Friday, 25 September 2009

Debate trips up pc brigade

Oh joy! Question Time is back on BBC1. The political debating programme chaired by David Dimbleby is a marvellous show-case for what politicians and the parties are really like and the best entertainment on the telly by far.
It slid back into form with ease, as it would after 30 years of practice.
The most fun is usually provided by the old guard and the same was true last night with Tory grandee Michael Heseltine providing the sort of edgy contribution that only those with little ambition left dare to give.
The most illuminating debates often come from the most unlikely questions from the audience, and again this was the case.
The so-called silly question at the end was whether Arlene Phillips should be given a news readers’ job.
There were of course two separate issues that this was supposed to tease out.
One was the continuing row over whether more mature ladies should be allowed to front up news programmes, with various rows over the demise of the likes of Selina Scott and Moira Stuart, while male counterparts survive into their dotage.
In response to this row BBC director general Mark Thompson has apparently charged his managers with finding a female news reader aged more than 50 years.
Then there is the sacking of 66-year-old Arlene Phillips as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, to be replaced by the younger previous winner Alesha Dixon, aged 30.
And of course all the panellists on Question Time tried to join in the fun by making silly suggestions, including the deputy Labour Leader Harriet Harman pointing out that it was always a male Dimbleby who fronted BBC political shows, and never their sister, although it wasn’t made clear if they have one.
Even in jest, this answer revealed just how blinkered Ms Harman and her all-male fellow panellists are by political correctness.
No one made the obvious reply.
Arlene Phillips has decades of experience as an expert choreographer and therefore was the ideal judge on Strictly, but not a journalist and therefore totally wrong for news reading. So the right answer was no.
Modern politicians cannot see wood, in the shape of common sense judgement, for trees, such as ageism, sexism or any other species of right-on doctrine.
Neither age, gender, sexual orientation nor similar are the right criteria for making decisions about employability. Experience, training and ability to do the job are.
Trust Question Time to highlight the absurdity of politicians’ muddle-headed thinking.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Editors incorporated

Yesterday’s ramblings about all these former Editors becoming media consultants had two immediate and unexpected sequels.
First Paul Horrocks has today announced he is quitting as editor of the Manchester Evening News after 12 years (according to that brilliant web-site www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk)
After 34 years with MEN Media, guess what? Paul has decided to set up his own media and communications consultancy next year.
The MEN is probably the best editorship on the UK regional newspaper market but the announcement follows a turbulent few months for MEN Media, with more than 100 job losses and the relocation of all the company's weekly journalists to the MEN newsroom.
Joining the MEN from the Daily Mail in April 1975, Paul worked as a reporter, crime correspondent, news editor, assistant editor and deputy editor before being appointed editor in 1997.
One of the longest-serving regional editors in the UK, he was president of the Society of Editors in 2007, served on the Press Complaints Commission from 2002 to 2006, and is a current member of the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.
He also sits on the appeals board for Royal Manchester Children's Hospital and is a non-executive director of MIDAS, which promotes business investment in Greater Manchester. So he’s no slouch.
With him in Manchester and Charles McGhee in Glasgow, I feel like the filling in a Lake District sandwich.
And no doubt Paul will soon be joining the ranks of former editors, including yours truly, on www.editorsinc.co.uk a new web-site advertising the wealth of talent available to organisations wanting advice on media matters, training and associated activities.
Although it is a bit sad that these former titans of the local press are now touting their wares on a web-site set up by the Society of Editors, their professional association.
Talking of former editors, Paul’s predecessor and former boss at MEN, Mike Ungar, popped up in another story on HTFP. He is apparently the editorial director of his son’s internet property site, which has just been bought by that irrepressible North West entrepreneur, Nick Jaspan.
The site Place North West, and set up by Ungar junior, also called Paul, has been acquired by How-Do, which specialises in news, information, features and events for the creative and media industries of the North West.
It is the brainchild of entrepreneur Nick Jaspan, whose regional weekly newspaper the North West Enquirer unsurprisingly folded after just five months in 2006. It must have had the worst business plan of any of the ill-fated launches of recent years, trying to attract advertisements with a copy sales penetration of less than one per cent.
Place North West will now become a free-to-access site having been subscription-only since its launch in 2007.
How-Do told HTFP its greater resources would "enhance Place’s established market position while the lifting of the subscription barrier will increase the site's traffic significantly."
Paul Unger, who has won several awards for property journalism, will retain a minority stake in the new business and will remain as editor.
He will be supported by reporter Michael Hunt and his father, editorial director Mike Unger, formerly editor of the Liverpool Daily Post, Liverpool Echo and Manchester Evening News.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Room for media experts

