Poynter’s writing tools

None of us need it, of course, but Poynter’s set up a new blog to help readers improve their writing. Based on his previous collection of essays, Writing Tools is written by Roy Peter Clark, well known for his 50 short essays on writing, and should be something to add to your RSS aggregator at the very least.

Mystic Pizza

Karl Khan’s written to me again:

Dear sir,

i did not intend for this to be posted on the internet, please remove it from your blog site.

If you dont write articles about finance, business, intellectual property and internet stuff then i apologise for sending you the story,


Curiouser and curiouser. So he writes to me (and believe me, I gave you the entire email in the last blog entry: I wasn’t hiding any stipulations on his part) telling me “Please use this as you feel appropriate. I believe this will make a good story for a Sunday paper to run perhaps”. I publish it… and he complains.

The world is full of interesting people.

EasyPizza versus EasyPizza

You know, you set up a blog as a journalist and before you know it, everyone’s pitching story ideas to you. I’ve had about 15 emails from one guy who wants me to explain his continuing life story to the world.

Last week, I got an email from Karl Khan, who (assuming this isn’t someone claiming to be Karl Khan) has been involved in some legal struggles with the easyJet people over the use of the easyPizza name. According to him, the full story has yet to be heard, although it’s been on the Beeb and other sites.

Now, I’m completely the wrong sort of journalist for this kind of article, but if someone would like to investigate the story instead, I’ve provided the details below.

Note to the libel lawyers: I have no idea if any of this is true – this is purely what Karl Khan’s sent me. It may all be completely fabricated, but I’m putting it up here so that others can make that determination for themselves.

Continue reading “EasyPizza versus EasyPizza”

I’ve let my Salon Premium membership lapse

Salon, everyone’s favourite whiny liberal American news and comment outlet, has an interesting scheme. Pay $30 (or something similar) and you get to read all the articles without adverts. Don’t pay the cash and you only get to read the intros to the articles – except if you click on a logo and watch an ad, in which case you can read every article on the site for free that day.

I’ve let my Premium membership, as it’s called, lapse. The trouble is there just aren’t enough good articles on the site anymore for me to bother paying the money. The ads really aren’t that irritating and if all I have to do is click a logo once a week or so, then I’m not that fussed.

Premium does offer other benefits, including access to the Table Talk chat room (like I need to pay to have arguments on the Internet) and various free magazine subscriptions. The trouble is you have to have a US postal address for 90% of those subscriptions. Not much use for me.

Salon did have a survey a while back, in which I pointed out these shortcomings. When my membership was about to expire, I got an email begging me to stay and giving me two free offers – valid only if I had a US postal address. Clearly, they weren’t listening.

Anyway, I’ll just stick to Slate and Greg Palast for my diversionary political reading for now. When I fancy a laugh, I’ll read Spiked. Good job that’s free, mind.

Incidentally, what do you think of the Slate redesign? I hate it myself. I can’t find anything on the front page anymore. Thank heavens for RSS feeds.

Putting the blog to good use

Have you seen the Society of Professional Journalists’ new code of ethics? Probably a bit scary to most UK journalists, but there’s a definitely a lot to think about there. In particular, there are various bits on giving the voiceless voices. Which put me in mind of a cunning idea: why not let people provide input into my articles using this blog?

So I’ve set up a new category on the blog, Current Commissions, into which I’ll be posting details of my current commissions, including deadlines. If there’s an article you’d like to comment on, you can either email me or add a comment to the entry. There’s also an RSS feed so you’ll always know when I get a new commission. Hopefully, it’ll be useful.

The fun of bad PRs continued

We’re a high maintenance bunch, journalists. We diss PRs all the time, even though they’re just human and they’re just trying to help us (well, in some cases they’re obviously trying to hinder us, but that’s a different story).

But sometimes, even when they’re trying to help us, they hinder us. They promise one thing, we wait and wait. We ring. They promise it’s on the way, then two or three weeks after your first call and two days before deadline, they turn round, say they can’t do it and then say they’re telling you this now “so as not to lead you down the garden path”. Hmm. A little late, love, at that stage, isn’t it?

Anyway, in the interests of improved customer service, I’m going to list some of the recent PR fiascos I’ve braved my way through. I won’t name names (although I’ll list the companies at the end so you can play a game of “pin the tale on the PR donkey”), but if you’re in PR and you’ve done these things (or something similar), if you don’t do them again, you’ll make us journalists a lot happier.

