1000 Facebook Friends….And Still Lonely

This week I decided to reboot and revert to my default setting. I reclaimed my life.

Why? Well it’s easy to blame the explosion of social media in all its myriad forms. So I will.

I knew the part of my life controlled by electricity and wi-fi had taken a depressing turn for the worse when I found myself on facebook  leafing through the fourth birthday photos of a child posted by one of my ‘friends’. Nothing unusual in that. Lots of happy smiling faces, a big birthday cake;  harassed parents clockwatching; toddlers being flung off a trampoline;  flaccid bouncy castle; alcoholic party entertainer …you know the drill. It was when I clicked on image 187 that I heard a voice.

It was shouting “sad loser”.

And it was right. I had never met any of the children, or the parents, or the entertainer for that matter. In fact I had no recollection of ever accepting the mother of the child  as a friend in the first place.    

How strange. But it’s not is it?  Most if not all of you reading this will be on facebook and like me you’ll have ‘friends’ who are actually anything but.

Do you know how much time we spend looking through other people’s crappy lives? Add up the five minutes here, the 10 minutes there and it will stagger you. And I mean really stagger you. Think about it. Is that what social media is about? Really?

The reaction to this road to Damascus revelation was swift and brutal. With a precision any surgeon would be proud of I took an electronic scalpel to my friends list and reduced it from 200+ to a hard-core of 35. Let’s face it, most ‘friends ‘ are people you never actually want to meet, never have met and would happily cross a street to avoid. And as for inviting them round to the house, not on your nelly.

I found this an amazingly liberating experience. You should try it. My morning Facebook session is now contained within a couple of minutes rather than the 45 minutes it used to absorb.

And yet, I know some people are upset. They know they have been discarded. They wonder if it’s something they have done. Believe me, it’s not personal. It’s social media. It’s all make believe. It’s a second life. It’s all in the ether. It’s largely inconsequential. It means everything and yet nothing at the same time.

I have a very good friend who I used to work with who spends an extraordinary amount of time on facebook. (Incidentally he is among my inner circle of 35). He has over 1200 friends who he considers to be exactly that. He lives in a remote community and has a happy and active life. And yet last week he posted how deadlines were piling up and how there were never enough hours in the day. It struck me that if he spent less time on social media then he might hit those deadlines.

But it is of course horses for courses. Facebook friends allow you to eavesdrop on their lives and enter their worlds.  But ask yourself …do you have all these friends because you are incredibly popular (and let’s face it not particularly fussy) or are their fascinating lives replacing the voids in your own? Ultimately the whole business is entirely voluntary. 

For the moment I, for the first time in an age, have better things to do. Like running a business, maintaining the vegetable patch, trying to read more books, moaning, playing cricket and being a good and available husband and father. In other words being me.

Your real friends are probably not on facebook. You (gasp) actually speak to them most days rather than hide behind an electronic curtain. Think about it.

Don’t look on me as a pedant. I went to University last year and gained an MA in multimedia journalism with the vast majority of my studies specialising in social media. I can’t do without it. I am obsessed with Twitter…in a good way. It has replaced Ceefax as the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I check before nodding off. However those who I follow are motley and transient, and as I get bored easily,  I have clean outs regularly. No-one dies.

I guess we are searching for a balance. For me the balance went way too far the wrong way and now I have righted it. I now have control of my life again. And if I have to jettison a few ‘friends’ along the way so be it.

Well, must go. It’s my youngest son’s  birthday this summer and I need to find a children’s entertainer. Hang on, I saw a great one on Facebook last week….now where was it…ah….bugger….


How To Get A Five Month Old Story In The Sun Without Trying

Well it’s been quite a week, what with one thing and another.  And I’m still deciding what I’m more proud of- gaining a University MA or the family getting a ‘splash’ in Britain’s biggest selling national newspaper.

The media hurricane has blown through and we’ve all survived unscathed. It’s been fascinating to experience. And as a journalist with 28 years under his belt it’s been quite an eye-opener to be part of the story from the other side of the net curtains.

So, let’s have a closer look at just how a five month obscure blog entry on my company website evolved into the rather breathless  ‘Soft Porn Shock In Family Garden’  headline in Saturday’s edition of the soaraway Sun with accompanying picture of a leggy lovely ‘tackle out’ apart from a rather nice summer hat.