Nice to see the experienced and talented former Editor Charles McGhee has found a new niche in life, even if it is almost identical to my own (www.lakesandbaycomms.co.uk).
The former editor of the Scottish daily, The Herald, has launched his own media consultancy firm.
Charles McGhee was in charge of Glasgow Herald for three years and prior to that was editor of its sister title the Evening Times for six.
Charles' press career spanned three decades during which time he also held senior roles on the Daily Record, Sunday Mail, Scotland on Sunday and the Sunday Times as well as a stint with the BBC.
He is also a former president of the Society of Editors and past member of the Press Complaints Commission.
According to his company web-site www.mcgheemedia.com, Charles offers organisations "a pragmatic approach to developing and improving media products and services".
He is performing consultancy work on external and internal communications and crisis management along with training and development.
In my darker moments I wonder if he, and I, is rather missing the point about the decline of regional and local newspapers.
I was at a Cumbria Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Friday, where all the talk was about internet-based social media being the way to reach customers.
Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Delicious, Blogging, YouTube and others were trotted out as ways of getting your company known through word of mouth, enhancing your reputation and engaging with customers.
If everyone thinks the web is the way to market his or her organisation, then newspapers, radio, television and old-style media experts may be surplus to requirements.
But I think the game was given away when the presenters agreed that there were now so many videos on YouTube, the trick was getting anyone to look at yours.
In other words, on what Clive James used to call the hyperspace super highway, chaos reigns.
My own experience is that the web is all right if you know exactly what you are looking for, but if there is any element of browsing or wanting to weigh up different options it is a waste of time.
So the traditional media may still have a role to play, after all. But which, when and how?
That is where the experts come in.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Load of balls

THERE is no doubt of the media event of the last seven days: Darren Brown’s so called prediction of the National Lottery numbers.
However before we all get carried away, let’s get one thing clear. He didn’t. Predict the Lottery numbers, that is.
What he did was show the numbers after the event. If he had predicted them, he would have revealed them in advance, which is of course impossible.
If he could do that then the Lottery would be dead as an event.
When it came to his programme on Friday, explaining “how he did it”, it was difficult to decide whether to be annoyed that he would insult our intelligence with the complete baloney, or admire his bare-faced cheek.
The whole explanation was nonsense.
First he demonstrated how people’s behaviour could be predicted when fear was involved. The demonstrations involved a woman scared of mice putting her hand into four boxes, one of which was supposed to contain said rodent.
All that demonstrated was a schoolboy standard sleight of hand with the card showing a mouse. Whichever was the last box, the card would have been revealed next to it.
The man asked to stamp on polystyrene cups, one of which supposedly contained a knife to sever his foot, was even more irrelevant. No cup had the dagger.
Darren Brown had correctly predicted which six cups the man would leave to last by writing their numbers on the back of a cheque for half a million pounds that was supposed to compensate the man for his disability if the trick had gone wrong.
That was a classier sleight of hand. But it was irrelevant to the lottery prediction, especially when Darren later explained that the emotion of a group thinking they had predicted the lottery numbers was interfering in their psychic ability! Either emotion helps or it doesn’t. He can’t have it both ways.
By then Darren had moved on to the theory of crowd wisdom, based on the ability of a number of people to predict the weight on a bull at a country fare if an average was taken of their guesses.
This is quite different to predicting lottery numbers, as country folk do have knowledge of the weight of animals and it is a fixed fact they are guessing.
This is not the same as predicting random numbers.
So the whole experiment of getting a room of 24 people to use averages to guess the lottery numbers was bogus.
The real trick was to get the guinea pigs to believe they were actually having an impact.
Even this was undermined by Darren Brown doing the calculations himself on the actual live lottery attempt and then not even telling the assembled 24 what their guesses had been until he allegedly revealed them on the live broadcast. P-lease!
There are many theories to what Darren Brown’s trick really was. My own favourite was the use of the white board to write down the numbers after the draw. This was completely unnecessary to the visual appreciation of what he was trying to demonstrate and therefore probably holds the clue.
Any modern teacher will tell you that white boards do some pretty clever things. Transferring his scribbles onto the still hidden balls would be my best guess.
None of this reduces my appreciation of Darren Brown.
His great skills are as an entertainer, his showmanship, his cheek if you like.
He can get enormous publicity for his new series. He can enthral a nation. He can get 24 apparently intelligent people to believe they were collectively predicting the lottery numbers when they weren’t.
And nor did he.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Sunshine, thousands of visitors, but poor Media