Company 1

Just appointed to the account, so some slack needs to be given. But three weeks after my initial contact with the former PRs, who passed the enquiry on, they finally got round to approaching me. I told them I could do an interview on the following Thursday. I asked if they could provide customers to talk to. To help them, I gave them the names of customers I’d already spoken to before.

On Thursday (five days later), I get an email midday asking if I can do an interview, by which time, of course, I can’t. Needless to say, they also hadn’t managed to set up any customer interviews – although they weren’t willing to confirm that by actually answering any emails of mine asking if they had. Fortunately, I’d placed a call with the customer already and set up the interview (yes, yes, I know I should do that anyway but these guys get paid for every interview they set up, so I thought I’d help them out a bit). Moral: If it’s handed to you on a plate, try to make sure you still don’t cock it up.

Company 2

Admittedly, it was actually impossible to get through the client’s phone system anyway, but in this classic piece of PR fun, I called the number on the web site for the PR and got told that he no longer worked with the agency. Who was handling his account? They didn’t know, everyone was out at lunch, but they’d get back to me later to tell me who handled that company. I’m still waiting. Moral: You’ll get more business if you know who handles which company and then actually call back journalists who throw money-earning opportunities in your direction.

Company 3

When told it was very very important that a piece of software got given to me on a Monday, took it upon themselves to courier it to me at 6.30 at night. Good job I didn’t have to go out that evening, wasn’t it? Moral: Only expect journalists to work during business hours – try not to force them to stay in of an evening, waiting for the package you swore blind you were going to get to them during the day.

Company 4

One company, who I’ve already named and shamed for doing this and whose MD called to apologise and promised to rectify the situation immediately, has stopped answering email requests again. Moral: PR about PR companies should never be believed and never make promises to fix things if you’re not going to – we’re never going to trust you again.

Company 5

Happened today, actually, and was perpetrated by another company I’d already named and shamed and whose MD had also rung up to promise things would be different (cf moral from company 4).

All-day conference with a press room. Press room has nothing in it. It’s a room. No Internet access or anything. (Moral 1: don’t give the press worse facilities than all the other delegates. We don’t want to waste our precious break-time looking for a room that’s worse than useless when we find it). PR finds me after I leave the press room. Spends ten minutes badgering me about why I haven’t installed Linux on my Mac. I don’t expect him to have read my blog, but after I’d told him why, you’d have thought he wouldn’t have carried on for another five minutes, despite my obvious growing hostility.

Lunchtime rolls round. After stuffing my mouth with food (interviews while eating are always tricky), I’m about to head off to interview some of the attendees, when PR comes over again and spends the whole lunchbreak, despite my initial monosyllabic answers and obvious uninterest, quizzing me on the best ISP for him to subscribe to to download movies and what the current state of HDTV, Blu-ray, etc is.

Lunchbreak ends and I’ve not had a chance to speak to anyone. I have an interview scheduled at 3.30pm with the last speaker. Speaker over-runs by 60 minutes so doesn’t finish until 3.45pm. After the speech, he legs it off the stage. I leg it down to the meeting point. PR isn’t there. Speaker isn’t there. I wait for a good six minutes and neither of them turn up. Pissed off, I head off home. Five minutes later, just as I’m about to head into the tube station, PR calls wondering where I am (despite it now being 25 minutes after the scheduled interview start). He didn’t see me leave the hall (despite the fact I was sitting in the front row and was only one of three people to stand up and leave after the presentation), beggaring the questions

  1. What were you doing in the hall, instead of coordinating one-to-ones? Or waiting for me outside?
  2. What about the other one-to-ones that were supposed to take place before and after? I know someone had one at 3pm – I suspect he would have been disappointed
  3. Why didn’t you usher the speaker out the hall to the interview as soon as he finished, rather than letting him stay on to watch the end of day remarks?
  4. Why didn’t you rush out to let me know any of this?

I suspect I’ll be less peeved tomorrow. But Moral 2: Don’t regard every trip out of the office as a chance for you to do some quality chatting and relaxing – don’t take offence, but I don’t get paid for interviewing you; you will never feature in one of my articles; if you waste my time, I’ll stick you in my junk mail filter in future; if you keep messing me around, I’ll talk to your competitors instead. At the moment, I’m damn sure if I ever choose to deal with your PR company again, I’ll ensure I deal with anyone on the account except you. Bye bye commission.

Anyway, food for PR thought. The companies involved were, incidentally, in no particular order: Text 100, Bite PR, Hotwire PR, Porter Novelli, Octopus Communications and Goode International.

Of freelances and holidays

The trouble with freelancing is working out when to have holidays. It’s not the same as when you’re self-employed. There are so many caveats, most of them of the paranoid rather than the actual kind.