What I have found particularly interesting to observe is how the original version of the story on the Questing Vole blogsite  transformed into a titillating tale fit for publication in a tabloid.  And how did our humble abode suddenly- and to the great delight of my accountant- become a ‘countryside village estate’.

Most importantly, how would the original version  be tampered with when all they had was the blog’s basic facts.  My line throughout – to any journalist  who asked- was to add no additional information whatsoever other than to verify the blog’s accuracy. And did anyone care that my blog entry was written in April? (nope) 

The evolution of the story, as someone who has worked in the regional media in the North of England for over two decades, followed a traditional pattern. First the local newspaper, the Teesdale Mercury, printed this after tracking down my blog on the village website.  

The next day, the Northern Echo called. Was my wife called Joanne? Erm, no. They duly published  their version.  And then we were off and away.  First I got a call from North News, an agency who essentially flog stories and pics to anyone who’ll pay for them. Did I want to do any photographs with our horse? (No thanks). Despite this an hour later a photographer from the agency arrived. “I’m just doing my job” came the standard line. Which was fine. God loves a trier. And I’ve used it on hundreds of occasions in the past.

Then the man from the Express called. Could they confirm our ages?( no) “We can check it from electoral records you know”. (Good for you). I didn’t take to him at all and played a straight bat throughout the conversation. Lesson: be nice to people and they might be nice back.

On Friday morning I got a call from The Press Association. I directed them to the blog and left it at that. My mobile burst into life early the following morning when friends started to text. We were in the Daily Telegraph. Then the postman  turned up. “You’re In The Sun. I’ve never delivered mail to a famous house before. By the way are the dancers still here?”

And that’s been about it. The kids are now legends at school and have been asked for their autographs. No lasting emotional damage we hope.

Looking fresh at the Sun version of the story this morning it does stretch the truth to incredible lengths and gives the whole incident a faintly grubby overtone. It was anything but. The girls were quite delightful and didn’t deserve that.  This tabloid’s distortion of the facts clearly had an impact on readers perceptions of the incident according to their online forum :

That group should have told the family the sort of pictures they will be taking…how disgusting they did that when they saw the 13-year-old lives there. You’d think they’d cover up a bit when the boy was around…disgusting…”

“Another crowd of slappers…..Christ Almighty Britian seems to be heaving with them!”

Others thankfully had a sense of perspective:

“It’s good to see that the Glovers are down to Earth and can see the funny side. Unlike the story of the woman who had to sit down outside a sweet shop whilst her husband had a go at the owner because the pictures on some Maoam sweets looked like the fruits were having sex!”

“I bet the horse didn’t complain LOL!”

So there we have it. How to get in The Sun without trying. Coming soon “The day U2’s  tour bus broke down and they played a private concert in our stables”

**FOOTNOTE**- Data shows traffic to my blog has increased in the last seven days by 736.84% while visits to my company website at http://www.lushplacesmedia.com have soared . Which is good.

Press Pack Swoop On Questing Vole’s Blog-Latest

****STOP PRESS**** Here’s the story from this morning’s Northern Echo.  I’d like to thank the ongoing coverage in all media outlets for raising the profile of Lush Places Media and bringing me the most visitors to my blog in the year it’s been up and running.  Amidst all yesterday’s doom and gloom about Teesside’s vulnerability bouncing back from the recession and other weighty issues it’s comforting to know that some bare arses still grab the regional headlines. Funny old world. Must go, someone’s at the door. No it couldn’t be…..could it?


In recent days the Vole’s daytime snooze has been disrupted by phone calls from various seekers of the truth wanting to know more about an obscure blog entry written by me in the Spring. I’m sure regular readers will recall the unexpected arrival of a troupe of burlesque dancers at the house as they took a break from dance rehearsals at the village hall over the road. The scantily clad ‘cowgirls’  wanted to have some publicity photos taken with one of our menagerie (the horse, not our leopard gecko) surprising not only family members but the two fellas building our garden fence.

And so the months slipped by and the incident became a distant memory. Until now. So how does a five month old story written on a personal blog turn up in the Teesdale Mercury, our local weekly newspaper, and probably tomorrow’s Northern Echo- the biggest selling regional newspaper in the North East.

