Tim Longhurst's Blog

Heading to New York and DC for coffee

March 6th, 2009 · 5 Comments

Today I’m heading to NYC and DC for a two week trip, and I’m hoping you can help me make the most of it. Sure, I’ve got some work to do while I’m over there – meetings planned for my work with GetUp etc., but I want to squeeze the most out of my trip. I’m attempting to ‘crowd source’ part of my itinerary by asking my network to advise me on who I should with over the next fortnight.

In short, I’m going to America to have a few coffees with interesting people – and I’d like you to help make sure I fall in with the right crowd.

To give you a hint of what I’m looking for, I am passionate about innovation. To me, answering the question “Is there a better way?” is one of the most important tasks we have as humans. I’m dedicating this trip to meeting with innovators – people who dare to seek the better ways of doing things –  in the fields of media, communication, activism, business – actually, really, any field at all!

But maybe ‘innovators’ is the wrong word? Maybe change-agents, activists, philosophers, thought-leaders, speakers, futurists, rabble-rousers, culture jammers or thinkers would be better words?

If you know (or know of) someone based in NYC or DC that you admire/love/respect/think would be cool to meet, recommend them! I’d like you to please name them in the comments section below, forward this post to them, or email me – tim @ timlonghurst.com.

I’ve got a great feeling about this trip. Naturally, even if you’re nowhere near NYC/DC you’ll be included – I’ll save the best quotes and anecdotes from all of this fun for the blog – I promise! Thanks in advance for your help, Tim

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Category: Communication and connection · Corporate craziness · culture jamming · Guide to better living

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  1. Tim Longhurst posted the following on March 7, 2009 at 6:45 am.

    I got this twitter reply from @dcarli within a few minutes of writing my post. I’ll have to track him down for sure!

  2. Erwin Van Lun posted the following on March 7, 2009 at 12:36 pm.

    have fun! CU soon.

  3. Anon posted the following on March 7, 2009 at 11:07 pm.

    Perhaps there is a better way to meet with people that involves less of a carbon footprint

  4. Terry Collins posted the following on March 8, 2009 at 2:42 pm.

    I recommend going to a 5 rhythms class and talking to Gabriel Roth in New York City. http://www.gabrielleroth.com/ She is shamonically innovative in integrating body, mind and soul. Dunya is a more feminine taste of the sufi tradition. http://www.dancemeditation.org/ Both in New York City & both delicious to get you grounded after your long trip.

    In Washington D.C. be sure and see the Lincoln Memorial. The awe may only translate to we Americans but I’m betting it goes beyond that. Two futurists to talk to if you get a chance are John Petersen of the Arlington Institute. Please cheer him up as he is a bit doom and gloom at the moment in the short term and Johnathon Peck of the Alternative Futures Institute.
    Have fun!

  5. john byron posted the following on March 25, 2010 at 12:45 am.

    ninth st espresso in new york – the best espresso i’ve had in north america. the original store is on 9th between avs c & d in alphabet city. nearby at tomkins sq (very cleaned up these days so no deals here) is their 10st store, between avs a & b. way on the other side of town they have one on 9th at chelsea market.
    dc is tougher now that murky has closed in clarendon, but tryst in adams-morgan is good coffee and a lovely place to have a drink, sit in a comfy chair and read or chat or meet people.

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Ponytail people at Naked Communications strike again

January 20th, 2009 · 20 Comments

You know, there’s a lot of mistrust out there in the world, and one Sydney based company, Naked Communications, is out there doing more than its fair share to fuel cynicism.

In fact, whenever I hear “Naked Communications”, in my mind’s eye I see a guy in a ponytail. Slick, confident, out of touch, total contempt for the audience, a liar.

While the best of the marketing world caught the Cluetrain long ago and many are scrambling to get their copy of Age of Conversation (two books that remind us to respect – and engage honestly – with our stakeholders), Naked Communications seem to come out every once in a while to show that they’re not afraid of damaging a client’s reputation – as long as there’s a few column inches in it.

I searched Flickr for pony tail man and got this guy – sensitive ponytail man, but he doesn’t quite look as out of touch as the Naked Comms guy in my head:


It all started back when Coke’s advertising agencies conspired to cynically pretend to be activists to sell chemicals, groundwater, plastic and aluminium as a social movement (see Consumers: 1, Coke, Zero). Days after I got stuck into the “Zero Movement” campaign of Coke’s, a rep from Naked Communications phoned. She was keen to discuss why I’d taken issue with advertising people pretending to be activists, and invited me to speak to Naked – and perhaps Coke – for a fee.

