged in creating techno=panic. Yes, the BBC. The same company that arguably did more than almost any company on earth to promote home-computing, and which has consistently been a leading-edge innovator in its use of the web to connect with its audience.

Now Jeff Jarvis is undoubtedly an intelligent, succesful and influential man. But that doesn’t mean that he’s always right. In fact his argument that because anything you put on Facebook is going to end up public anyway means that you don’t really have any justification in worrying about data compromises, seems entirely wrong to me. It is exactly because so many people don’t realise this fact, that people like him should be doing more to highlight the dangers, as well as the positives, of technology.

Some have suggested that Jarvis’s almost missionary zeal for the web and its new giants, is almost sinister. Others merely highlight how open to ridicule it is.

Either way, I think that those who try to suggest that his CV means he should be free from criticism are entirely wrong. Apart from anything else, I can’t help thinking that anyone who had a hand in the creation of Entertainment Weekly (current top story – 25 sexiest TV scenes: Your picks!) isn’t really best placed to criticise anyone else on the quality of their journalism.

What’s for sure is that whatever the rights and wrongs of Jarvis’ arguments (and I think  I’ve highlighted why they’re more wrong than right), he lost pretty much any moral high ground he might have thought he had when he followed his interview with a truly epic prima donna style rant, and then resorted to taking comfort in the fact that he was praised by this man.

When Nero’s on your side, you’ve lost.

Photo of Jeff Jarvis explaining why there’s nothing to worry about when your whole life could be hacked because a developer in California looks at a dodgy website by Re: Publica 2012 on flickr

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A Week’s A Long Time Vol. 7

Once again, a week here is more like a fortnight. I was on holiday last week and couldn’t drag myself away from the pool to jot down any thoughts on the latest developments in tech. But this week, I hope to make up for it.

The Only Way Is Up?

Wall St. met Silicon Valley this week as Facebook held its first earnings call since its rather disappointing flotation. It came on the back of a week where Zynga had singularly failed to impress the finance world, with very disappointing results.

The first question on everyone’s lips was whether Facebook’s founder, who many believe is dismissive of finance, would show up. He did. Though that doesn’t mean that people were impressed by him. Interestingly, an unconnected post by Fred Wilson highlighted why Mark Zuckerberg might need to play ball a bit more.

VCs have control when things don’t work. Entrepreneurs have control when they do.

The second question was whether what he, and his lieutenants, had to say would relieve the worries of those who bought Facebook’s stock. Not so much.

fb q2 deck

One of the main problems for both Facebook & Zynga is that people are switching to mobile quicker, even, than fast-moving Californian start-ups can keep up with, and the revenue on mobile devices is lower than on the desktop web. Which, of course, is why Facebook bought Instagram. And, in a move that looks like a perfect example of using offence as the best form of defence, Twitter cut off part of Instagram’s access to its API. Ouch.

The Only Way Is Down?

On the other side of media equation, things were also looking rocky. The New York Times released financial results, showing losses had halved. That said, those losses still stood at $88 million for the quarter, or around $1 million a day. And, just days before, The Guardian also reported huge losses, though only £44.2 million for the whole of 2011, which works out at about £3.6 million a month (about £100,000 a day, which has been the case for the last 3 years).

Not everyone was glum though: the web edition of the Daily Mail, the most popular newspaper site in the world, posted its first ever profit. It’s likely that publishers around the world will be looking at them to try to work out how they’ve done this. Unfortunately, whilst the Mail has a pretty strong record of issue-based, investigative journalism (it pretty much ensured that the Stephen Lawrence case wasn’t forgotten), the website owes more to Kim Kardashian than stories of murdered teenagers.

So what hope is there for journalism? Well, it depends who you believe. Salon argued that claims that the way that the shootings at a Batrman screening in Aurora showed how citizen journalism would lead the way, were pure hype.

The Web seems neutral, because it is an open platform that anyone can use. But just because anyone can does not mean everyone does. It is no accident that spontaneous, active citizen journalism emerged on Reddit in response to a shooting at a Batman premiere. The stories that get covered are the ones citizen journalists care about most, and these citizen journalists tend toward a certain social-cultural-economic orientation.

But, another author argued that this very article was, itself, hype. Where was this counter-argument published? Salon.

Confused? You will be.

Still, at least one person seems to have cracked the solution. Facebook just needs to buy The Guardian.

