Monday, 31 October 2011

The best way to be ignored by the media.

Every news room has a heart sink story, the one that keeps coming and coming like a great tsunami of rubbish news. These aren't just bad stories but they are uninspiring, dull and so hackneyed that no newsroom worth thier salt would even bother reading to the end of the press release. The difficulty is the stories are generally the ones that raise charities a lot of money.

Someone is going from somewhere to somewhere to raise money.

I could (and possibly should) set up a whole radio station that only covers people walking, hopping, skiing, flouncing, trotting, galloping, driving, riding from somewhere to somewhere to raise money for charity.

Every day it seems that hundreds of thousands of people go from Lands End to John O Groats, with their buckets and their sponsorship forms. I honestly think that there must be a slow moving queue running the length of the country.

No one cares any more.

It's very important to the people taking part but the average media consumer couldn't give a flying monkeys and the average journalist has covered the story so often that there is a possibility of developing stress related Tourettes and screaming obscenities at all concerned.

The newer version is driving an hilariously bad car to the armpit of the world and then giving it to the locals. There's an underdeveloped country somewhere filled with Austin Allegros and a very angry population "this car has a square steering wheel... lets start an insurgency!"

It's no longer new, interesting or funny.

Since news reporting began there has been the "journey for charity". In those days it may have been visiting the next door village to help them with their gene pool, these days it's riding a yak to Barcelona to help with IBS. It has all been done. However it's something that helps raise money, it's easy to organise and there is a slight possibility that a local free paper may pop a photo on page 18, so if you want to do it go for it, just don't expect the media to care.

So how do you pitch it to get featured? Well, this is where a little bit of story telling comes in. You don't explicitly pitch the event, you pitch what people actually care about and that's a story with emotional weight.

Let's try this on you...

A few years back I met Pete.

Pete and I were talking about mental health issues (it was world mental health day) and he told me about the day that he started hearing voices.

He was standing in his back yard; he'd been building a rabbit hutch for his kids pet and as he got up he felt a bit wrong, just unwell, he thought that he'd got up too fast but a voice in his head, a clear, distinct, voice in his head told him to go to the Dr.

He'd heard voices before but never this clearly and never this urgently.

He went to his Dr. and found that he had a kidney infection that was quite serious but could be cleared up, and from then on the voice in Pete's head stayed with him. It encouraged him to go to bed if he was a bit tired, reminded him of important appointments, it became his friend and he called it Ralph.

He never told anyone about it, and everything was fine.

He heard a voice called Ralph and everything was fine.

Then, one day another voice joined Ralph, only this voice wasn't kind. This voice was a little mean. It was the voice that told him that he wasn't any good, it was the voice that told him he'd never amount to much. Luckily though this voice only ever spoke to him when he was tired, or stressed, or off kilter.

Pete's life changed when he was driving home late.

He'd worked a long shift, and he was tired. Ralph had tried to get him through the day but this other unnamed voice kept pushing Ralph away. As Pete drove home the unnamed voice shouted in his head that he should go home, get a knife and kill his family.

He stopped the car.

Got out.

Threw up.

Drove home.

And told his wife of 10 years that he'd been hearing voices and they had told him to kill them all.

The next few weeks were a blur. He was placed into the mental health system and in the way of these things, he became a set of symptoms waiting to be sorted. He saw psychiatrists and councillors and doctors all trying to work out the best way to treat him... and all the time Ralph and the unnamed voice were fighting in his head for control  almost fighting for his soul.

Slowly the correct drug regime was found and the psychiatry started working and Pete began to get well again.

This is when he looked at me full in the face, he had tears in his eyes and his voice was cracking and he said to me "you know the worst thing? The drugs made me better... but they took away my best friend... they took away Ralph."

If I now tell you that I'm doing a sponsored walk. What are you going to do?

You could go here and show your support.

Friday, 28 October 2011

3 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Journalists.

I was a Senior Journalist, a programme producer, a presenter, and a manager during my 16 year career in the Broadcasting industry. Through that time I identified the 3 things that PR Professionals either don't know or were told years ago and have forgotten.

They are simple, and here they are...


There, I've said it. Every single press release that appears in the inbox tarnishes the soul of the person receiving it and there's nothing that you can do to change it.

It's all to do with the volume going into any reasonably sized news room. The quality threshold for you sending it will be high, their quality threshold for actually doing anything will be far higher; it's a question of scale.

So how do you attempt to get round this, either raise your standards (well that's quantifiable and easily achievable) or you don't send press releases... erm, what?

