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Fracking – is it on your radar yet? Coming to the south west in 2014….

This is an article which appeared in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald on January 2 2014 and includes an interview with mum Becky Martin, a scientist by profession.

As 2014 dawns, it could be a very important year for one campaigning mum from Wiltshire.

Becky Martin is the parent behind a new group Frack Free Families which campaigns against the removal of shale oil or gas from the ground – even if it’s for exploration purposes.

Already Becky can be seen handing out leaflets in town centres across Wiltshire, including Salisbury and Swindon, as well as joining forces with other concerned groups. She recently spent day at a protest at Barton Moss near Irlam, Manchester where drilling took place in November and December.

“I became interested in this subject some time ago as a scientist – I’m a biologist and had a career in cancer research before having my son.

“I looked into hydraulic fracturing and did what research I could and I was horrified. I just had to do something about it.

“This is entirely outside my comfort zone. I’ve never campaigned about anything before or taken such a strong stance on any issue. With this subject it was a case of ‘I have to do something about it’.”

Becky often takes her two-year-old son Aidan with her when she hands out leaflets to make the point that families will be affected by this search for a new energy source.

“Being a mother has been the driving factor behind this for me. What are we leaving behind for our children? We could be risking their health with this process and it’s insanity.

“Even taking that into account, it isn’t even going to deal with our long-term energy needs. Even if shale gas was magnificent, it isn’t going to solve our energy problems,” Becky said.

The extraction of shale gas and oil – and in some cases coal bed methane – is likely to become a familiar theme here during 2014. It’s a process which has been used in America for many years but is still in an exploratory phase in the UK. It is just one measure the government is looking at to ensure energy sustainability in the future. Renewables is another.

Becky said: “We have to look at, and invest more in, renewable energy such as solar, wind and tidal power. Shale gas is just too risky and we could be spending money on the burgeoning renewables sector. It’s crazy to me that we’re not looking more seriously at offshore wind farms or tidal power. We’re an island for goodness sake, and that could create a sustainable energy future. We must move away from fossil fuels.

“Apart from anything else, shale gas will not help us with our main addiction when it comes to energy use – our cars. It will not solve the problem of our addiction to petrol.”

A licensing round for exploratory work around is due to be held in the first six months of this year. These licences could allow boreholes to be drilled and/or well pads to be created in Wiltshire. This means companies involved in this exploratory work – such as IGas, Cuadrilla and Celtique – will be able to bid for the licenses.

For Becky this is must not happen. Like many anti-fracking campaigners, she is concerned about the potential for contamination of water sources caused by the process of drilling. She’s also concerned about the long term health effects for communities living around drilling sites.

“Fracking fluid for the process is an unpleasant mix of chemicals. I’ve been told it contains nothing more than that which is under my kitchen sink. However these cleaning fluids are incredibly toxic and we’ll be pumping that into the ground in large quantities. Some of the chemicals used are very, very dangerous such as oxirane.

“There are also risks around what could be released by the process itself. There are naturally occurring radioactive materials in the earth which we would not want to contaminate our water.”

She wrote to her own MP, John Glen, expressing her concerns. He replied in detail:

“It is worth mentioning that the deposits of shale gas identified by the British Geological Survey in Wiltshire are extremely minimal – and located in the north west tip of the county. The majority are in central and northern England.” 

 “I’m afraid that I’m strongly in favour of fracking. I welcome the potential it has to provide with a vitally needed new energy source, and to catalyse a new industry in the UK.” 

However, Becky disputes that there will be any significant creation of jobs for local communities. She claims that in the Fylde area near Blackpool, where the first UK explorations were carried out, only 11 per cent of the workforce was recruited locally.

John Glen also says there is little credible evidence to show that contamination of water sources could occur if proper regulation and procedures are in place.

“It’s important to note the differences between water systems here and in the USA. In the UK, most aquifers like within the first 300m below the surface. Fracking operations will taken place some 2km down – migration of methane or fracking fluids could therefore only occur through fractures in the rock which would allow the chemicals through.”

Becky claims research from America suggests this method of obtaining energy is having adverse health effects on nearby communities – effects which emerge after a period of time. She believes this is not being taken seriously at home.

“There is evidence from Pennsylvania which suggests that children are having frequent nosebleeds, headaches and other problems when they live very close to the drill sites. I would also urge anyone to seek out the film Gasland which looks at the experiences of families living close to sites where shale gas and oil are extracted.”