It’s a convoluted tale but stick with it. A fortnight ago the village held its annual Hoppings. I contributed by filming the event and posting the end result on You Tube  and the village website. A hot shot hack from the Mercury spotted the video, clicked on my company website alongside the video and started reading the blog which is linked to my site. Now I’ll leave it to you to decide why, of all the myriad categories to select from, he chose ‘burlesque’ and not perhaps ‘middle aged despair’….

I got a call, the story was verified, and his take on events duly appeared in this week’s edition (on Page 3!!) under the racy headline ‘Photoshoot Surprise Leaves Villagers Blushing’. (Thankfully I was not quoted as ‘gorgeous pouting Andy, 23, from Hamsterley’). When it actually happened was a detail which did not feature. Which I guess is fine. Look through most tabloids of a morning and you’ll find when and where stories happen is only mentioned in the final paragraph- if at all.

The reaction- not a lot to be honest. The kids got a bit of ribbing at school and that’s been about it. Until today- when the heavyweights rang. The Echo were interested.  Did I want to be photographed? (er, no) Did I know where I could find the girls now? (regretfully not). And so I went through it all again. Expect more of the same tomorrow. I hope it’s on page three again.

I’m currently considering offers to appear on Lorraine and as Piers Morgan’s first guest on his new CNN show. Perhaps they’ll also invite our horse on. He’s got an agent now. 

There is, possibly, a wider and more serious point to all this- how amateur ‘citizen’ blogging and hyperlocal nonsense such as mine plays a part in modern newspaper content gathering. Are we crazy loons sitting in our spare room in our underpants (frequently yes) or do we play an increasingly important role as newsrooms cut staffing and reavaluate ways of working in a truly social media world where audience and reporter now enjoy real-time collaborative engagement and debate.  I have just written an MA dissertation on this very subject. All 16,403 words available on request.    

One final thought, I wonder if the IT security people at the Mercury and Echo will soon be alerted by repeated newsroom computer search requests including ‘horse’ and ‘burlesque’ . Try it, it’s an education.

A Very ‘Social Media’ Social


You’re either into staff parties or you’re not. All that jealousy, bitchiness and simmering resentment, mixed with enough Breezers to sink a ship and the faint possibility of a stolen moment behind the wheelie bins, sometimes even with your partner. A heady cocktail to be sure and not for the faint hearted. 

 I could be described as something of a social butterfly who would quite happily go to the opening of an envelope so when I received an invitation to Border TV’s reunion there was no holding me back.

Planning was meticulous. After all this was no official company organised function with invites on corporate paper popped into pigeon holes.This was organised by the staff, for the staff. Social media played a part with Livvy and Jean relying on Facebook as the catalyst and method of communication to ensure ex staff scattered around the globe were given an opportunity to come along and join in the fun.

For some the chance to be reunited with colleagues they had not seen for years was a daunting one. Personal circumstances dictated  dramatic changes to their life and I was blown away by the courage they showed to not only attend, but be front of house and proud of the journey they had taken.  It was quite humbling.

Right. That’s enough emotional claptrap. Let’s cut to the chase. Egos were left at the front door and not an angry word was spoken. I got delightfully tipsy, blethered all night, reminisced to anyone who would listen, and for a brief moment, we were all back together again under the same roof working for the company as the decades apart turned into minutes.  And yes it seemed we were all family. And for that reason its goes straight into my list of great nights out.  And that’s up against some pretty stiff opposition.

Normally you rely on hazy memories, stains on your tie, a missing sock, a black eye  and an empty wallet to realise how good a night was. However thanks to the internet photos were being distributed on Facebook within hours prompting more electronic interaction between long lost friends. It’s great to get back in touch with people you thought had gone forever.

I suspect Livvy and Jean and their army of volunteers and helpers probably intended the ‘do’ to be a one -off. But I can say that of the 227 people there I managed decent conversations with around a half.  By my reckoning that means we have to do it all again next year. Please find my cheque attached.

OMG Elections Are Like So Uncool :(


*slightly longer blog than usual due to requirement of my university module. Please stay. It really is quite interesting  

Forget Spring, there’s the whiff of electioneering in the air. The Prime Minster bared his soul in a deeply uncomfortable appearance on  primetime TV (remember he once said he should be judged on policy and not personality) and MPs are all smiles when they meet you- a bit like the bin men at Christmas. 