I do make most of my income from talks and presentations, but I couldn’t reconcile the idea of publicly campaigning against unethical communication and then somehow getting caught up advising Naked. I didn’t do the talk.

The latest Naked Comms ponytail moment

I haven’t heard about Naked in a while, but today I read in the Herald that they’re up to their old “let’s blatantly lie our target audience and hope nothing bad happens” routine.

Today’s SMH sees journo Caroline Marcus uncover Naked’s latest less than honest marketing venture: what seemed to some to be a Sydney girl using YouTube to spark a relationship with a passing stranger turns out to be a Naked-hired actress.

The actress wasn’t very convincing, and lots of comments on the video suggested it was a stunt. In a rich moment of irony, the actress assured the Herald that her plight was real: “There seems to be a lot of cynical people” she protests. Of course there are, and in a small way, we’ve got campaigns like this one to thank.

Does Naked have a Code of Ethics at their office? Are they using it as a mouse mat?

Being socially destructive – eroding people’s confidence in each other – isn’t a simple by-product of this kind of dishonest marketing, it’s the main outcome. When you’re wrapping a fresh elastic around your ponytail, “Any publicity is good publicity” probably feels like a smart thing to say. But a brand that’s known for its values and the remarkable nature of its products is always going to beat a brand that’s famous for duping potential customers to get attention.

Naked are said to be part of Photon’s “Strategic Intelligence” business. Those are big words to live up to. Being dishonest isn’t all that strategic and being tricky isn’t the same as being intelligent.

If you work at Naked, it might be a good idea to put the two books I mentioned early in this post on your reading list – or, if you get it, give them to someone senior in the business.

Naked’s website actually boasts that “many of our clients cite our honesty as a reason they like working with us.” Based on their track record, I suspect this is a lie, or perhaps it’s just “a bold marketing move” from the Ponytail Posse?

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  1. Stephen Collins posted the following on January 20, 2009 at 2:36 pm.

    I couldn’t agree more, Tim. I’d have thought by now that most, if not all marketing agencies were wise to the power of the (former) audience and just how savvy they are. And that they had at least a modicum of respect for the crowd.

    It would appear that Naked is neither clued up or respectful. There are others in the same boat – witness the issues NAB had in 2008 with its ham-fisted attempts at garnering publicity online. Their agency knows no better.

    Faked campaigns can be good – if they’re acknowledged as such and the work is clever. This is neither.

    As an aside, I have just begun work with a new client – the Sydney office of a largish marcomms company – that wants to learn how to do this stuff right.

  2. Adam Ferrier posted the following on January 20, 2009 at 4:01 pm.

    Hi Tim,

    My hair is long but no ponytail I’m afraid. Thanks for taking the time to express your views on Naked. However, they have been expressed on very little evidence – you havent talked to me (or any of the other Naked Partners as far as I am aware).

    I’d like to respond from both a pragmatic and theoretical perspective.

    Pragmatically, we serve to solve clients and build demand led growth. Our campaigns have left clients extremly satisfied and nearly always far exceed effectiveness expectations. Including the completed one you mention in your article. We solve clients problems whilst being unencumbered with having to recommend a particular form of media – and we do a great job of it.

    Theoretically: I’ve read the books you’ve mentioned – but wont get into a quoting books match (that would be slick ponytail guy). I’ve also been a consumer psychologist for many years -and understand that trust is a hugely important element when building long term relationships between brands and people. However, this does not mean you have to constantly boring, predictable, and one way in your approach. Being interesting, being unexpected, the odd clever stunt are all part of brand building today (not just for Naked but other successul brands and agencies around the world (i.e. Droga5’s Echo campaign, Diesels (ironically titled) Heidis campaign, our Hypnomarketing campaign, Wonder Breads ‘Not for ducks’)….

    What will people think of this campaign when the store opens? Will they think those evil marketers deceived me – how dare they trick me? With something as trivial (in their world) as this -I doubt it. In a marketing saturated world people want brands to be playful, entertaining (and sometimes they just want to be left alone). They want brands to stop interupting their relaxation time. Ultimately, they want to enjoy their lives through pleasure, mastery and connectedness – brands should ask how they can contribute – as they’ll get rewarded for it.