Becky also claims there are a number of myths around fracking which are common among the wider population. The most common one, she claims, is that obtaining shale oil or gas will bring down the price of energy.

“Many politicians have now openly said that this will not happen including Ed Davey, David Kennedy and Lord Sterne. This will not make energy cheaper.”

Factoids: 

What is fracking? –  or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth. Fracking makes it possible to produce natural gas extraction in shale plays once unreachable with conventional technologies.

Germany has taken a different stance and has concluded, due to lack of data, the precautionary principle should be adhered to and a moratorium around fracking is in place.

For the American documentary about communities living near hydraulic fracturing sites – you can find Gasland the Movie on YouTube.

Frack free families can be contacted by joining the Frack Free Families group on Facebook.

 

I’m a parrot with a splash of eagle, hint of dove. What about you?

Since being in business, I’ve come to realise that understanding yourself can be key to success.

There are lots of things I know about myself but when I became self-employed, there was one thing I didn’t know – could I actually do it? Could I generate any money at all through my own efforts?

You see, I didn’t want to be self-employed. I was doing a job I loved and I wanted to carry on doing that job – sadly though that job no longer wanted me. It wasn’t a personal thing, it was a business decision and about 1,000 people lost their jobs at the same time.

Now I am almost at the five year anniversary of being self-employed and I’m still here. I’m not rich by any means but I’m earning my own money, through my own efforts and endeavours and that’s got to be something to celebrate.

However, I’m also wanting to be better in what I do. So I’m taking a course! I’ve been searching for ages for something which will make me better but which will engage me. During this course, which I’ll blog about many times I’m sure, I’ve been reading text books.

I don’t know about you but reading business books has been without fail, a hideous experience. They are mostly badly written, rushing off into different directions and lacking in real life examples. Frankly, many are simply tripe.

But I’ve just read one in a single day. That’s a record. It was called Taking Flight…do look it up. It tells a very simplistic story about birds in a forest who have to act when trees start falling down…no literary masterpiece but it does the job required…it shows how certain personality types can work.

It’s all about personality types – using the DISC model – which until recently I knew nothing about. Now it’s all around me. I’ve had two personality profiles done and they do capture lots of things about me.

The truth is, I do know these things but knowing and grasping the reality are two different things. Applying that truth is also tricky.

I’ve found out – in bird analogy – that I’m a parrot, with a large element of eagle and a quite large portion of dove. I’ve got very little owl though.

If you know this book, the previous sentence will make sense.

The biggest immediate impact is that I’ve started to recognise others around me, mainly in my friendship group and realised that the dynamic is visible. For example, one of my children is very, very caring and very detailed orientated – which drives me absolutely potty. But it’s not her fault, that’s her response to things and that’s okay. Now I know it’s okay, I find I’m not so irritated by the constant questioning and asking the same thing over and over again.

I also spent some time with two old friends and hardly got a word into the conversation – very unusual for me. I ended up feeling that I was of little value as no one seemed that interested in me or anything I had to say. As I started the self-pity dance, I realised that these were two eagles vying for position without realising it. As a personality with both eagle and dove, confronted by this, I simply gave up and shut up rather than expend energy trying to be heard. I don’t feel angry at all, I’ve just realised that it’s better to see them individually if I personally want to feel listened to – otherwise I’ll continually be a spare part.

Now I’m hoping to become better at business through this learning….here goes!

No, I'm not a peacock..I'm a parrot....

No, I’m not a peacock..I’m a parrot….

 

 

 

Three poor excuses for not taking part in difficult interviews.

Today I want to talk about some of the things journalists are asked to when they approach organisations for an interview – particularly when that interview might be difficult.

This might be a business which is facing some kind of legal action, industrial tribunal or a local authority involved in an investigation, a school involved in a court case. It could involve a news interview, a sit-down interview for a longer programme or a fly-on-the-wall or ‘reality’ type programme.

Most businesses will feel uplifted by such a request and would tend to look at reasons ‘to do’ it, sometimes without asking the correct questions about the project.

Many organisations, or public service bodies, would often look for the reasons ‘not to do’ something, considering in much detail the possible risks or pitfalls.

Excuses to avoid being interviewed are often not pretty

Excuses to avoid being interviewed are often not pretty

Both approaches need modifying – a business could do damage to itself by not considering the messaging, however a public body could miss out on a valuable opportunity by not engaging.

So what are the top three excuses might a journalist be given for not giving an interview?

