Mike's media monitor

By The Drum, Administrator

June 2, 2005 | 6 min read

Like Bob Geldof, I am a man on a mission, on a crusade born of deep frustration. Unlike Sir Bob, however, I am not optimistic of its chances of success.

We all have our crusades and mine – in comparison to Bob’s – is small beer indeed. I have, in my sights, a malaise that goes to the heart of the way organisations attempt to communicate to the media.

Sometimes, I become doubly frustrated – when it’s a media organisation trying to communicate to an external audience. Oh Lord, what has become of the art of the media release?

Take the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom. Last week, it announced new regulations about taste and decency, including what should and should not be seen on television when there’s a good chance of kids watching.

It prompted big articles in the nationals. But pity the poor journalists who had to make sense of a media release that begun: “Ofcom today publishes its Broadcasting Code for television and radio. Section 319 of the Communications Act 2003 and Section 107 of the Broadcasting Act 1996 requires Ofcom to draw up a code for television and radio covering standards in programmes, sponsorship, fairness and privacy.”

I know, it can be hard to retain the will to live. And across Scotland, PR companies and departments are churning out similar garbage.

Day in, day out, not just abuses of the English language, but a fundamental lack of understanding of what makes a story.

What is it with organisations – be it a local authority, a plc or a charity – that its name has to take precedence above all else? What is it about the desperation to be recognised that the story, and how it might impact on people, is relegated to below names, dates and titles?

Perhaps the recent change in status of the Institute of Public Relations, to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, will improve standards. Maybe, even, a demonstrable ability to write a media release will become more the norm rather than the exception when PR people are recruited and given the task of trying to attract the interest of the media.

So, here’s the challenge to all you PR people: write a media release that leaves all that supplementary information such as names, dates and titles, to at least the second paragraph.

I’m warming to a theme, here. Last week, the three trade unions in dispute with the BBC over planned job cuts at the corporation agreed to call off strike action scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. It was because the BBC had apparently made some concessions.

Frankly, though, I’m not sure what exactly it was that convinced the National Union of Journalists, BECTU and Amicus, to suspend their campaign against a possible 4,000 jobs being axed, including almost 200 editorial posts in Scotland.

In return for a concession on compulsory redundancies (not to have any until 1 July next year), the BBC wants the unions to agree to allow “selection for retention exercises etc are undertaken so that the period to end of June 2006 also includes any 5/6month redeployment periods and contractual notice periods.”

Just what does that mean? There’s another concession involving the BBC subsidiary, BBC Broadcast, soon to be sold to one of four bidders. BBC Broadcast describes itself as: “Specialists in the delivery and promotion of digital media...offering the complete range of services required to promote, playout and provide access to broadcast content across all media, from television to mobile phones.”

Is that a fancy way of saying it tries to sell The Vicar of Dibley to US television? Or have I got it plain wrong?

The current issue of the trade magazine for newspaper folk, Press Gazette, contains an advert for an editor of the Dumbarton Reporter and Helensburgh Advertiser.

That will presumably mean the previous editor is no longer there. Which was the confirmation I was looking for a few weeks back when tipped off that the previous editor had parted company with the titles.

I was doing a straightforward reporting job, made the phone call and asked for a confirmation or denial. I was even happy to go off the record. Not that I got very far in my enquiries. I got to the newsdesk, was quickly passed across to someone else, a man, who declined to give his name, and refused to respond to any of my enquiries. He did, however, say that “someone” would get back to me later that day. They never did. Well, not until the following day – which was, er, too late. And anyway, all she said was that it wasn’t company policy to discuss staff issues.

Imagine the self-righteous indignation of any local newspaper were it to be treated so shabbily by organisations it was trying to report.

Talking of Press Gazette, it has just been sold to, former Daily Mirror editor, Piers Morgan and, PR ‘guru’, Matthew Freud.

The word is, Morgan wishes to make it more London-centric, to counter a perceived drift towards the regions. Maybe he also wants a vehicle to take on his occasional nemesis, Private Eye.

Obviously, a drift away from the regions suggests a reduction in the coverage of Scotland.

They can be a decent bunch, those Scottish football writers, who, on Saturday, showed their appreciation of Martin O’Neill, the outgoing manager of Celtic, by giving him a warm round of applause following what was his final press conference in charge of the club.

Celtic had just won the Scottish Cup, but one of O’Neill’s final remarks will have divided the assembled hacks.

Was it a complement or withering sarcasm he directed towards The Herald sports writer, Graham Spiers? You decide. Said O’Neill: “I save my final parting shot for Mr Spiers. I don’t always agree with what you’ve said, but that doesn’t really matter. You’ve shown great courage.”

Typical, enigmatic O’Neill.


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