London Calling

And, just to end, let’s have a look at a little event that’s taking place in London at the moment. Unsurprisingly, it’s brought on a flurry of marketing, both ridiculous & sublime; official & not-so-official.

Nike are back to their best with Find Your Greatness*

Adidas have their own take on things with a piece soundtracked by British rapper Wretch 32.

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Does the fact that I think the song is wretched make me old? Probably? I prefer the more thoughtful athlete-focussed pieces.

Away from the big, global brands, a couple of local British companies have been getting some cheeky jabs in. Paddy Power & Oddbins both highlighted the fact that the Olympics police have been coming down very heavy on anyone who dares to try to make money off of the back of the event. And Specsavers showed, once again, that being quick off the mark is as important in advertising as it is in athletics, with a dig at the flaggate episode.

If you have any thoughts on these issues, or anything you’d like covered in a future digest, please do leave a comment, drop me a line on ciarannorris at gmail dot com, or tweet me.

*Nike are a current client of my employer Mindshare

Javelin by Banksy.

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At Least The New York Times Doesn’t Abuse Its Readers

It’s like stealing candy from a baby. Except, I don’t want to. I want the baby to grow up and, I don’t know, learn to eat its greens. Or something.

Anyway. Earlier today, Alexia Tsotsis wrote a post on TechCrunch, the site owned by AOL which Tsotsis is the co-editor of, about the recent deal between content aggregator Flipboard and the New York Times. It would appear that Tsotsis wrote the piece in question whilst drunk or in the throes of a really bad angel dust comedown.

In it she rants long and hard about how much she hates the New York Times & traditional media in general. She also seems to hate doing her job, seeing as I’m assuming it’s meant to involve covering stories about how traditional and digital media are converging.

A few choice picks include:

Fuckers I am so sick of reporting on incremental tech news for fucking two years now, so sick I’m pretty much considering reverting full-time to fashion coverage

And:

The New York Times took a step towards the future this blasted Sunday night and all of us tech press are expected to cover it like lemmings. Fine. Sure. It’s a big deal, in a business that is slowly dying, to show an understanding of 21st Century distribution mechanisms. Kudos NYT. You’re still worth less than Instagram. Hahahahhaha, lol (drink).

And:

But we’re still covering it because this is the first time Flipboard has offered a paywall option, and it shows a promising alternative revenue stream for both parties involved  … Welcome to the future, old media assholes.

It would be too easy to point out to Tsotsis that her employer, AOL, has hardly covered itself in glory when it comes to trying to reinvent itself and its business model (internet subscription revenues still make up around 40% of the total).

Or, indeed, that her Instagram comparison is probably a bit shaky, seeing as TechCrunch is probably a pretty good example of the fact that just because someone is willing to pay a certain amount for a business, that doesn’t mean its worth it. As one reader puts it in the comments:

You surely know that absent conference revenue, the advertisements on TechCrunch alone don’t make that business very profitable (inside of AOL, I’d rather not speculate on how they account for TC. But prior to the acquisition, I can promise you that advertising alone was only getting you so far and ads are worth even less per impression now. Hey, at least your traffic is down — although I’m still reading.

No, what really gets me is that, as well as trying, and failing, to do a ‘Paul Carr‘, by being outrageous and funny (she manages neither), she also shows a Carr-esque lack of respect for the people reading her post after one reader leaves a, pretty mild, comment:

tabloid headline, poor style, arguable points – please go back to fashion.

And is rewarded with:

Please go fuck yourself.

Alexia Tsotsis: pure class.

What’s truly depressing about this, other than the fact that someone who makes their living by being a journalist seems to have so little understanding of the business models playing out in publishing at the moment*,  is that despite all the hoo-hah of the last year or so, TechCrunch does still have the odd decent writer. But now I won’t get to see what they have to say, because if the co-editor thinks people like me should try to do the anatomically impossible, then I’d rather not waste my time on them: I’ve long thought that the web can bring out the worst in some people, and Alexia is a living case-study for this theory.

The real irony here is that writers at Techcrunch have spent so long bitching about the people leaving comments, they haven’t realised that they are now as bad as the commenters have ever been.

*including that most basic one, which is that it is the readers who ultimately pay your salary, so telling them to go fuck themselves probably isn’t such a great idea, particularly when the site you write for isn’t exactly piling on the views anyway.

UPDATE: Alexia seems to think that the reason people have taken badly to the curse is due to some sort of puritanism.