The first and most common when there is some kind of legal action is ‘it’s subjudice’ ie. it could prejudice a court case to do it. This can be a very good reason but journalists are also subject to the same laws around contempt of court so they do know what this means. Don’t use this as an excuse – journalists see through it. Be clear about the law for a journalist – subjudice in a criminal case starts technically when a person is arrested though in practice it’s when a person is charged. When that point is reached, the Magistrates Courts Act comes into effect to which all are subject. In a civil case, however,  proceedings are active (subjudice comes into play) when a date for a hearing is set. This might be very late in the day, many months after the issue has arisen. Don’t try to baffle a journalist using this excuse.

The second request is ‘we’re interested but we want editorial control’. I’ve heard that many, many times. Understand this – YOU WILL NEVER GET IT. We have a free press in this country, that’s what makes PR so powerful. You cannot have editorial control over what a journalist does when they are writing for a third party publication as a contributor. Editorial control means I write, record or film an interview, let you see it, allow you to change anything you don’t like, and then it goes out. Not only is that time consuming – is that really what you want? Do you want to see a programme about, for example, MPs expenses where the MPs have ‘editorial control’?

If you’ve ever employed a PR consultant or company – they should clearly state that coverage isn’t guaranteed – and that’s because it is independent and therefore more credible.

A third and final one is – ‘it isn’t our fault, it’s their’s’ – this is often used when partnerships between organisations falls down. For example, a local authority and a building company hoping to build homes on a new site, it fails and the work is not done as originally intended. The local authority blames the housebuilder. The housebuilder blames the recession. Remember this, if your organisation is associated with a project – even if it’s not your fault that it failed – the perception will be that you are involved. Blaming another organisation won’t work. You will have to contribute to demonstrate what’s gone wrong – or people will assume you’ve done something wrong/don’t care/have something to hide.

When you have done something wrong – admit it, say sorry and outline what you’ve done to sort it out.

Hope in the midst of horror – the killing of a soldier in Woolwich

A young soldier is attacked and killed in full public view on our streets, seemingly by extremists intent on creating fear and panic among the population at large.

An act of violence and abomination. A  terrible, terrible event for the family, friends and colleagues of the victim. An attack on one of our soldiers, one of the many men and women who are prepared to die to protect our way of life.

Yesterday the news was full of stories about horrible killings in our society. This was one was so shocking because it was so immediate with video clips on the internet and the killers using that medium to spread whatever twisted message they wanted to get across.

Today I’ve heard several negative things which, in my view, play into the hands of all extremists. People calling for death, mobs, marches, violence to a whole group in our society who are as innocent as we are. People suddenly showing support for organisations which shouldn’t be more than an annoying pimple which needs to be popped. These organisations jumping on the horror and claiming it for their own – it’s utterly despicable. What is it that Gandhi said? An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Let’s not let anger and fear make us blind to the good things…..

There are pros and cons to seeing a death like this victim’s played out so publicly  – in America, people are used to seeing this type of thing more often. I’m in two minds about this. I heard a man on the radio saying it was disgraceful bringing this into everyone’s living rooms. Is it? Is it disgraceful that we face the horror up front? Those people in that street, that young man didn’t ask for that, did they? They had no choice in it. Can we hide from the risks we may all face?

But this exposure also highlighted other things – small acts of courage and care which happened in the few moments that this horrific event took place. The woman who tried to reason with someone who could not be reasoned with. Did she think or did she act? Her efforts provided, at a minimum, a distraction which could well have prevented another death or serious attack. Could I have done that? Would I have done that? I honestly don’t know.

The person, who even though it was hopeless, held the victim and wept over him – a stranger who cared, who just tried to be there in the most terrible of circumstances and amid carnage. Someone who just saw the young man and reached out. I believe the victim’s family will take a small crumb of comfort from that one act.

I heard comments about wishing the police had shot dead the people responsible. Yesterday, in the immediate aftermath I too had some sympathy for that view. But our police  are professionals. They too, being there and in the midst of that awful situation, may have felt that way. But they, like our soldiers, were professional. We have no idea what the bigger picture is here – is there more intelligence around this incident? Is there information to be gained from the men responsible? Two meetings of COBRA in a 24-hour period suggest something else is going on here that we, the public, are unable to see and may well never know.

We should therefore take heart in all the courageous people around this incident who reacted in split seconds to an unspeakable horror. Many acted with dignity and caring towards complete strangers. Now is the time for the police to do their jobs, and for us to consider the pain of the family involved.

Child benefit, Leveson – a 2012 rant from a Wiltshire mum

As journalists, we are not often able to express opinions about political things – and many of us just don’t want to – but today is different.