THE sun does shine on the righteous after all!
Westmorland County Show, one of Britain’s oldest and Cumbria's biggest livestock shows, attracted a record 29,000 visitors who bathed in wall to wall sunshine – not a cloud in the sky – yesterday (Thursday 10th of September 2009), at Lane Farm, Crooklands, Kendal, Cumbria.
The formidable Christine Knipe, chief executive of Westmorland County Agricultural Society, which hosts and organises the show, and her army of helpers made a magnificent job of it.
For once there were no major distractions. There was no animal horror disease, the sun shone and even the visiting government minister knew something about agriculture.
Huw Iranca-Davies is the first Labour agriculture minister for many years who actually has farms in his constituency, in Wales.
He made predictably positive noises about locally produced food and knew enough about less positive aspects of farming, like milk prices, to fend off the odd probing questions. He will have gone back south with his ears ringing with the farmers’ vested interests, however.
Highlights included the Cumbria Axemen, a chainsaw gang attacking huge logs, and, following their highly successful first visit last year, the Sheep Show was again on hand to entertain and educate visitors.
Livestock included Cattle, Sheep, pigs, Goats, Horses, Poultry, Hounds, Dogs and Rare Breeds, together with Alpaca classes making their second appearance in 2009.
The bizarrely garbed Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling and birds of prey graced the display rings.
Women’s Institute, Learning for Life and Craft Marquees did a roaring trade, and with more than 350 trade stands, and the area’s largest local products Food Hall with special demonstrators and Celebrity Chefs, there was plenty to keep the visitors entertained.
Indeed as most of the visitors left the show-ground they sang the praises of the “fantastic” show, with many of the early starters staggering out at lunch-time, flushed with the heat and staggering under the weight of their purchases.
The trade stands which invested in staff to woo the punters seemed to do extremely well, so it is not just the day’s sales that count, but also the leads and long-term marketing opportunities.
The only black spots were the traffic, with some visitors, particularly those from Lancashire and further South complaining of two-hour waits on the Motorway, and the media coverage.
National media don’t bother or even understand. Local Radio Cumbria had a scaled down presence. Regional TV were noticeable by their absence. And most strangely of all The Westmorland Gazette, which now comes out on a Thursday completely ignored the show in that day's edition, even though it had a stand hoping to sell hundreds of copies.
And the internet coverage was even worse. By lunch time on Friday there was not one word of narrative or one single result on the web-sites of Radio Cumbria, The Westmorland Gazette or even the Westmorland County Agricultural Society. First up was The Gazette at 1.36 pm on Friday.
When the Gazette printed on a Friday it managed to get the full results in the pages of the paper on sale from 4 a.m. on the day after the show (Friday).
The faster the technology, the slower the service, it seems.
Never mind the media, if the County Show could guarantee the sort of weather it had in 2009, it could guarentee the title of best show in the North, and possibly with the demise of the Royal Show, the best show in England.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Lord, Lady, Vicar but no sticky fingers

I had a charming evening this week at a well-attended and lively launch of Cartmel Sticky Toffee Puddings re-branding.
Cartmel itself is the most attractive of villages on the southern fringes of The Lake District. It has a disproportionate number of successful attractions for such a small settlement.
Sticky Toffee Pudding promises to be the most famous of all.
Although there have been sticky toffee puddings before, notably at Ullswater’s Sharrow Bay and Windermere’s Miller Howe hotels, it is the Cartmel variety which has conquered the world.
Howard and Jean Johns who had a restaurant in nearby Grange moved to Cartmel Village Shop 20 years ago and started making puddings to take away, in a kitchen on the premises.
In winter when the number of visitors declined, they started exporting them by piggy-backing on the distribution network of Woodalls of Waberthwaite, of Cumberland sausage fame.
Soon the likes of Booths, Selfridges, Waitrose, Harvey Nichols and Fortnum & Mason stocked the puddings, made from ingredients such as cane sugar, sticky dates, free-range eggs, fresh local cream and butter.
Now 35 people are employed in a converted warehouse down the coast at Flookburgh, making more than one million puddings a year.
But in true Cartmel fashion the pudding people know they need to keep moving forward and it was re-branded with new packaging and a new web-site this week. Rest assured the recipe remains unchanged.
The re-launch included a re-attachment of apron strings to the village shop, with links to other businesses.
I was invited as I was in the village doing a feature for Lancashire Life. It is going in the November issue, which, confusingly comes out in the middle of October.
Among the other guests were Lord and Lady Cavendish from up the road at Holker Hall, and Cartmel Priory Church team vicar Father Robert Bailey.
After canap├ęs there was an interesting speech from Sticky Toffee Pudding managing director Charlotte White who explained that although the recession had helped the firm, with eating in being the new eating out, nevertheless the brand had decided to reconnect with the place of its origin.
Then tiny puddings were served on the sort of spoons you get to eat Chinese soups, so no-one had to suffer sticky fingers.
Mike Glover
www.lakesandbaycomms.co.uk
Other useful web links:
www.cartmelvillage.com
www.cartmelpriory.org.uk
www.stickytoffeepudding.co.uk
www.blackhorses.co.uk
www.thecavendisharms.co.uk

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Introduction

WELCOME to the first blog by Mike Glover, ex-Editor of The Westmorland Gazette, Yorkshire on Sunday and the Bradford Telegraph & Argus.
During 40 years in journalism, I have also been a trainee and qualified journalist at the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle-upon-Tyne; reporter, sub-editor and news Editor at the Evening Post and Echo in Hemel Hempstead, Watford and Luton; freelance reporter on Fleet Street, when it still was Fleet Street, mainly on the Daily Mail, Daily Star and Sunday Telegraph; researcher on Thames Television; and the Editor in Chief of York & County Press.
So you could say I’ve been around the block a few times.
I now run a media consultancy based under junction 36 of the M6, just outside the English Lake District.
Services include media training, media campaigns, media relations and freelance journalism. You can find more on www.lakesandbaycomms.co.uk
The idea of this blog is to explain why various media cover certain news in certain ways, and to track trends and quirks of the media.
There will also be occasional reports of interesting events or developments.
So if you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to post them on this blog.