    OK OK I will be ponytail guy and quote a book I’ve read (hope you spot my irony here. In Mark Tungate’s book ‘Adland’, he says The advertising agency of the future is Naked Communications because “It believes inlooking at its clients needs and coming up with innovative solutions – which may or may not have anything to do with conventional advertising”.

    Have I changed your mind? I doubt it. However, please call me on 0413 633344 if you want to chat this through.

    Adam Ferrier
    Planning Partner
    Naked Communications

  3. oliverw posted the following on January 20, 2009 at 5:01 pm.

    Nice post Tim, it’s sad to see that companies prefer to trick the market than focus on providing a good experience around the product, service and brand.

  4. Pingback from Naked conversations… or not so much | acidlabs

    […] spite of the (frankly belligerent) protestations of Naked’s Adam Ferrier at the abovementioned blog posts, and […]

  5. Malcolm Lambert posted the following on January 21, 2009 at 10:50 am.

    Hey Tim

    Nice work on the blog. It’s epic! I would like to add to the debate that even though it’s important to be honest it’s more important that we have the freedom to be dishonest. There is no dividing line between the two, rather a merging with each person adding their dividing line depending on their perspective. I think it’s better to leave it up to the audience to make the decision about whether or not someone has been deceptive. So in the case of advertising, if the public feels unfairly treated then they won’t buy the product. To think they might be deceived into buying could be a little patronising. Maybe what Naked are doing is being subversive, which is a great thing. If the following organisations were subversive how would we feel about each; Nike, Oxfam, Coca cola, Amnesty. Each person and the organisations that control them should be treated fairly so if it’s OK for Buggerup to be subversive then it’s probably OK for a campaign for Coke to do the same. Then that raise the bar for the public subversives to find imaginative ways to hit back. Finally, we viewers of advertising are not stakeholders, we are the decision-makers. Contrary to accepted wisdom we are the top of the food-chain, without us those companies won’t survive so they’d better not be too disrespectful of their audience….OK, I got a bit carried away in the last two sentences.

  6. Mike Wagner posted the following on January 21, 2009 at 2:31 pm.

    Excellent debate people. As a fellow thought leader (or “idea tugger” as I like to style myself), can I just say that I’m sure that Naked/Witchery would have gotten a far more effective result if they had used “fax” technology as the basis of their campaign.

  7. Pingback from How the blogosphere views Naked’s fake video episode - and YouTube viewers start posting their responses « mUmBRELLA

    […] expert Tim Longhurst describes Naked’s staff as “The ponytail people”. Telling how he came across Naked when they were involved in faking blogs ahead of the launch of […]

  8. Brendon Sinclair posted the following on January 21, 2009 at 11:25 pm.

    “Does xxxxx have a Code of Ethics at their office? Are they using it as a mouse mat?”

    Nice work Tim. I don’t care what you say, I’m taking that line and using it as my own from now on!

    That would be deceptive, obnoxious and stupid. Any ideas where I could get a job in social media?


  9. Dan posted the following on January 21, 2009 at 11:48 pm.

    I don’t find fault with Naked so much as i do the lazy news media reporting non-stories. It’s not news, it’s fairly obviously a PR stunt and it doesn’t deserve the coverage it got.

    I think it was a succesful campaign – it made me (and thousands more) watch the youtube, and i even thought the jacket didn’t look half bad.

    I think astroturfing is deplorable and reflects poorly on the PR industry – but in this instance i’m more offended by the poor standards of our news media.

  10. flAsh posted the following on January 22, 2009 at 9:20 am.

    Hey Tim,

    Great post, I couldn’t agree more.
    We all are struggling to get noticed, the challenge is getting noticed for the right reasons.

    If brands seek a relationship with consumers based on affinity, trust and relevance then maybe start with stuff that adds value to that relationships and doesn’t leave consumers feeling like dicks!

    I sure those pony-tail guys have plenty of one night stands with people who never want to see them again.

    And if we’re quoting I’m pulling out the big guns:
    “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” George W. Bush (I hear he’s started growing a pony tail and preparing his CV)

  11. Dave Gravina posted the following on January 22, 2009 at 12:26 pm.

    In my view, the point is there’s no point in deceiving people like this – its not clever and its not cool and as Tim rightly points out it erodes trust – as if to underline this i received an email just after reading Tims post pointing me here: http://www.findingdawn.org.au/ and i found myself immediately questioning the authenticity of this website before feeling slightly ashamed as i realised it was indeed a real life tragedy. In a world where marketers invade our heads pretending to be something other than they are we are forced to question the authenticity of our social interactions constantly – and that’s a real shame. And to make it even worse it was done so poorly! Sorry but the actress just wasn’t remotely convincing AND its not original and smacks of the lonely girl hoax so its just a bit sad on that level too though thats of course not the point! In a way it’s less bad because it IS so badly done and was easily debunked (maybe?!).