It’s always an exciting time for the media. And it’s not just because of the overtime. Up and down the land plans and policies are being dusted down and updated with the prospect of new occupants at Number 10 adding a little extra spice. 

So what’s going to be different this time round? Well it’s all to do with us. Academics, commentators and analysts are currently knocking out reams of column inches in traditional print and online as they forecast the impact (or not) of what can be loosely termed ‘social media’ on the General Election. 

The explosion in content sourced and created by you and I and shared across platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and multiple other variations can be seen either as a genuinely alternative form of citizen journalism or a ‘fifth estate’ which complements what is already being provided by mainstream and traditional media. 

Many are scared by it. Many more are intrigued by its possibilities. For the established media the deep dilemma is controlling the content. Open the gatekeeping door just a little and the tide of video, audio, blogs, opinions and data can rapidly transform from exciting and alternative if occasionally random to overwhelming and heavy on resources. All agree on one thing. It cannot be ignored. 

For the BBC it is proving a taxing issue. Late last year the view from one senior executive could be summarised as ‘proceed with caution’. And then last week another effectively told staff to ’embrace or clear off’. Why this apparent divergence of viewpoints at such a high level, and only a few  months apart? 

There are two possibilities.  The first is the impending General Election. Social media could play a part for the first time in the UK and BBC execs need staff to be ready for it. The second is a gentle kick up the backside after an academic study (by one of its own staff) showed the BBC was lagging behind other major organisations in how it used this alternative content. 

Let’s deal with the first. Friends = votes. A simple but effective mantra for all strategists. It is now established that Barack Obama was swept to power partly because his team used social media in a more intelligent way than  adversary John McCain. On election day Obama had three million supporters on Facebook; McCain 600,000. Appointing Chris Hughes- co founder of Facebook, to his campaign team, undoubtedly helped. 

Obama ‘got’ Facebook while McCain’s team pretended not to care. One of his team memorably said ‘Facebook users aren’t McCain voters anyway’. Fact: there are 36 million Facebook users in America. 

While happily using established social networks the Obama team also created http://www.my.barackobama.com This gave them complete control over the content and the messages they wanted to put out. It was an intriguing mix of messaging centre, rallying tool and revenue raiser. Over 1 million joined. 

Obama used You Tube, Flickr and Twitter as well. With over 130,000 following his every tweet his team used it as a broadcast tool. They did not reply to any tweets sent their way. And it served a purpose. Obama stopped using Twitter once he was in the Oval Office. 

In terms of staff he had a core team of 11 which increased to over 30 as election day approached- working solely on online campaigning. 

So, what impact will social media have here on this election? On the BBCs College of Journalism website Claire Wardle  (link below) says there are fundamental differences in campaign culture, the political system and fundraising regulations between the two countries. And the candidate was special in so many ways. 

The key, she argues, could be empowerment. Obama’s campaign reached out to the grassroots who campaigned for him. They believed in him. They did his bidding. Here the main parties are still preaching to the faithful. She warns that ‘treating supporters as passive consumers of scripted one way campaign messages will have limited impact.’   

She worries that political coverage will be focussed on a cock-up….an unguarded or ill-judged comment or moment by a candidate captured on a mobile phone and used for scurrilous purposes when what should be happening is that social media can provide new ways of reporting politics which might re-engage some voters. 

Savvy BBC staff will of course be ensuring the right people are being followed and alert to all the electronic twists and turns the election campaign could and will take.  This commitment to understanding and using content from outside their newsrooms was underlined by BBC’s new Head of Global News Peter Horrocks last week. And boy did he upset some with his rallying call which had all the grace and sensitivity of BNP minders. 

Until now the broadcaster has been very cautious about social media. In the BBC’s current Editorial Guidelines ‘social media’ is mentioned only once- when Editors are warned to ‘consider the impact of re-use’. News supremo Helen Boaden- in November- said social media promised new possibilities but also opened ‘a can of worms’ . She said the corporation would ‘increasingly rely on specialists to slice through the gossip, trivia and opinion that can find a breeding ground on the internet’.   

Now Horrocks tells the team that social media “provides journalists with a wider range of opinion and gives them access to a whole range of voices” and warns them to effectively close the door on the way out if they fail to embrace the possibilities of Twitter and RSS feeds. 