  1. There’s the whole idea of not doing any work. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. So if you take a week off, that’s five days at your normal day rate (£650) you won’t be earning. Basically, whatever you’re paying for your holiday, freelances pay double. Of course, you factor that into your rates, but you see the start of the terrible thought processes?
  2. What will happen with your regular clients while you’re away? If you’re employed, someone at work will cover you, or they’ll hire in cover (maybe even a freelance). If you’re not around and you’re freelance, maybe they will find someone to cover you during your absence – maybe someone they like better and they’ll use instead of you in future. So now you have to time your holidays as much as possible around regular commissioning editors, just in case, except print days are just so spread around the month, trying to find a week – or even a few days – that don’t conflict with someone’s urgent delivery date is almost impossible
  3. What about new clients? Who’ll be answering the sales queries when you’re sunning yourself on the beach? You’ll get back only to find they’ve gone somewhere else because you weren’t available.
  4. Slippage. I was supposed to be on holiday yesterday, but I got summer lurgy on Monday, couldn’t finish a feature and had to spend yesterday writing it instead. Do I take another day off or just accept that as a day off I couldn’t take? Soon, you find all your days off have disappeared as you fit in just one last article that they begged you to take.
  5. There’s the problem of what you’ll be doing when you get back. If you don’t set up any work for your return, all those holiday days will be days when you’ve not been pitching. That means the first few days after the holiday will be days without work while you start pitching again. Which means less money again.

I’m supposed to be having a couple of days off right now. I need it after working a fortnight of double shifts at the end of last month (subbing by day, writing by night). Instead, I’ve spent the morning blogging and pitching. I still have to return a prospective new client’s phone call from yesterday. And then there’s all those low-priority emails I have to answer.

I’m going to die an early death of a stress disorder, I know it.

Green press trips

Press trips are all very nice. Who doesn’t enjoy flying off to far-away destinations, even if you don’t get to see much except the inside of a hotel at the other end? There is, however, a problem for any journalist who worries about green issues. All those plane flights can overwhelm all your good work when you’re at home. In fact, probably just one trip will result in your using up your CO2 allowance for the year. What to do, what to do?

Turns out that some of the airlines operate a carbon neutral policy. You just go to their web site, work out how much CO2 your trips have pumped out, pony up a little cash and the airline will put that money towards offsetting those CO2 emissions in an approved scheme. It should all result in your trip not having put out any net CO2 at all.

That’s the theory anyway. No doubt someone will point out that it’s all a con, doesn’t work, etc. I’d like to think it does until I hear evidence to the contrary. So I’m off to the BA web site’s offset scheme right now to pay my carbon tax for my last two press trips. I’ll have to see if BMI does an offset scheme for my little holiday in Glasgow.

The trouble with this though is that I’m now paying for my press trip, which offends my natural inalienable journo’s right to freebies. Hopefully, it’s tax deductible at the least. Maybe in future press-trip organisers will pay for the carbon offset, too. How about it PR people?

UPDATE: Turns out you can do carbon offsetting for almost anything at Climate Care; return trips to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Monaco worked out at £15 in total to offset, which isn’t bad, is it?

Pilger stuff

John PilgerJohn Pilger’s one of my personal journalistic heroes (although I occasionally disagree with some of his politics). So I’m always happy to see more Pilger articles. There’s an interview with him in today’s Press Gazette, but I’ve also noticed he’s contributing to the Guardian’s Comment is Free section. That, incidentally, has an RSS feed, making it easy to spot when he writes something new – which would be a handy feature of the Carlton Pilger site if they did it, given that you can’t sign up for their email newsletter any more.

Weirdest idea for a Las Vegas casino yet

We’ve already learnt about one new Las Vegas hotel and casino this week. Now here comes another one. But it’s the weirdest one yet. It’s based on the magazine Maxim.

On one level, you can see where they’re coming from: Las Vegas isn’t called the “city of sin” for nothing. But a hotel designed primarily for teenage boys without much experience of women? Is that going to pay back the $1.2 billion needed to build it?

Still, maybe it’ll be like the Excalibur: there are plenty of people who stay in the Excalibur who aren’t there for the dragons and knights, but because they need a relatively cheap place to stay on the Strip that isn’t too shabby. I imagine the same might be true for Maxim Hotel and Casino. It’s actually going to have a reasonable nice location – close to Circus, Circus – since the north end of the Strip doesn’t yet have any of the top-grade hotels that the south and middle have been accumulating since the start of the 90s. Unless you count the Stratosphere, which I don’t.