    More seriously though and closer to home (for me and the Raise The Bar team) there’s been a backlash to the AHA’s Dont punish us campaign which also deceived people into thinking it was a grass roots campaign when it was an AHA funded one. They copped a lot of flack and bad vibes from the punters for that one too – and rightly so.

  12. david posted the following on January 23, 2009 at 10:17 pm.

    wow! nice post, but I thought maybe the chance to speak with their team could have allowed you the chance to explain the rationale behind being client centric not central to world…

    im agreeing with @Dan it was a PR stunt but they sure got value for the client now everyone is wondering about those jackets and next time they are shopping for a men’s jacket they will just ask the salesperson what is that brand that was featured with that girl from the youtube video and there you have it a successful campaign. Its not something where you had to remember the brand just make the campaign memorable enough. I think the PR done around this campaign was the best element, in under 2 weeks it has had 170,000+ views on youtube. Not to mention im sure there will be spoof clips that will soon appear, man in the prada dress, man in the gucci handbag…

    think about since VB launched VB Gold, who sponsors the Beach Cricket. Now don’t google it think about it… ok so the colour scheme is similar… keep thinking.. well its XXXX Gold, but when you are at the shops and you see vb gold you may just grab that because of the colour assocation. This is a successful for VB but bad for Gold. If you went and asked about the ad about the beer and the island with the dog, they would know that you are talking about XXXX Gold.

  13. Pingback from Reply to Post about Ponytail men « The Lost Agency

    […] 23, 2009 in Social Media | Tags: pr stunts, viral marketing, youtube wow! nice post from Tim Longhurst, he talks about his experience with Pony-Tail people and his views of viral campaigns. He is […]

  14. Dan Ilic posted the following on February 8, 2009 at 3:45 pm.

    Wow.. Your blog is off the charts.. So much discussion here.. Love it Tim.

  15. Fleta posted the following on February 25, 2009 at 11:22 pm.

    I got so bored by that you tube video and the girl’s repeated insistence that she was genuine that I stopped watching before I ever saw the jacket it was trying to sell. I still have no idea what it looked like or what brand it was, and have no interest in googling it to find out. That is probably a good thing, as I think I would automatically associate that brand with a similar sentiment to Tim’s post.

    I can’t believe anyone a) got to the end of the video and b) deemed it newsworthy.

    Thankfully for my ability to give my 2 cents someone did, and I (regretfully) read the story. To be a pedant, why would a (normal) girl effectively steal the jacket of a guy she was interested in rather than put a witty note with her phone number in the pocket for when he returned to pick it up? And more importantly – what cafe would allow a customer to walk off with another customer’s lost jacket which they’re bound to come back for?

    If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with realistic details.

    Generally though I think it was an interesting idea which would have been much more effectively spread via email with a credible story – and a “do you know the owner of this jacket?” line rather than clicking on the (terrible and horribly long) video from a news site with an increasingly suspicious news angle as I suspect most people who watched it did.

  16. karalee_ posted the following on June 20, 2009 at 9:45 pm.

    Hey Tim,

    Finally able to read your posts in full so sorry about the late addition to this conversation!

    In my humble opinion this post is essentially detailing astroturfing [http://www.thenewpr.com/wiki/pmwiki.php?pagename=AntiAstroturfing.HomePage].

    I believe this (initially confined to political lobbying in the USA now moving across many sectors) is now quickly moving into our communication and advertising culture as evidenced by a number of recent high-profile case studies not limited to Naked’s Witchery woman.

    Recently the chk chk boom episode with ninemsn and some major news outlets, gave us an insight into the community’s views and reactions to both: deceit and conspiracy. A lot of people online debated whether this girl was a PR stunt. The jury is still out, but what it did show once it was unveiled as a fake, was that people don’t find this funny nor harmless anymore.