The Guardian website was inundated with views.  One blogger wrote: 

‘BBC News: We now bring you some breaking news of an alleged explosion in Baghdad. @johnnyfudgeface on Twitter says “OMG just saw bom in market. WTF?” Some photographs have also been posted on Flickr but we can’t show you those. Now here’s some florist who wandered into the studio to give us his worthless opinion’  

Meanwhile another was more supportive: ‘crowd sourcing using Twitter would be just a fashionable buzz phrase were it not for the fact that it actually works. You genuinely get stories from this and it’s a neat way of keeping in touch with part of your audience. What we understand by the word ‘media’ is undergoing a huge transformation. It’s absolutely correct for Horrocks to encourage his people to keep abreast of where the audiences are and to engage with them on their terms.’  

So, a wake up call ahead of the election or simply a wake up call?  Late last year a chunky piece of research by BBC staffer Nic Newman (link below) compared the BBC with significant mainstream multi media publishers including CNN, The New York Times, The Telegraph and Guardian and examined their use of social media. It was not the most flattering of documents for the corporation. Too much navel gazing, not enough clear action (like CNN). 

It is of course not an easy one. Just how open to all should the BBC be? As a public service broadcaster there is perhaps extra pressure to ensure that anything which appears, from whatever source, should be verified and checked and not act as a shop window for every conspiracist and madman. One BBC staff member recently told me that to get too involved in social media would damage reputation and credibility because of the sheer amount of content which would need to be checked. 

My view….there’s a happy medium. Put simply provide great stories and they will come. They will want to discuss and share. Ultimately by creating content which is watchable, linkable and findable the BBC can be at the heart of this new generation of  multimedia multi sourced material. Horrocks knows this. His language was clumsy but the message was a clear one to those inside and, just as importantly, outside the corporation. 


The Guardian article


Claire Wardle’s BBC Blogs:


The academic study:


Peace In a Pod

The 'space to think' pod

The 'space to think' pod

Started life today as a part time ‘academic tutor’ in the media department of that pleasant and ambitious seat of learning the University of Sunderland. All talk among the students was of the former canteen, now a very modern and sleek study area. Taking pride of place is a pod where individuals or small cabals of students, tutors, whoever…can gather for conversation, reflection and contemplation. Those passing can see them but not hear them. The students I talked to don’t seem to ‘get it’. Perhaps with time it’ll grow on them.

First lecture went well….if you like peace and quiet. Dut to an… erm…. ‘timetable glitch’ I was left on my own.


Was It Something I Said?

Was It Something I Said?

The second session had a full attendance and they look a promising bunch. And that was just for turning up. 
Had an egg roll for lunch. The new cafe gets off to good start.

Obama v The Lib Dems- There Can Only Be One Winner

Click on this for more fine creations from tsevis on flickr

An interesting scheduling challenge for BBC Radio 5 Live producers this afternoon when the saviour of the world was due to address the UN in New York at exactly the same time as the Lib Dem faithful were getting themselves into a frenzy in anticipation of their leader’s conference speech.

For world leaders the UN General Assembly is a chance to sound off about anything which takes their fancy. It goes on for 10 days while each one has their moment in the spotlight. First on was the Brazilian leader (whose name escapes me) and then the ‘main event’ ….President Obama.

His officials must have been worried. Would the British Five Live audience be denied the chance to hear the most powerful man in the world give his maiden address and instead have to endure the usual puff and bluster and half baked policies of the lowly Lib Dems in Bournemouth. In the end they had no choice. We heard the opening 30 seconds of Barack in New York (“hello it’s nice to be here’….etc) and then 5 Live cut to Nick Clegg for 50 minutes of flannel frequently interspersed with gushing applause from the disciples.

As a former BBC radio boss this decision made sense. And it’s all to do with BBC red tape and balance. The corporation has to give each of the three big parties roughly the same airtime during conference season and so that’s why you got Clegg this week; Cameron next week and Brown in a fortnight’s time. You may not like it but hey, that’s public service broadcasting.

Back to New York. Obama’s done now and we’re working through the list of big hitters who get priority on day one (mind you Libya managed to get in on the act with Gaddafi following Obama). However I guarantee that when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gets up on his hind legs at 2130 tonight he’ll be talking to an empty hall. Revenge comes in many forms.

Highlights of both speeches here: