Is blogging journalism?

February 21, 2011

I should start by pointing out that I do not believe this blog constitutes journalism by a long shot. The only thing you could reliably infer about me from this blog is that I am incurably lazy.

But what about Ed Yong? He’s extremely well respected in his chosen field, writes an excellent blog on Discover called Not Exactly Rocket Science which won a big award, has 6,000 followers on Twitter, and he’s been published in places like the Guardian, Nature, the Telegraph, the Economist…

So he’s a journalist. Except someone in the University of Manchester press office didn’t think so, and bad things happened when it all got a bit personal. I’m not going into it here, because a) loads of other people have done so already, and better than I would be able to; and b) Ed himself has had an apology from the guy, and has generally been very level-headed about it. Everyone learns – although it did end up as a Wired article as well.

But the crux is that when more information was requested, there was a perception gap between an illegitimate request from ‘amateur’ blogging and a legitimate request from ‘professional’ journalism. This seems like a clash that is going to have to resolve itself pretty soon.

In this example, Ed is clearly a professional with a valid mandate to ask questions – the press officer had just never heard of him when he plainly should have done. But what if he wasn’t – was on no payroll at all, and his only outlet was a blog he set up & publicised himself? Would the University have been justified in telling this hypothetical individual that it was none of their business?

From the perspective of a press officer, this surely boils down to the available audience that the blogger/journalist is a gatekeeper for; if the blogger had no press pass, but a site traffic greater than a few thousand a day – which would now literally make them more influential than the Times website – then it surely would be worth the Uni’s while to manage them as a contact.

So, looking further ahead, I can imagine a world in which your ‘social score’ defines how companies and individuals respond to you. In the brave new dawn of IPv6 (more on this in another blog at some point) where every single thing with electricity could have its own IP address, then your digital ID online could be matched with your digital output; Amazon or eBay already know what you like to read or wear – now they could also know how many people listen to you online across all social spaces, and they could treat you accordingly.

And with near-field communication and other intrusions of the digital sphere into the real world, it wouldn’t have to only be online; imagine Selfridges kicking Madonna and 10,000 other people out of the shop because Stephen Fry walked in and they wanted to make his experience as positive as possible?

We cannot recall

March 15, 2010

There are two interesting things about Toyota’s epic recall-a-thon:

1: They are not alone in recalling cars on a large scale. So far from alone, in fact, that they should get some badges and a special jacket made, and elect a club secretary.

2: They have handled it really, really badly.

To look at the first point, an instructive 15mins spent reformatting the list of all car recalls ever issued in the US from the NHTSA here shows you very quickly that pretty much every car manufacturer you can think of does this all the time. In 2010 alone, so far 22 different proper car marques have issued recalls in the US – more if you include Ford, Chrysler & GM!

Only joking – actually no I’m not. Anyone would think that the US media canon wasn’t very happy about Toyota taking over GM’s world number one┬áspot… I must have missed the torrent of panic & opinion about the Chrysler 300 saloon’s wheel nuts being recalled, or the instrument display of the Jeep Grand Cherokee [both listed as 2010 recalls above].

Anyway, the point is everyone does this, all the time. Are they as serious as Toyota’s issues potentially are? Not always, but definitely sometimes.

So why is this such big news now?

Along with no doubt a number of other important factors, one reason is my second point; how was this issue fumbled so badly by such a massive company? The presumption here is that massive companies are more prepared & well fortified from a communications perspective. That may sometimes be the case, but often the reality is that it becomes another process, just like ordering new wheel nuts or instrument clusters.

In the case of Toyota, one of the things that happened was that this issue blew up 10 days before a scheduled fortnightly PR meeting – meaning no-one did anything until the process told them to. After all, you don’t want just-in-time automated systems ordering more wheel nuts whenever they fancy. And all those fancy haircuts at the PR agency are just another supplier, aren’t they?

So there was a big gap, which inevitably got filled with the opinions of everyone who could be bothered to give one. When President & CEO Akio Toyoda (yes, relation) did make a statement, he immediately personalised it by being ‘deeply sorry’ about everything – rather than appearing in control of what had caused the situation. And then he drove off in a nice big, safe Audi

Things to learn here:

1) People don’t hang around waiting for you (as the official brand) to tell them what actually happened; they will form conclusions based on the available evidence, and if you’re not there when that happens – tough.

2) Embrace all dialogue. Imagine you’re a Prius owner that gets an email from Toyota, before there is a story at all, saying ‘It’s no big deal, but because we’re so safety-minded and curious, we’d like to check our solution to the problem everyone has – of making cars stop & go – is still the best one in the market. So come and say hello and we’ll give you a free [insert anything of value here]’. It’s the same solution, but doesn’t totally destroy your brand’s core value..

3) Buy an Audi.

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