Bless.

 

Hat-tip to Gordon MacMillan

Image by Joe Shablotnik on flickr

 

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The Paucity Of Tech Comment & Analysis

Last week SEOmoz announced that, after a couple of failed attempts, it had raised $18 million in funding.

Now, I’m a fan, so I’m, biased, but to me this was a great story. A company that, to use the tech world’s favourite jargon, pivoted, from a search agency to an SaaS supplier; one which has built a loyal and thriving community; one whose CEO is not only charismatic, but radically transparent, even down to sharing his past experiences when he tried, and failed, to raise funding; and one which, despite this lack of funding, had been able to grow revenue and profit. The press release anouncing the funding even used web memes.

In short, I assumed that this would be picked up by all the tech blogs. Nope.

It was covered, don’t get me wrong (an article in Forbes is nothing to sniff at), but it was nowhere to be seen on TechCrunch, the site that I still consider to be the main port of call for news on startups. This was particularly strange seeing as other SEO companies, with less interesting stories, have been picked up and had their press releases quoted almost verbatim.

As I said, I’m biased (I really like Rand and the mozzers), but for me this was telling. Because I’ve started to realise that there’s a big gap in the world of tech content, and it’s highlighted by Techcrunch and its bastard offspring, PandoDaily.

The issue is, as I see it, threefold.

1. Too many techblogs concentrate on news without analysis, and, in doing so, are guilty of the same thing that Fred Wilson recently accused many VCs of falling victim to being part of a ‘momentum herd‘ – chasing the hot new thing.

This means that it becomes very hard for readers to understand what’s actually important, as context is lost when everything is the ‘best new thing, ever!‘, and also means that tech blogs (and magazines – Wired UK is pretty much full of similar meaningless snippets) are slowly commodotising their brand, as news is increasingly worthless (as it’s so common). The stuff that has the value, is analysis.

2. Real, in-depth analysis is something that very, very few tech sites seem capable. Danny Sullivan is a master of it when it comes to search, but other than him, I tend to look to non-journalistic sites: the aforementioned Fred Wilson at AVC, the guys over at tech consultancy Broadstuff. Wired’s magazines does have some good stuff in it, but it’s outweighed by reams of fluff, and frankly isn’t worth the subscription anymore.

By no means do I believe that you have to have worked in a sector in order to be able to analyse it (anyone who has had the misfortune of watching the old boy’s club that is Match of the Day will know what I mean. And, indeed, the likes of The Economist, or Charles Arthur at The Guardian, show that there are journalists who do know what they’re talking about.

Indeed, from my time working at two B2B publishers (Centaur & RBI), I know that real journalists can work in almost any sector, and through research and building connections with experts, can provide true insights. The guys at econsultancy, despite being entirely online only, also strike me as coming from this more professional, B2B, school of journalism, and the quality of their content reflects this (Patrico Robles’ constant refusal to accept that hype outweighs reason, deserves particular praise).

3. The bubble seems to be encouraging people’s egos to write cheques their talent can’t cash, with people still trying to say that professional bloggers are different to journalists, whereas, really, the only difference is the CMS.

Rather than write about the cluster-f**k that is PandoDaily, I’ll instead link to an article that pretty much sums up most of my feelings, and pull out a couple of choice quotes, like this one:

Recently, I’ve noticed coverage veering dangerously off-piste, with bizarre and wrong-headed rants from Lacy about other women’s endeavours to uniquely stupid suggestions about picking up tips from cab drivers to odd-ball broadsides that exhibit mountainous levels of lazy prejudice and financial ignorance.

Or:

At a time when it was clear that the market desperately needed a high-quality alternative to TechCrunch and the lesser publications orbiting it, I find it remarkable that Lacy opted to start a blog full of the same old garbage: right down to the pathetic internecine wars, which any publication with dignity would have conducted behind closed doors and which are nowseriously alienating readers.

Or this, something I had already written about:

PandoDaily’s corporate culture suffers from the company being defined by its enemies. Many – perhaps most – of its staffers come from TechCrunch, not a journalistic operation of the highest rank in the first place, and much of the editor’s time in the early days of launching PandoDaily was spent not defining future goals but trying to get its nemesis, Erick Schonfeld, fired, in part by spitefully poaching his best writers. Lacy may have been successful at that endeavour, but her victory has come at terrible cost.

