New Horizons

And so with a mix of anticipation, wind and excitement, I plunge headfirst into 2011.  How on earth can last year be topped?  Scoring a century; graduating with an MA; being diagnosed diabetic; losing all my main crop to blight; being responsible for the Glover household getting in most national newspapers…..it had the lot.  

So here are my resolutions* which I have pinned up on the noticeboard and intend to honour until the end of January at least.

I promise to keep buying newspapers.

I will not pay a subscription for a newspaper’s web content

I will continue to resist Apple’s quest for world domination

I will not buy one of Gregg’s delicious sausage rolls every time I walk past one of their shops

I will be civil to call centre staff in Delhi

I will try to keep drinking green tea even though it is revolting

I will be a good husband and father

Oh yes, and I will do my best to keep the family out of the tabloids.

Think that’s covered all bases.

 *subject to revision, often at short notice.

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?

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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. 

Links:

The Guardian article

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2010/feb/10/bbc-news-social-media

Claire Wardle’s BBC Blogs:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/journalism/blog/2010/02/will-social-media-change-campa.shtml

The academic study:

http://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/fileadmin/documents/Publications/The_rise_of_social_media_and_its_impact_on_mainstream_journalism.pdf

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.