Today I feel the need to say what I think both as a journalist and as a mum – and it’s two gripes here:  the Leveson inquiry and child benefit.

LEVESON:

I’ve waited a few days to say what I think of the Leveson inquiry, sometimes it’s best to wait and take stock before opening one’s mouth.

My first point is that a small number of journalists, mainly working on national newspapers, have acted in a despicable and unacceptable manner to ordinary members of the public, and the families of celebrities. Neither of these do I condone.

I also don’t condone senior owners and managers in newspapers getting all cosy to politicians and senior police officers to create some comfortable ‘honey pot’ where deals are done. For this there is fault on all sides.

I have less sympathy with celebrities who court the newspaper press when they feel like it – and moan when they don’t like the type of coverage they get. However, no celebrity should have his/her phone hacked and family members harrassed in any way. Journalists who have used these methods are breaking the law.

People who break the law in any profession are unlikely to be stopped by introducing more laws. For some, the story will always be the goal whatever the means.

I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years and I’ve never hacked anyone’s phone, nor have I ever been asked to do so. I’ve never camped outside someone’s house because my employer is interested in writing about their private lives. I was asked to do this just once – I said no. I just didn’t feel it served any public interest at all.

Does this mean I would never write a story of that nature? No – I would and I have, but only when that part of someone’s life encroaches into their public life eg. in criminal cases, politicians who are caught out and action taken against them which comes into the public domain.

Do I think a law should be introduced to control the Press? No, I don’t . The past is paved with good intentions – but whatever the intent of such a law, it could mean that later it’s used to restrict the freedom of the Press even more – and we have a restricted press in this country as it is.

“What!” you may think – well, when I first moved from newspapers into television, I had such a shock when it came to what could and could not be done. In television, the guidelines laid down are far more stringent than in any newspaper and they are, in my personal experience, strictly adhered to.

Take secret filming for example. Due care and attention must be taken before secret filmig is ever approved. As a producer, you cannot just think or suspect that someone is doing something wrong, illegal or immoral – you have to have a strong case. That then has to be approved by the highest manager in the building at the time with a legal opinion. If you jump that hurdle and carry out secret filming, there is another process to decide if it can be used or not. I have been involved in such cases and that secret filming has never been aired.

When journalists break the law they should be prosecuted. I cannot support any restriction of freedom of the press beyond what exists already in the UK. There are thousands of journalists in this country working in towns, villages and cities who are doing a good job bringing stories to light, spreading information and allowing people to have a voice – and some of those stories save lives, bring people justice and raise awareness. This happens every single day.

If you are in any way considering that journalists’ rights should be restricted further. Look no further than revolts, uprisings all over the world where freedom of speech and expression is at risk. The Press in all its forms is one of the first things to be sacrificed or taken over in a time of conflict. It happened in WW2, the Falklands, still happens in China and lately, only last week, communications were cut off in Syria.

CHILD BENEFIT

Image of a five pound note

Money, money, money…..

As a family we’ve known for some time that we will probably lose our child benefit. Now it’s happening, and we are going to miss that extra bit of income each month. We are not a family on very low income, but neither are we a family where the child benefit goes into a savings account for our children’s future – it’s part of the budget for the month, as was always intended.

I do, however, accept that it’s going, I’ve long felt that it’s a benefit which should be means-tested. But this cutting of child benefit is not means tested. It’s a clumsy, discriminatory money-saving tactic which will do damage to this government in my view.

There are two things which have really angered me about this decision to cut child benefit. The first was illustrated when recently talking to some friends. We are two families where both parents work and each have three children. In my friend’s family, the husband is just earning below the higher rate tax level, the mother is also just earning under that higher rate as she has a middle management role and she works part-time. This keeps her earnings below the threshold. My husband is a higher rate tax payer, I’m self-employed and my earnings are not stable. I’ve been self-employed for almost four years and in only one year have I earned enough to match this other family’s household income. On average their family income is about £5k a year more than us – but they can keep their child benefit. How can that be right? In my view, we should both lose it.

The other thing that has really riled me is the letter to my husband where he could opt for me, his wife, to lose the benefit. The benefit is in my name but I’ve received no communication at all. As the higher rate tax payer, he has the letter allowing him to cut off that money on my behalf – which proves to me this is just done for ease of administration. This discriminates, mostly against women and particularly against women who stay at home and don’t go out to work.

