Monday, February 29, 2016

Calm down, Leo, you're only running the jokes

On the day when we're supposed to take actors and film directors as seriously as some of them take themselves it's good to be reminded of how Alfred Hitchcock looked at his trade.

I was watching a doc about the making of "Frenzy" in 1971. Jon Finch remembers that Hitchcock had an old-fashioned way of asking if he wanted to rehearse.

"Do you want to run the jokes?"

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What if free media isn't the future? What if it's a dead end?

Two interesting pieces of media futurology. The fact that they're both written by people who used to be in senior positions at the Guardian makes them even more interesting.

Emily Bell, who used to be in charge of the Guardian's digital assets, wonders if the days of newspaper websites might be numbered.  As she says, there may not be much room for them in a media market that increasingly "tolerates the micro, favours the mega and rolls over most entities inbetween."

At the same time Peter Preston, who used to be the Guardian's editor, is sceptical of The Independent's claim that their move to digital-only means they'll be "as focussed and uncompromised as any start-up but with all the authority and trust of an established news brand." As he points out, the start-ups don't try to do all the stuff that the newspapers have traditionally had to do to justify the costs of the package.

When those papers moved online they brought the elements of the package with them. Sections devoted to opinion, sport, music, films and think pieces about Breaking Bad expanded to fill the space available to them, which was suddenly limitless. The BBC did something similar, albeit their commitment to even-handedness meant they weren't much good at the comment. At the same time the borderless world of the internet meant that the fluff being done by the U.S. papers and websites was suddenly just as accessible as the home-grown fluff. We now live in a world where if you want to know what columnists thinks about what Lena Dunham said about what Kesha said about Dr Luke then you could spend your every waking hour reading that and nothing but that.

This century's fluff explosion was bankrolled by newspapers in the belief that it would be followed by advertising. Now they've realised it won't be. Paywalls are going up everywhere. Newspapers are closing. At the same time even the BBC is having to cut back on some of its fluffier website content.

I wonder if in a few years time this Niagara of free stuff will have been turned off and we'll realise that it only came to pass during a brief window when the people who produced it thought there was some benefit in giving it away. Free wasn't the inevitable way of the future. It was a dead end.

Monday, February 22, 2016

This is what you could shop for in Green Lanes in 1948

This is an extract from a 1948 directory of businesses on Green Lanes in Haringey, north London.

It's a reminder of a world that was starting to slip away when I was a kid, a world where most people worked for small firms and most of those small firms were specialists in one very particular area. They sold yeast or knitting wool. They loaned money or fried fish. They manufactured shoe trimmings or fireplaces. They advertised trades like mantle maker-up and hem stitcher that are entirely mysterious to us now.

If you drive down Green Lanes now the shops are overwhelmingly owned by members of immigrant groups who arrived after 1948 and seem to offer food, phone cards or hairdressing. Presumably in another twenty years it will have changed out of recognition all over again. Makes you wonder why anybody talks about "planning".

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The political magazines are benefiting from the misfortunes of the newspapers

Another strong set of circulation figures for the political and current affairs magazines like The Spectator, Private Eye, Economist and the New Statesman in the year just gone. People say it was because there was an election. People say it's because there's a European referendum coming up.

I'm not convinced. Seems to me they've been the direct beneficiaries of the decline of the daily papers. People stop buying the papers but still feel a need to read something on paper they can hold in their hands.

Daily is too frequent. Monthly is not frequent enough. Once a week is just perfect. I think this market will grow.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

"Disappointed" is the weasel's weasel word

When FT columnist Lucy Kellaway was less than respectful about some airy fairy remarks made by Hewlett Packard boss Meg Whitman at Davos, a wise head of marketing and communications would have told his boss to just suck it up as the price you pay for speaking in public.

Instead he did the single most disastrous thing you can do, which is pen a formal letter saying how "disappointed" the company was with Kellaway's column. Of all the weasel words in the contemporary lexicon of passive-aggressiveness, where the objective is always to cast yourself in the role of the victim, "disappointed" is the one I loathe the most.

And now the story is about him, which is never a good look. He's now made his boss look like somebody who can't fight her own battles. He looks like somebody who runs round trying to anticipate her wishes by kicking the nearest arse available. And he's made this publicly-quoted company look as if they make marketing and advertising decisions based on what side of bed they happen to have got out in the morning.

Nice "communications" work.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

If footballers won't leave London the clubs might have to move south

You don't often get lateral thinking from footballers but Stan Collymore made an interesting suggestion on Talk Sport last night. Talking about the fact that northern clubs find it difficult to recruit overseas players because they all want to be based in London, he wondered why Liverpool, for instance, didn't invest in a training ground near the M-25. That way their players could live in London and just travel to Liverpool once a fortnight to play a home game.

It's not without precedent. FC Anzhi Makhachkala are based in Dagestan on the Caspian Sea. Because Dagestan is an unlovely spot with a terrible reputation for violence the players live in Moscow, which is almost two thousand kilometres away. The club's owner has suffered some financial reverses of late so Anzhi is running on a smaller budget right now but only a few years ago they could afford to make Samuel Eto'o the highest paid player in the world.

Every couple of weeks the players would board a chartered jet in Moscow, take the long flight down to Makhachkala, be conveyed to the stadium under armed guard, play the match and then be on the plane back to their Moscow penthouses before their fans had got home. And did those fans complain that the men wearing their shirt weren't rooted to the local area - or at least in some luxurious gated community an hour away - or did they just figure that as long as they were winning it was fine?  What do you think?