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Friday, September 21, 2007

What Cookiegate tells us about the meeja

There's much talk about "failures of management" and "scapegoating" around the Blue Peter Kitten Scandal and the Liz Kershaw Fake Phone-in Farrago. I don't know about all that.
This I do know. People who work in the media have a very curious relationship with their listeners/viewers/readers.
When they're getting in touch to congratulate you they're fine upstanding citizens, individuals of great taste and discrimination. When they're complaining about anything, expressing an opinion which doesn't chime with yours or otherwise failing to behave, they are dangerous lunatics with too much time on their hands and you are free to make as much or as little of their contributions as you choose.
Why? Because at root people in the media think they're clever and cooler than we are. It's the new British class divide. On one hand the people with the cool toys. On the other the hapless consumers of pablum.
Obviously the Blue Peter team had decided that they would prefer their kitten to be given the media-friendly, Chiswicky name "Socks" rather than the comparatively clunky "Cookie", the kind of name that Mums call from the back doors of Barratt homes. Obviously it doesn't matter a damn what the creature is called, which is why they fiddled it. It's also why they should have left it alone.
It's the triviality of these issues that somehow points up how wrong the decisions were. Was any listener to Liz Kershaw's show going to care if they recorded a few shows so that they could have the weekend off? Probably not. So why go to the trouble of faking a phone-in competition, having one of your production team (production team? 6Music?) "win" the prize and a few listeners wondering why they can't get through?
How much contempt do you have for your actual customers to do that?
In the early 80s, when I was at Smash Hits, we launched the first Readers Poll. We got over 30,000 poll forms back. We didn't take a sample. We didn't send them to an outside agency. We sat there and counted every single last vote. I remember weekends spent in that office putting ticks next to Adam Ant and Toyah on huge pieces of cardboard and then crossing them off ten at a time. We weren't trying to be particularly virtuous. It just seemed the least you could do for somebody who'd bothered to fill in a form.
Many of the people who filled in those forms as kids are now grown up and running the media. I run into them all the time.I have a strong feeling that many of them are not as scrupulous in their dealings with the public as we were with them. But then, that's kids for you.