Or, finally:

PandoDaily’s writers have got into the habit of piling onto commenters, without waiting to see if they’re speaking sense or not, as a sort of prophylactic measure. It gives the deeply unedifying sense of a playground gang – something TechCrunch never had, even when Paul Carr was at his most brutal. Carr always did it with wit and wisdom: at PandoDaily, it’s just bullying.

Readers notice, and some of them – at least, so they claim – have already stopped returning as a result. Given that this sector is so over-reported on, there’s no reason not to believe them. This is a horrible shame, because with relatively few adjustments, PandoDaily really could become the site of record.

Yep, I’m one of those readers who won’t be going back, but at least I’ll be able to head over to The Kernel though, the place that this piece originated from, won’t I?

Well, no. Because, whilst it’s name is, I presume, meant to reference the old saying the kernel of truth, to me it brings to mind the Colonel you see beaming down at you outside fast-food restaurants around the world: like their food, the content gives you an initial hit of pleasure, but it’s bad for you really, based as it is on sniping and resentment (despite lambasting Pando for trying to get Erick Schonfeld fired, the author tried to do exactly the same thing himself), rather than sugar and fat.

But what about Techcrunch? Not as long as people are making excuses about bloggers not being journalists, or as long as MG Siegler ruins what can be reasonably insightful analysis, with his irrational love affair with Apple.

Mashable? I stopped reading that when they started publishing articles that I’d have been embarrassed to write as a strident student journo, whilst their constant ability to take things that little bit lower only confirms that decision.

So, there you go.

A state of the tech blog nation that would be enough to make you weep, if it weren’t for the fact that I can get my news from AllThingsD (owned by the Wall Street Journal), and analysis from the likes of The Economist (in print since 1843) or The Guardian (a newspaper founded in Manchester). Death to old media anyone?

Image by Sam Beckwith on flickr.

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Reasons To Be Cheerful (About The Press), Part 3

Rand Fishkin (a lovely guy and, I’d like to think, a friend of mine a great friend whom I wish I saw more of*), recently wrote a post on his personal blog entitled A Healthy Dose Of Fear Is Appropriate When Dealing With The Press. It was in response to a piece by another entrepreneur encouraging start-up CEOs to engage with the press. In it he said:

As far as I am concerned, there are two ways to behave towards the press: 1) Treat them with respect and make sure you are open, real, and fair. OR 2) Shut up and let them know you’re not ready to talk about it.

Rand disagreed with this and wrote a number of reasons that CEOs should be fearful, based on his own bad experiences with bloggers (this bit is important), and how they should prepare for dealing with journalists, and even how they should ‘call them out’ if they made mistakes. When he published this on his own site most of the feedback was positive. When an edited excerpt was published on a PR blog, the comments were more critical.

Here I’d like to give Rand (and anyone else who is interested) my own views on why you shouldn’t be fearful of the press, but also what you can do to prepare. And, if only to pretend that the headline of this piece has a meaning, I’m going to keep the reasons to just 3.