Maybe this government thinks all of those families with healthy incomes, but where both partners are under the threshold, will volunteer to lose their child benefit out of a sense of moral duty. Will they b******s!. Would you?

I could have made the decision to keep the benefit with my hubby declaring it on his tax return next year, but then we’ll get hit with a big tax bill. I suppose the only benefit of that would be that I could keep the money, earn interest on it and then pay it back at the relevant time. A part of me wants to do that to be bloody-minded.

However, the plot thickens. You can opt out of child benefit online – where the higher rate tax payer signs in – but the partner – fills out the form. You then get a confirmation that you have ‘requested’ for that benefit to end. The whole wording suggests it’s a voluntary act, like you’ve made an altruistic decision to give up that money to help the nation. That kind of wording really worries me – could it be used against you at a later date if your circumstances changed and you needed to re-apply? Or if it was introduced again universally?

However, I’ve had to ‘volunteer’ to give up my child benefit because of my partner’s earnings. So I either have to bear that loss or I have to try to find extra work to make up the difference each month. Happy New Year!

 

At a time of pride over the Olympics – we’re celebrating too!!! Find out why?

Today I feel hugely proud of our company, Mellow Media Ltd, as I have just attended a meeting which brought to a close three months’ work on an amazing project.

We have played an important part in running, developing and implementing a marketing strategy to raise well over £4m in just six weeks.

Let’s just think about that for a moment – that’s £666,667 a week or £95,238 every day. 

Anyone connected with me on my social media network could have picked up my messages and tweets about Westmill Solar Cooperative or @westmillsolar.
It was the brainchild of Wiltshire farmer and entrepreneur Adam Twine to create a solar power station on his land but, instead of allowing a big company in to run the station, offer it up to people within the wider community. A less lucrative option for him – but in keeping with his green ethics.
Investors could bid for shares by putting in an investment of between £250 and £20k maximum. If successful, the cooperative will allow one investment, one vote. The aim was to make the cooperative accessible, open to as many people as possible and giving all an equal say, regardless of their investment or wealth.
Adam has created a similar project before, on the same site, Westmill Windfarm – that had taken years to come to fruition and had also raised a similar sum in community shares but  over a longer period, 12 weeks – and a different economic time -2007. Five years on, it has over 2,000 investors and is providing strong returns on that investment.
This time, while the integrity of the project was clear, it seemed a tall order to raise that much money. Together we came up with a marketing strategy which involved much PR, advertising, leafleting, e-mailing and other features. In our case, we looked after PR, advised on other parts of the strategy as and when required.
We’d worked on the project from mid-May working towards the opening of a share offer in mid-June which would stay open for around six weeks – a cut-off date of July 31. The aim was to raise more than £4m from would-be investors to create the UK’s only community-run solar power station.

In fact the world’s largest community run solar power station. 

 

Hundreds invested millions in UK's largest community run solar power station

This was a big ask. We are in a long-term economic depression with many businesses being happy just to survive. And many families suffering a stagnation or drop in income.
In our favour,  we had a small, but illustrious team of people hoping to raise that kind of money in a short space of time. And fantastic partners who would step in to help out and support us as much as possible. And the offer on the table was a strong one – returns way above anything a bank could offer at the moment, or for the foreseeable future.
But, of course, PR is never guaranteed. This felt like a test of the value of PR as it’s so difficult to quantify. It’s about brand, messaging, information sharing and story-telling all rolled into one. So we stuck to our basic principles of telling a story well, with accuracy and always a picture. And we always had something new to say – a new nugget, a new angle.
 When the share offer closed on July 31, it was over-subscribed by some margin. The message had clearly got out there. How did that happen?
As it was a project rather than a ‘slow burn PR strategy for the long-term’, I tracked some of the coverage we received.  I found almost 100 separate items both online and offline. More than 50 per cent were online, and often, but not exclusively, within the specialist ‘green’ or ‘renewable energy’ sector.
More than 30 per cent were articles and features in the local press – within a 40km radius covering Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Bristol.
There were around eight radio interviews or mentions in that period and two exposures on regional television. As for the national press, there were five items in total, on and offline.
None of this included the fact that traditional written articles which appear in a newspaper, magazine or paper publication also tend to appear online – so the online total was probably much higher.
As the ideal target was reached, our role has now ended. But has it? When involved in a project like this which had a very specific beginning, middle and end – something always remains.
For me it’s a deeper respect for those who work in the renewable energy sector, who do so, often in the face of much cynicism because they feel it’s the right thing to do. Even though they might have to justify their position often.
Friends have been made, connections forged which will continue in to the future. And it’s this legacy, at a personal level, which will mean the most.