How about, and this is a break from the norm, that you call your contacts and ask them when the best time to call is, engage them in a conversation that benefits both of you. You may have been sending things to the wrong person for years; I wouldn't deal with companies that called whilst I was on air, if they couldn't work out that I was unavailable between 9 and 12 due to being on the radio then they couldn't have anything that would interest me.

The other reason why Journalists don't like PR Professionals is the memory of the day when they encountered a bad one...

A demanding one...

A 'we're doing you a favour, sunshine' one...

Here's a couple of my favourites...

1) During an interview with Raymond Blanc (he was in a studio elsewhere) he broke off half way through an answer he was giving and said, "oh, I'm sorry I've just been told to let you talk more". I had made no effort to interrupt him, I was delighted how the interview was going and transfixed by his passion, but the PR with him in the studio had decided that he needed to talk less. I replied that the listeners could hear me any day and that I was facinated by what he was saying. The PR in the studio had made me cross and added to my work; I'd have to edit the middle of the interview out.

2) We had been trying to secure an interview with Richard Hammond for months. His PR department were saying 'yes', then 'no' then 'we'll get back to you' I was on-air when the call came through that Richard could do a 5 minute phone interview in the next 10 minutes if we still wanted it and that was the final offer. We said yes, and I started plugging it like mad, telling everyone that we'd have him in 10 minutes. They had insisted that they would call us. Half an hour later we got the call. 'You only have 5 minutes, Richard will bring the interview to an end, don't ask about the crash, he doesn't talk about that any more'. 20 Minutes later we were still going, he'd spoken about everything he wanted to, everything that we wanted to and lots of stuff in-between. The PR had, again, got us all a bit cross.

OK, so these aren't huge problems and I'm being a moaning Presenter, but they make you wary of dealing with the PR industry. Instead of helping the journalist and alowing the media to have an adult conversation about what we want compared to what is offered journalists are treated like irrational hyperactive children who can't be trusted. The vast majority of journalists aren't there to cause problems or try to uncover scandal they just want to do their job and go home.


Journalism is a job, it's not a calling or passion, it's a job. In the early days it may start out as something that really drives a young reporter but by the time you've interviewed the 'Local Woman 100 Years Young Today' and found out from the couple 'Married For 60 Years' that the to a happy marriage secret is not stabbing each other in the throat, it all becomes a bit samey.

A news/broadcasting organisation is like a factory. They produce a product made by people with impossible deadlines and angry bosses. They have to hit their targets otherwise the paper is thin or the TV has to go to the test card. They don't want to catch you out, they don't want to make a big song and dance about it, they just want to get the content and go home before it all starts again in the morning.

However... (and there is always an 'However') That doesn't mean that if you try to fob them off they wont bite. Journalists don't like to be given half a story, they can smell a 'real' story like a big lad can smell a Greggs, and there is no stopping them if they catch a whiff. They all like to get the stories that seem hidden, so be honest with them and they will leave satisfied, all full of tasty tasty news.... Sorry I'm still thinking about Greggs.


For about 8 years I put together a market leading Mid Morning Programme. We were 60/40 speech/music so there had to be around 3 stories an hour along side the things that I had to do like News, Travel, Weather etc. For 6 of those years it was me and an assistant that did the whole thing. 2 people making 15 hours of radio a week and within that finding 45 stories a week. Some of those we could get from other members of the news room, but the vast majority were self produced, recorded and edited. So when we were presented with a story that was an 'easy hit' we'd jump on it. It simply meant that we could then use our remaining time to concentrate on the more difficult content.

When I say 'easy hit' I'm not talking about Christine Hamilton talking about British Sausage Week, because no one in their right mind would ever use that (lots of people did I'm sad to say).

Today 28/10/11 an Easy hit could be hung off the Apple Vs. Samsung figures it would be a technology expert, a local user, and a guide to upgrading... Or it would be a charity, a charity service user, and the money raised from recycling technology. It would be something that has a couple of elements, something that can be localised and something that I could trust to sound good. That's from a radio point of view but the same would be true about print feature or TV slot. Something topical but light that makes the audience either question or reaffirm behaviour.

The 'easy hit' needs to be pitched correctly. You can't just hand it on a plate as most journalists will just see it as a 'puff piece'. If I were pitching I'd get into a conversation about how I could help it to happen. The Journalist would give the parameters and I'd offer the plan and meet somewhere in the middle. It's content that's interesting enough and it's content that requires little leg work for the journalist.

I did a course a little while ago and one of the delegates said that they do all that, just run around making journalists lives as easy as possible but they weren't taking the stories. Nothing will help if the story is wrong... not wrong for you, but wrong for them.

How do you make it right?

That's for another blog...

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


A Bee.
Human kind is amazing. We have the unique ability to transmit complex information in the form of language; we can tell another of our species what is happening behind our eyes. Communication is not just a human trait, bee's are able to dance to show other bees where the top notch flowers are but only a humans can say how the flowers made then feel, chimpanzee's are able to convey anger and excitement and happiness but only humans are able to become wistful sharing stories of when they last felt like that.

Language is beautiful but it also has power... it's the way that we convey ideas like 'let's go over there and hit him'.

So how do we feel about 'mong'? Ricky Gervaise and Richard Herring have been having a conversation about the formers use of the word. Mr Herring, a well known contributor to SCOPE has taken issue with any use of 'the m word' and Mr Gervaise has responded with the thought that words change their meaning for example gay no longer means happy.

I have to admit on this subject I have to side with Mr Herring.

Language that is pejorative and potentially harmful can be used for comic effect. The well timed 'F-bomb' can be a delight, and I certainly don't subscribe to the idea that swearing is not big or clever; it can be very very funny in the hands of a skilled comedian. This language, however, has to be used in an atmosphere of mutual trust.

It was not the intention of Mr Gervaise to cause harm or pain. That I am certain of. That is unfortunately beside the point, whether the intention was valid the effects may not be. To really ramp it up and get the angry juices flowing how's this for an analogy; it's like the difference between murder and manslaughter. Was there an intention to do harm? Yes or no, the results are just the same.
Derrida being very French

If the other party is offended then it has been offensive and simply saying that the intention was noble doesn't take away the offence. As Jaques Derrida postulates in his work on 'deconstruction' when I describe a door to you the image in my head is different to the one in yours, so language fails. When I use potentially offensive language the meaning transmitted from my head may be very different to the received meaning in yours.

So what do you do?

Apologise, as Mr Herring says in his blog...

"I got some light complaints today about a potentially homophobic remark I had made during my improvised set in Soho on Saturday. It had not been my intention, but I agreed I hadn't expressed myself well in the heat of the moment and apologised"

We have all had those foot in mouth moments, and anyone who knows me will confirm that most of mine have been broadcast to thousands of people, but you ave to suck it up and apologise quickly and apologise hard because if you don't you may find your tarnished reputation will come back and haunt you...


On one of the message boards that I posted my blog I got an interesting response that I had to reply to. I thought That I'd share it with you.

PC gone mad if you ask me.
Each and every area of the Country has its own meaning for everything - at some point you will actually say something that will offend someone else.
My nan used to say she was patty slapping when she was making home made burgers - if she said that around Chesterfield she would be laughed at
Eventually we will all have to use the Queens English

 My response was.......
For me, the idea of PC is simply respecting the other person, and being mindful of their sensitivities. 
When it 'goes mad' it's restrictive, when it works it's compassionate.
The example of using language that's offensive to people living with disability isn't going mad with PC it's not being offensive.
The worst thing that I hear is "oh, you'll just have to take me as I am, I say what I mean me..." no, you're rude and too self-absorbed to think what affect what you're saying has on others.
Saying that we will all offend at some point is largely true, but ignoring that offence and thinking that they are just being PC breaks down a relationship, whether it’s personal or business faster than apologising, understanding the other persons concerns and learning from it

Friday, 14 October 2011

Does Regional Exist?

Alan Towers; Broadcasting Icon
I was born and brought up in Nottinghamshire. Not an exciting way to start a post, but it's true. When I was growing up we watched 'Midlands Today' with the great Alan Towers and Kay Alexander. We watched it because it was the 'local' news and it was the only place to get TV mentions of Nottingham. However it mainly talked about Birmingham, and Warwickshire, and Staffordshire and eventually Nottingham.

Then the great day came and in 1991... East Midlands Today was born and I realised that I lived in The East Midlands. That knowledge in the head of a 17 year old meant nothing. I lived in Nottinghamshire and that was an end to it.

I tell you this because after the DQF (Delivering Quality First) dust has settled and the BBC have their proposals on the table a friend and highly respected former colleague voiced his concern about 'regional' he said to me that regional doesn't exist and we are either Local or National.

He has a point.
A version of The East Midlands

In Nottinghamshire we were grouped into 'The East Midlands' which is very different from 'The West Midlands'. In The West Midlands there is Birmingham the countries second city that sprawls across county lines and into other cities, Coventry, Wolverhampton, towns of Dudley, Solihul etc. To an outsider it's very difficult to work out where Birmingham begins and the others end (OK Coventry is a bit split off but you know what I mean). 'The West Midlands' like it or not filters into Birmingham.

So let's look at 'The East Midlands' shall we?

Where is it?

It's Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Leicestershire... plus Rutland, Northamptonshire (not in the broadcasting area 'East Midlands'), Lincolnshire (not in the broadcasting area 'East Midlands') maybe some of Staffordshire around Burton On Trent and for some reason according to the map the south banks of The Humber. Emotionally you can exclude Northamptonshire as they are in a floating alliance with Bedfordshire. You exclude lots of North Derbyshire and a bit of North Nottinghamshire as it's more aligned to 'the North' than 'The East Midlands'. There's the problem that some people even add Peterborough into the mix and North East Lincolnshire is more or less Hull and Humberside... Can you see the problem with regionality? It's ill defined and woolly. If you get to the edges it means nothing. If you're in the centre it means little.

For all the years that I lived in Nottinghamshire I never shopped in Derby, Leicester or Lincoln; why should I, we had all the same stuff in Nottingham and Nottingham was bigger and better than those other places. If I felt giddy I may motor to Birmingham for a shop or go up to Sheffield's Meadow Hall, but never to the closest cities.

No one did.

Very few people do.

If I were going all the way to Leicester from Nottingham (25ish miles) I may as well go to Birmingham (50ish miles) and make a day of it.

If it's not Local it may as well be national.

So where does that leave the BBC? Their plans for Local Radio rest on regional shared programmes all afternoon. Why would anyone living in Chesterfield care about Market Harborough? It's 70 miles away, if you went in the opposite direction you'd get beyond Harrogate in North Yorkshire; they may as well listen to a national programme.

Regional is a handy thing for local government but slightly irrelevant for anything else.

The West...
I now live in The West; Gloucestershire to be precise... no actually it's The Forest Of Dean to be precise. I shop in Gloucester, Cheltenham, Monmouth, Bristol, Birmingham, Worcester, Ledbury and Cinderford. I live my life in an hour radius that takes in Cardiff, Newport, Abergavenny, The Cotswolds, Warwick... etc. etc. How do you define my regional loyalties... I'd probably say, average.

It's not just broadcasting that has a view of 'Regional' that doesn't tally with how people live their lives. Business clings to regionality like a standard in the march against the recession; groups of like minded individuals work to secure the health of regional business and it's a wonderful thing! However, does the customer / service user care? or has no one asked that question before?

'Local' has become more important as 'Local' services are cut and 'Local' shops and businesses go under it matters to us, but if we can't get a service or a product locally do we then try to go regionally? No we go on the internet and we don't care where it comes from just as long as we get it.

'Regional', with old inter city rivalries, communities being governed from a city to which no one goes, with a poorly defined identity or boundary doesn't work. 'Regional' as a group of distinct and proud local communities pulling together for the greater good just might... now lets see someone produce a radio station that covers that concept. Oh yes, it's the local radio network.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Local Radio.

Me & Katherine Jenkins On Local Radio
Sometimes memory creeps up on you. There's a feeling more than an image, it lurks in the back of your mind waiting to mug you on Memory Lane and leave you there unable to get on with your day. It keeps happening to me and I think it's because of the BBC cuts announced yesterday and the associated blogging*

I have a complicated emotional relationship with Local Radio. I've worked in Local Radio as a traffic reporter, radio car reporter, programme assistant, broadcast assistant, marketer, presenter, producer, broadcast journalist and manager. For 16 years it was the reason I got up in the morning and the thing that kept me from my bed. When it was good it made me cry or laugh or shout or just think about the world around me... when it was bad... no one felt the fall out. 

In 2000 I was working in a BBC station that I'm not going to name. My career in commercial radio had come to a shuddering anti-climax and I'd retreated back to the bosom of Auntie Beeb. The Editor of the station (station manager) and I would often drink tea in his office and try and be creative. One day he asked me what would happen to a commercial breakfast presenter if they didn't mention the stations name on air all week and were constantly reminded. I said that they'd be replaced. He sighed and told me that in the BBC there was little chance of that as they had too many hoops to jump through even to get an official warning. The station would have to put up with a presenter who couldn't remember to say it's name.

See what I mean about memory mugging you? That was a decade ago and the BBC is so much better now; the importance of branding, of giving a message, and of identifying yourself so the transient listener knows what they're listening to has been beaten into most of its staff. 

BBC Local Radio is slick, professional and ambitious and it's still as remarkable as ever.

Then came the belt tightening. I saw it as a programme maker and a manager and now I'm seeing it as an outsider. The last time the focus moved from programme making to News (with a capital N) and at the time I thought that was a dead end of an idea... I always thought it should be stories not news... People listen to radio because of the emotional connection that you build with broadcasters who are able to tell stories. It's not functional, it's emotional. If you ask why people choose a station it's because they like it. They like the personalities, they like the connection, they like the localness.

Local Radio at it's heart is Local... stupid to say really eh? But as I blog the plans are to take away the thing that attracts an audience. I presented a shared breakfast show across 3 BBC Local Radio Stations and found it a constricting and bland experience. Part of the joy of Local Radio is that you share the lives of your listeners, you shop in the same shops, you drive the same roads, you have the same colour wheely-bins (a minor point) but for that programme I didn't. I was in a box with Schroedinger's cat and as soon as I shared something local I identified where I was broadcasting from and the localness waveform would collapse. It didn't serve anyone properly, and that is going to be the shape of afternoons on BBC Local Radio.

It's because it's the programme that gets fewest listeners through the day. So now it will be less relevant to the audiences lives and the listening figures will fall again. I know from my own experience that if you mention the idea of shopping outside your own county the calls come in thick and fast that you should be supporting local business, how dare you! Is this listenership really interested in what's happening 75 miles away in Taunton? 

Making BBC Local Radio less local hurts; not just the people who work on the programmes, or the audience figures but the wider reputation of the BBC. 

There's going to be an unforseen economic effect too. Local radio supports the economy locally just think of the Charities with an urgent need of support, the local businesses who want to challenge opinion, show that the economy is working or just become the stories themselves... They will certainly find it far more difficult to get air time... (media training would help of course. Sorry, I still have to make a living)

The wider cuts will be difficult, but I think that Local Radio Cuts will be the most difficult. 

The figures suggest that the Local Radio listenership is older... 

... that older people are the only ones who vote... 

... that the voter to the Conservative Party is older... 

Nice one Mr Cameron looks like that licence fee freeze wasn't such a good idea after all.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Hitting The Rocks.

Minister for Bitches and Dealers
This isn't the first time that an artist will complain about the use of their art in a political setting and it won't be the last. Primal Scream, who I last danced to in a dark club in Portrush* in about 1994, have got a little pissy with the Conservative Party for using their song 'Rocks' as a buffer to Teresa May's speech.

There are two problems with this. Firstly 'Primal Scream' have produced a public work of art and how people use it after it's out there is just tough; as long as the right money was being paid then all well and good. If I as a radio presenter used 'Rocks' as a trail bed for, say, a story on kidney stones as long as I paid the correct royalties I could. 'Primal Scream' just grow a pair and deal with it.

Secondly, have you read the lyrics to 'Rocks'?

'Dealers keep dealin'
Thieves keep thievin'
Whores keep whorin'
Junkies keep scorin'
Trade is in the meet rack
Strip joints full of hunchbacks
Bitches keep bitchin'
Clap just keeps itchin'

That's the first verse... Theresa May is the Home Secretary and if you're not familiar with the remits of cabinet jobs here is one of her main areas of work POLICING well as long as the thieves keep thievin' we'll be all right will we?

She also has control of illegal drug classification and policy but still as long as the Junkies keep scorin'...

Did I mention that she's also Minister For Women and Equality? Well that covers the whores who apparently 'keep whorin' and I assume the bitches that 'keep bitchin'.

Leaving aside the anger from a left wing band who were never going to be happy about use of their song for anything other than a socialist rally, what were the Conservative party thinking? It's a big counter culture anthem that, when I was still young enough to dance to it, spoke of a grim underbelly that we could all somehow want to be part of but enjoyed being protected from. Like any good rock song it's about the things that we fantasize about and expect our rock stars to be indulging in (rock stars and Charlie Sheen).

Please, if anyone is reading this that has any ability to influence the Conservative party advisor, can you just stick to things like 'Jerusalem' and the theme from 'Van Der Valk' when you're choosing music for your conference, it's innofensive, rousing and won't land you in the sticky stuff.

Sooooooooooo, here's the thing. It appears that it wasn't 'Primal Scream' at all, it was in fact 'Bohemian Like You' by the Dandy Warhols. It's all about the riff, it was mistaken by the band and even those who heard it, thought it was something else once Primal Scream complained. What a tricksy old world. 

Thank goodness for that eh? 

It's only about sleeping on peoples floors, and having lots of casual sex.


* I went to university in Northern Ireland

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