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.


  1. So when Janice long and Peter Powell's romance was the most important event of 1984 a head of the miner's strike that was actually the views of smash hit readers not some behind the scenes string pulling by the Torys, Blimey! So people did actually fancy Carol Decker too. ;)

  2. Ah, but Dave, how were the winners of the Q Awards chosen? (We used to count the votes in the NME readers polls by hand too, but times changed sometime in the 90s, when the media started merging with itself, and magazines were no longer about just being magazines, they were about extending brands into other areas, and the pressures changed.)

    My beef, aired elsewhere, is with a) the over-reaction of the Daily Mail and other interested parties from the private sector (who despise the licence fee, but would be the first to go purple-faced when The Archers or Today starting taking advertising), and b) the over-reaction of the BBC (actual sackings of people I know!) to the over-reaction of the Daily Mail.

    You make sound ethical points, but I'm sure you don't think P45s should be handed out?

  3. I've just re-read the entry, Dave, and you mention "people not being able to get through" to Liz's show. It wasn't a phone-in competiton. It was an email competition (like most competitions on 6 Music, who, as you hinted, don't have the staff to man phonelines), and the winner was invited on-air to give the correct answer.

    It should be made clear (and it isn't, anywhere), that Liz was not part of the wider "phone-in scandal". This is unfair, especially to those who have lost their jobs over it.

  4. It’s Show Business the clues are all there. “Show” and “Business”, smoke and mirrors. I’m not surprised to hear about back stage string pulling with viewer votes, phone in’s and massaged broadcasts. It’s been obvious for years with nonsense like Big Brother and I’m a celeb, that viewer input and production items are rigged. If viewers got what they wanted too early, no one would stay. There has to be constant contrived controversy kept bubbling away to keep viewers and the media locked in ‘til the end, and justify Ad' rates because of these viewing figures.

    What does concern me is that it only ever becomes an issue when someone gets caught with their fingers in the till. How much deeper does this institutional swizzery go? At a time when viewing figures have subsided and sensationalism seem to the bait to try and reel them back.

    What other areas of TV and Media, are running other scams right now, with knowing participants that will pretend to look shocked and do an “I’m Spartacus” in reverse when colleagues get caught.

    C4 to have got a new series - Dubplate Drama “The worlds first interactive television drama, where the viewer decides the plot” via viewer votes. Haven’t we heard that motif before?

  5. All I'd say about the Q awards is that media corrupts, TV corrupts absolutely.

  6. Try working on The Sun. You soon find out who your friends are. People either love you or cut you dead.

    I've had people insist I was moved off their table at weddings because 'he works for The Scum' and they couldn't countenance sitting with someone they actually 'want to punch'.

    I was only did TV stuff. It's not like I came up with the whole Hillsborough thing. But there's the rub.

  7. Anonymous1:04 pm

    "at root people in the media think they're clever and cooler than we are."

    Do you think of yourself as not in the media, David?

  8. Anonymous2:17 pm

    How long has this deception been going on ? I hope they're not going to tell us that Tony Blackburn's dog wasn't really called Arnold.

    Allan Williams.

  9. Anonymous3:04 pm

    He was really called Arnold, he just wasn't really a dog.

  10. Anonymous3:52 pm

    But why call a rather elegant looking Burmese 'Socks'? I wish I had an intelligent comment to make about trust between the BBC, its viewers and the government since the Iraq dossier, but all my spare brain power is consumed by bafflement that someone put their job on the line over a cat's name. A rubbish cat's name at that. (The name is rubbish I mean, not the cat who I'm sure is a prince among felines.)
    The whole sorry episode could have been avoided if they had only paid attention to Eliot when he wrote,
    'The naming of cats is a difficult matter,
    It isn't just one of your holiday games;
    You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
    When I tell you a cat must have three different names.'
    The cat could have been called Socks, Cookie and Pussy and everyone would have been happy.

  11. This stuff is important. If nothing else it sends the message to Blue Peter watchers that there are consequences for your actions - which is a bit of a moral lesson. But the more important thing is that if we can't trust the media on the little stuff, we don't trust it on the big stuff. And then where do we get the information to allow us to make decisions on our lives?

  12. One option is to not trust the media with the big stuff.

    Too much? OK, well don't trust the Daily Mail with the big stuff. Measles, anyone?

  13. Whenever I see a story on the BBC News site that I actually know something about, normally a technology item but maybe a report of a television programme that I've seen there has invariably been at least one inaccuracy even when it would have been easy to correct by a single phone call. This suggests a combination of arrogance and laziness. Normally these stories are of little consequence to the wide world but why should I believe anything else I read? Does the BBC take more care when writing articles about topics that "matter"?
    Fortunately in the Internet age I can normally collect the views of a number of news organisations without having to go out and struggle back with a pile of paper under my arm just to confirm some information on one story.

  14. Anonymous4:28 pm

    I think I am correct in thinking that since email votes were counted, Sports Personality of the Year has ofetn been 'won' by ironic choices block-voted by internet gatherings. Shouldn't the BBC apologise about that and shouldn't Flintoff, Phillips & co be stripped of their awards?