Review of my year – what was 2011 like for you?

Today seems the right day to review my year in all aspects of my life – it’s a cathartic experience and helps get things in perspective.

Reflecting on life during 2011.....

Professionally it’s been a good year. For Fiona the journalist – I’ve made several films covering subjects as diverse as dementia care, OCD, rising energy prices and the Welsh Assembly elections (now known as the Welsh Government). Many thanks to ITV Wales, the BBC and Available Light for all of those projects. Alongside this, I’ve written articles on numerous occasions, so I thank the Swindon Link, Wiltshire Life and the Swindon Advertiser.

From a Mellow Media point of view it’s been a year of promise with several one-off projects, others requiring discretion and others which can be shouted about. Many thanks to Footdown, Business Scene, Sarah Arrow of Birds on the Blog, the Symondsbury Estate, Tailored For You and some new names which will also emerge in 2012. All of these companies and their people have provided work, new friends, new experiences and personal development, so many, many thanks. For all the colleagues out there in the world of business, let’s hope 2012 is full of hope as well as hard work. Let’s hope that gloomy predictions are not as bad as we’re hearing from various voices.

On a personal front, I’ve seen a child go to secondary school, another child start school and another child become one of the bigger fish in her small primary school pond. I’ve discovered both of my daughters are very good singers and my son sings along too. Both my girls took part in a community radio programme and they achieved many, many things throughout the year. My step-daughter passed her driving test and turned 18. She also presented an eight-minute film for regional BBC programme about tuition fees. There have been many occasions when I’ve been a very proud mum. And I should mention here a husband who has been supportive and loving for another year – we celebrated 11 years married. He’s put up with me for 15 though!

As a family we had a fantastic holiday in Orlando spending two weeks doing the whole Disney and Universal Studio thing. To say the least, it was fantastic. It was all we expected and more. But my biggest tip for anyone considering such a holiday – hire a large villa for a fraction of the cost of onsite accommodation, you get more comfort, better food (you can buy it yourself and actually have a salad) and often get your own pool. Hire a car and pay the $15 parking fee per day to park at any of the attractions. Also if a ride says you’ll get wet – it means you’ll get absolutely soaked so take a change of clothes. And pay the extra for Fast Passes or Express routes (it’s well worth it).

On another personal note, 2011 has been a year of terrible sadness for our family. In December we lost our neighbour and friend Roger to cancer at the age of 53, very suddenly. To look at his widow and see her pain every day is awful. But it was something sadly familiar to us. A big shadow this year was the death of our brother-in-law Peter in April at the age of 49 from heart failure. Pete died very suddenly after collapsing at the gym. He left my sister and three children, the youngest just five months old. To see my lovely baby sister trying to put her best foot forward every day, week, month since his death – has been a humbling lesson in life. And his parents and sister in Australia grieving at a distance is something we feel but can do nothing about…

So it’s with a mix of emotions that I face 2012 – I’m excited and challenged but as my daughter said to me a few days ago ‘Mum I just hope we don’t lose anyone else we love’ and that’s the main thing for me. Whatever bad things happen, put that event into perspective – there is always always someone worse off than you!

On that note – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

Ever made a mistake? Review it!

Make sure that mistake doesn't bite!

What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made? I’d love to know — and what did you do about it?

I recently read in my local newspaper a letter from a new restaurant owner in Swindon about a review written by a journalist. She’s attended his/her restaurant and had a meal.

The letter said that while there were many positive comments, the reviewer was unreasonable in her criticisms. One was that she’d asked for a vodka mixer and no vodka was available – however the journalist should have been satisfied with the 32 types of wine on offer on the extensive wine list.

What? A journalist doing a review is no different to any other customer – and customers can be hard to please. If I want a gin and tonic or a beer – sod the 32 choices of wine – that’s what I want.

The clue is in the world ‘review’ – it’s an experience, it’s about fulfilling expectations. Some may be fulfilled, others may not.

If this happens to you, bleating about it in the letters page and slagging off the journalist is hardly maintaining a strong relationship with your local press – something you need if you are a local restaurant. Also what do you think as a reader? A reader like me? Well, do I want to go to a restaurant where my choice of  beverage is ridiculed? I don’t think so…

So, what should that restauranteur have done?

Taken the positives, learned, maybe invited her back again in six months time…keep the lines of communication open. Turn something negative into something positive – a cliche but true.