  1. Differentiate between journalists and bloggers. I don’t like encouraging people to make this distinction but the fact is that, despite the fact that the differences should really be semantic, and based around technology, many bloggers refuse to move on. Blogs started as little personal journals abut are, now, often multi-million dollar businesses, with multiple contributors, and even managing editors. But too many of them still value speed over accuracy, page views over real understanding of a story and refuse to look back and update a story if proved to have made a mistake.In his list of  negative experiences Rand mentions the fact that there were typos: to be honest, this happens with the world’s best newspapers (my particular favourite The Guardian is often known as The Gruaniad for its history of spelling mistakes). But what The Guardian does have (as do most organisations that grew out of print rather than directly out of the web), though one might not believe it, are legions of sub-editors whose job is to try and make sure that these slip-ups don’t happen, and the best of them even have staff devoted to checking claims of inaccuracy, and making sure those are corrected. The Leverson Enquiry in the UK is doing a great job of showing that the traditional press is far from perfect, but I’d suggest that most B2B magazines or websites will be more likely to amend inaccuracies than the likes of a Techcrunch, Business Insider or Venturebeat.
  2. Don’t be afraid to talk to journalists.Rand suggests that conversations with journalists can be dangerous, as they might take things out of context and that email interviews are always preferable. I’d say that they allow you to control your message more (which is obviously great), but that a better way of controlling it, is to get to know the people you’re likely to have to talk to. When I joined my first agency, one of the first things we did was to take the main writers for one of the big trade magazines out for drinks. This wasn’t about buying good coverage, or trying to get some inside scoops on them. Rather, it was about building real, human relationships and getting an understanding of what interested them. This led to some of them then calling me regularly if they needed comments on an industry story, thereby keeping our name in the press, something I don’t think would have happened if we hadn’t done that.Now, I don’t think that this always works: in one instance I gave some quotes to one journalist at that magazine and, having done so, was told that the company line had changed and I needed to get my quotes retracted. The story hadn’t been published yet so I emailed the journalist in question and asked if, as a favour, he could not use my comments. He ignored my request and went ahead. Now,  unlike if I had been a CEO facing an IPO, the quotes weren’t disastrous and my response was simple. I refused to ever talk to that particular journalist again. He may not have noticed, but what I didn’t do was go nuclear – I may not have wanted to deal with him, but I didn’t want to piss off the entire staff of the publication, something that might have happened if I had taken Rand’s advice and called him out. As with most things, it’s worth taking a deep breath and counting to 10 before you do something like this. Try to decide if it’s really worth it.
  3. Do your research too. Now this is something that Rand suggests too, but I just want to repeat and add to it, but in the context of explaining why you needn’t be fearful of the press. Rand makes the comparison that an entrepreneur wouldn’t meet a potential investor without prepping. I’d make an even more basic one – you expect journalists to do research, so you should make the effort to do the same. Check them out on LinkedIn. Read their articles. Look for examples of their work and also try to get a feel for whether the tone of the site or publication they’re writing for is more Financial Times or Valleywag. If you don’t like what you see, don’t agree to it. Simples.
At the end of the day, I actually think Rand broadly agrees with the points made in Ben Huh’s post: if you have something to say, say it well, and with respect. If you don’t, don’t.
Not because you are, or need to be fearful, but because it’s common sense and your time could be better spent doing something else.
Like listening to Ian Dury.
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*Far be it for me to be guilty of something that Rand accuses bad journos of, so I made an update to the text that he requested. I guess I was trying to be a bit too neutral first time around!
Typewriter by Ethan R on flickr

 

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A Reader’s View Of Techcrunch

At this point, writing a post about the ongoing fiasco at Techcrunch is a bit like pointing out that bears like doing their business outdoors or that the chap who lives in Rome with the big hat happens to be a Catholic. But, as a reader of Techcrunch, I think it’s worth getting a few quick thoughts off of my chest.

  1. It’s all got rather embarrassing. Paul Carr’s addicted to attention and is a veritable masochist when it comes to self inflicted injuries, as anyone who has read either of his books will know. But his resignation note has the air of a jilted lover throwing nasty names at someone he’s deemed to offend the man who won’t respond to his affections. Reading it kept bringing to mind images of movies set in private schools, hormones & unexplained emotions exploding. It leaves me feeling that I like Carr’s writing, but wouldn’t like him – something that I’m sure will bother him for approximately 0 seconds as he works out how best to next kiss the arses of Michael Arrington & Sara Lacy.
  2. You can enjoy Michael Arrington’s style, admire his accomplishments and still think that setting up an investment fund for the sort of companies that you’re website covers, isn’t a good idea, without the fact that you say this being because you work for the competition. I think (Paul Carr’s former colleague) Jemima Kiss at The Guardian summed this up best.
  3. The wrong people keep getting blamed. Paul Carr blames nearly everyone. MG Siegler (very unsubtly) blames Arianna Huffington (I guess we should just be grateful he doesn’t blame Microsoft). But Arianna is absolutely not to blame. Despite the fact that she’s someone I’ve had almost no respect for up till now (the way that she built a business on investments from her rich friends and the work of unpaid bloggers desperate for a slice of fame and sold it, for several hundred million dollars, as the future of publishing, is both digital sharecropping on an industrial scale and an example of the Emperor’s new [media] clothes), I think she’s being unfairly blamed here – the fault lies with Arrington (for believing that it wasn’t going to end like this when he sold to AoL, and Tim Armstrong of AoL for ever allowing Arrington to set-up Crunchfund. From, the outside, it looks like everything that Huffington has done since that point has been aimed at clearing up the mess made by the children.
  4. Techcrunch is bigger than Michael Arrington. I don’t doubt that his new blog will make for interesting and provocative reading. Or that it will be full of childishly snide asides like this. But it won’t mean everyone will stop reading Techcrunch. Nor will Carr’s departure. And, in fact, if they will now have less puff-pieces for Arrington’s investments, and will start to punish people for being unprofessional, it might even mean that the site improves.