 

A review is very powerful and, unless there’s a bug in your food or the chicken is raw, will almost always put bums on seats. Don’t diss it.

 

This is not a journalist’s mistake, it’s an opinion based on experience.

 

So what is a mistake?

 

Consider the following:

Any journalist who claims never to have made a mistake is from another planet.

All human beings make mistakes and if you are banging out 3,000 words a day for a publication – it will happen.

 

However if a journalist makes a mistake the consequences can be huge – the power of the written or spoken word cannot be underestimated.

So if you are talking to a journalist and a mistake is subsequently made what do you do?

 

It’s easy – talk to the journalist about it.

 

Be sure before you do, that the mistake came from them. (Remember that a mistake in a headline or sub-heading might be done by an editor – and the journalist may have not seen it yet. Equally a mistake in a picture caption can also be done by a third party) But the journalist can help put things right.

There’s nothing more embarrassing than having a difficult conversation with a journalist and then finding out that your press release was inaccurate – or your press office/pr consultant was the source of the mistake.

Also remember that journalists are taught that ‘inaccuracy kills’ – there’s no defence if an inaccuracy leads to defamation. So journalists should be open to those kinds of conversations.

Discuss what the mistake was and how you wish it to be rectified.

For example, a simple mistake like a name spelled incorrectly may be embarrassing but it’s not going to be the end of the world. A small correction or repeat of the story (if it’s short) may be sufficient.

A good friend of mine who’s first name is Spencer was captioned in a photograph as Stella – he’s never forgotten it and neither have I – it’s hilarious.

But if a teacher say, at a school, is charged with abusing a pupil and a journalist names the school or the wrong teacher then that’s a serious mistake and much harder to put right. That gets into the realm of defamation and possibly contempt of court.

For something serious such as the latter, seek advice before talking to the journalist so that you know where you can go with it.

However it’s always advisable to give a newspaper, tv, radio or online publication the opportunity to put things right before getting heavy with lawyers’ letters.

Apologies will be given quite prominently in a serious matter, it’s actually quite rare that a media outlet does nothing when a genuine mistake has been made.

 

Tip: always talk to the journalist if she/he has made a mistake. Keep the relationship going by avoiding getting heavy. Expect a rational response in putting right that wrong.

(next week, I’ll tell you about a mistake I made and the consequences)

Gadgets, Stephen Fry and me!

I can’t help but watch this Channel 4 programme about Stephen Fry’s 100 gadgets.

I’m falling for this latest in a long line of ‘Top 100 this or that’ and I can’t help it.

Does someone as intelligent as Stephen Fry like the same gadgets as me, does that make me intelligent too? I don’t think so!

 

Our ages are only a little different – less than a decade – so I can be nostalgic with his permission.

What is it about Mr Fry that makes him so full of gravitas – if he says it, it must be true.

 

What gadget stands out for you?

Yes, I do follow him on Twitter in the vain hope that one day he might be bothered to tweet back. Perhaps then I can be smug in the knowledge that I must have said something vaguely interesting. Then I might write that book I’ve been promising myself.

 

Don’t cringe, I recognise that it’s mad to measure myself against someone I don’t know other than by their public persona. Yes, even journalists have their icons, even with a strong pinch of cynicism.

So far in this programme, I’ve agreed with so many gadgets – scissors, the garlic press, the iPad, the smartphone, the transistor radio, the lawn mower, the tin opener. I’m amazed how many great gadgets are in fact so old, but oh so brilliant.

There are also a few that I hate, one in particular –  the soda stream. When I was a kid, my friend’s family had one.

It always made something still,  taste fizzy and odd at the same time. It never tasted quite right to me. I can’t imagine what would possess anyone to buy one now. In fact watching Heston the scientific chef pretending that his ‘soda streamed’ wine actually tasted okay – well, let’s just say I think my instinct is right.

The one thing I don’t like about the programme is the comments by the celebs who’ve lined up to comment.

 

Once again it’s subjective, I love some, bring on Suzie Perry, Jason Bradbury, Krishnan, Gok Wan but please go away Rufus Hound, some woman who looks like an over-the-hill model and a woman with stripy hair. I don’t know these people but why should I care what they think any more than Joe Bloggs on the street. In fact….

 

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have comments from John Smith from Swindon, or Fred Bloggs from Basildon. Ordinary people who’s views are just as interesting, or not, as celebrities. John Bishop does it on BBC1 and it works. Probably cost less too.

But here we are at 10.45pm and I’m waiting for the top five – do I agree with the choices?

Five – Typewriter – I agree, I passed my typewriting exam in the 1980s and it’s the one exam that I’ve done that I’ve used almost every day of my life ever since. The exam I did was secretarial course (and I was never going to be a secretary) but how strange that my somewhat random choice to do a course that none of my peers were doing, has worked out so well. It was a morning a week at a local tech college with me like a fish out of water. A lonely experience but extremely worthwhile.

Four – Television – how could I not agree. I watch, love and work around tv land. It’s the ultimate in entertainment, education and is full of information. The choice now is amazing compared to the three main channels when I was a child – black & white, and the test card. Now it’s unthinkable that there’s nothing on the tv. But of course, that doesn’t mean that everything is good – but at least there’s always choice. You can always turn off or turn over.

Three – iPod – not sure. It’s great but would I put it above tv and the typewriter. Not for me. I love music, I love its capacity, its size but for me personally, it’s not as great. Also I use my smartphone for music so my iPod is rarely used. I feel its days are numbered.

Two – wristwatch – of course, don’t you feel undressed without it. Doesn’t it control our day, our thinking, our schedule (yuk!). People love wristwatches and there’s a huge snobbery around watches – Breitling or Rolex?

One – cigarette lighter – brilliant to have fire at your fingertips but if it’s truly a way of harnessing the power of the gods, I don’t have it.

I’ve never smoked so I’ve never carried one. If I knew I needed a light a fire I suppose I would.  So his number one is a lighter – I understand it, I get it, I can see it’s value, it might even save a life. It’s the intelligent choice but for me,  I don’t feel it.

 

I want to hear about tennis – not the fluffy stuff

It’s great when you’ve got a long drive home from the office to listen to the radio – Five Live is my choice – and enjoy the ride.

tennis ball to left of frame resting on grass

All I'm interested in is the tennis.....

I’m sure it’s the same for you if you have a long commute (mum or not).

 

So Wimbledon is good for me as it’s gentle entertainment and it’s a sport I can watch or listen to easily – which is saying something as I’m not good at sustaining interest in long drawn-out matches. I always feel there should be something else that would be more productive. But stuck in car, it has its place in my life. I also think there’s something about the sound of the ball which is comforting, like a loud ticking clock.

 

However I did get a bit frustrated yesterday when listening to the commentary on the match between Andy Murray and his opponent Feliciano Lopez.

Now commentating on a sport is a special skill if you give it some thought. You have to describe in detail what’s happening so that the listener can visualise and you have to keep talking, as naturally, as possible almost continuously.

 

Give it a try….look at a sport you love and commentate on it for an hour. It’s exhausting. I’ve tried it once or twice and it’s difficult.


For those who love sport, the most awkward time for chatting is often when there are breaks in play. So you get a lot of repetition, cliches and idle chit-chat.

However, I’ve generally found that the Wimbledon tv teams stick very much to the play and players’ form and rarely digress.

That’s what I expect. So I was rather surprised to hear a male commentator talking about Lopez rather personally. Something about him being so proud of his appearance that he spends ages looking at himself in the mirror. Did anyone care about that? Not me.

He went on to say that Lopez wouldn’t like the way that he looked right now if he could see it. Well as I’m listening to the radio – I can’t. Was he sweaty? Was his hair untidy? Was his make-up running? What irrelevant twaddle. I don’t think Lopez gave a stuff what he looked like as he was desperately trying to hold his own (and failing) against Murray.

These comments gave the strong impression that Lopez’s tennis was so mediocre, even poor, that the only thing worth talking about was what he looked like. Then the speaker started referring to what Murray’s mum thought about Lopez, calling him Deliciano! And Murray didn’t really like that. Okay. But what’s that got to do with the match in hand?

How does Lopez want us to think about him? Good looking guy who dresses up to play reasonable tennis or damn good tennis player? I wonder.

Also, let’s try to avoid the personal. I didn’t hear the commentator talk about Murray’s looks, ugly or goodlooking? Handsome or not? Great hair or unruly locks? Big nose or lips? No comments on how often he looks in the mirror or how much he considers his appearance when he’s been running a marathon around a tennis court trying to return serves of 130mph. Does Murray care about any of that during a tennis match? I think not – I certainly don’t.

There’s so much to say at Wimbledon, particularly on a day when the sublime Roger Federer got beaten by the courageous Tsonga, that there’s no need to pick up on tabloid obsession.

Let’s give all of that rest and enjoy the tennis!

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