I really hope that this is the end of all of this. And that we can get back to reading so-so articles about companies that will never make any money (and puff pieces for Apple). But, considering the personalities involved, somehow I doubt it.

Rubbish by McKay Savage on flickr

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Of Content And Cookies: Why The Web Should Go On Strike

There can be no doubt that the biggest issue to arise over the last few years, in terms of threats to technology companies, is the rising level of concern, both in terms of public opinion and political attention, around privacy.

Whether it be Google’s Street View cars ‘accidentally’ storing wifi details, Facebook’s Beacon publicising your shopping habits or iPhones logging your every move, it seems that the technology giants can’t do anything without pissing off consumers and privacy campaigners.

And, now, it seems that politicians have decided that enough is enough and that the best way to earn votes when they can’t fix the economic mess they’ve got us into most important issue facing the world right now is whether Facebook knows that you like fishing and is willing to use that data to target its clients’ ads. Both in the US and the EU, administrators are suggesting legislation that could stop websites using personal data, generally in the form of cookies, to better target ads.

Broadstuff, a blog I normally agree with strongly thinks that this is a) unsurprising and b) (surprisingly to me) a good thing.

It is not.

There is no doubt that tech companies are often far too blasé about their customers’ privacy, as shown by the almost surprised reaction of Apple to the fuss around the location data they were storing, or the way that Sony are trying to pin the blame for their own incompetence on a bunch of hacker brats. But just because of this, doesn’t mean that we should all race to block the use of cookies out of some distorted Orwellian fear.

You often read that Facebook, Google and the likes sell consumer data to advertisers.

They don’t. I can promise you that.

They take briefs from clients, often agencies like the one I work for, and then use very clever algorithms to target people based on that (anonymous) data. Do you want to know who sells your data to advertisers? The same governments that are trying to pin this sort of sh*t on publishers.

But so what if governments sell your data? It’s still annoying that Google & Facebook target ads and emails at me, right?

Well, no, because that’s the cost of us receiving free content, particularly when so many people bitch and moan about having to pay for anything. No matter what the hippie-geeks amongst us might like to think, everything has a price, someone has to pay it, and the web is no different.

Everything costs, whether it’s bandwidth, developers to build a site, or writers to create the content (unless you’re Ariana Huffington of course, in which case you get to have your cake, and everyone else’s, and eat them all). But as no-one seems to be prepared to pay for this sort of content online, the publishers have no option but to rely on advertising. And, in order to maximise the potent advertising revenue, they use your data to better target ads (for a look at how why, you can see a presentation I recently gave at SMX Sydney).

It’s what’s called a value exchange: you let us put ads in front of you (hopefully relevant ones), and we’ll give you all this lovely content for free.

But it seems that this society of entitlement that we’ve created is getting greedier. We want the free content, but now we’re not even willing to ‘pay’ for it with our attention to ads. So, how about the publishers see whether the world really can do without advertising? I’d love it if all of the world’s major publishers all decided to go dark for a day, or a week, in protest at the idiotic attacks on their revenue models by people who couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery without bankrupting the brewery.

A while back a bunch of ad agencies in Belgium did something similar in protest at outrageous pitch demands, but to be honest the world is likely to miss The Guardian, New York Times, Facebook et al a lot more than it would JWT Brussels, though I’ve no doubt they do a lot of good work. And before anyone comes in banging on about how citizen journalism would just step in and fill this void, can I respectfully say ‘bollocks’: most UGC is informed or inspired by professional media content, and the rest of it is crap videos of cats falling off pianos.

Before I go, I should repeat the fact that I don’t think the industry is blameless here, and I hope that the efforts at self-regulation being suggested by many agencies, organisations and publishers go some way to easing people’s worries.

But, at the end of the day, the public & the politicians that try to whip them into a frenzy to draw attention from the steaming pile of shit they’ve managed to make of everything else serve them need to understand that websites aren’t produced by fairies and goblins, but by people who need paying.

And if we aren’t willing to part with cash for the content that we gobble up so greedily every day, we either have to be willing to go without it, or to allow those content creators to get paid some other way.

*As with everything on this site, it’s solely my own opinion, and nothing to do with my employer. Just in case you were wondering.

Image by Josh Hallett on flickr

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