    So, I’m wondering if the grass is now greener again on an honest, transparent and raw way of communicating? Surely there is now an opportunity for communications and generally all business thought-leaders to embrace a truly honest way of delivering messages to their market. One where a consumer or voter, share-holder or viewer can feel fully informed, weigh the decision and make the choice – leading to a sustainable and genuine transaction? Perhaps this old-new way of thinking could now be enough to cut through in this crowded market…

  17. Nathan posted the following on September 5, 2009 at 5:29 pm.

    I think the fact that Mathew Baxter got fired (oh sorry pushed asside) over this one shows that even if consumer psychologist Adam doesnt understand someone certainly did.

    If marketing people want to move above carsales people in the trustworthiness ranks then I think they have to have a good hard look at their tactics.

  18. Paul Mukherjee posted the following on September 22, 2009 at 6:16 pm.

    Dude. You have hair jealousy. Or bald man syndrome. Isnt there a help group for guys like you?

  19. Casper Willer posted the following on January 11, 2010 at 6:28 pm.

    Hi Tim,

    Just came across this site from a Google Alert (don’t know why it comes up now). Without joining the discussion, I should disappoint you, by pointing out that several Naked People have contributed to the second edition of the Age of Conversation book, among them us from the Copenhagen office.

  20. cheectHiehind posted the following on September 9, 2011 at 12:18 am.

    I the beginner.
    Probably, it is intriguing,up to date Video..HERE http://digg.com/news/entertainment/megan_fox_no_clothes. It was fitting to you?

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Naming and Shaming – 2UE interview

January 6th, 2009 · 1 Comment

I’ve just jumped off the phone from an interview with Ben Fordham on Sydney radio, 2UE. We discussed the future trend of transparency – how technologies are merging to enable people to make more informed choices.

Two examples were discussed –

Naming and shaming restaurants – I’ve blogged about that before. And –

Naming and shaming ex-partners – Ben mentioned a website that allows jilted lovers to ward future women away from men they feel weren’t up to par.

Whilst a lot of useful information exists today, and can be found on search engines such as Google, you still have to “PULL” the information toward you by searching for it – you have to know to look for the list of cockroach-infested restaurants or bad ex-boyfriends…

In the near future, relevent information will be identified, filtered and PUSHED toward you at appropriate times… As you step into a restaurant, your phone might vibrate to warn you about eating from that kitchen… A new person in a bar may be cause for your phone to send you a warning text message!

In any case, we seem to be heading toward a future where information will be presented to us in context-relevent ways… But what are the useful applications for this? I’d be interested in your ideas.

And welcome to any 2UE listeners who may have heard me named (but not shamed) at the end of our interview!

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  1. Gavin Heaton posted the following on January 6, 2009 at 10:59 pm.

    We already have the naming and shaming of employers with fuckedcompany.com … there is also ratemyprofessor.com where US college students can rank their teachers (and where their teachers can respond).

    Don’t know whether this is really “transparency” or just the surfacing of opinion. But it can be entertaining … at least until someone loses a law suit.

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Palin calls elected leader a dictator, AP ignores error

October 25th, 2008 · 9 Comments

Sarah Palin this week mistakenly called a democratically-elected president of a foreign state a dictator. In response, Hugo Chavez, who was in 2006 re-elected by a convincing 60% of voters, evoked Jesus, remarking, “Forgive her, for she knows not what she says.”.

So now you know the story: Chavez is not a dictator, he’s the popularly-elected leader of Venezuala. Palin didn’t know even this most basic fact about Venezuala, and yet felt qualified to threaten that country with sanctions.

The Associated Press’ version of this story does not once point out that Venezuala is a democracy. Without this significant piece of context, Palin’s innacurate assertion that Chavez is a dictator goes unchallenged.

The gaffe of Palin’s may be unclear to many readers, and the dismissive nature of Chavez’ comments may seem unfairly condecending and out of line without any clarifying statements.

Here’s the story, as it appears at this moment, (archived in full for purposes of criticism/critique):

Venezuela’s Chavez: Palin a pitiful ‘beauty queen’


CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin a “poor thing” who didn’t know what she was saying when she called him a dictator.

Friday’s verbal attack was the latest in long history of creative insults by Chavez — but was not unprovoked.

In an interview with the U.S. Spanish-language network Univision aired Tuesday, Palin remarked that “through negotiations or sanctions, if necessary, we can pressure dictators like Hugo Chavez to make it clear that they cannot mess with the United States whenever they feel like it.”

Speaking at an event to inaugurate a thermoelectric plant, Chavez said he had heard of Palin’s remarks.

“The poor thing, you have to feel sorry for her,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. Palin, he said, is “a beauty queen that they’ve put in the role of a figurine.”

Chavez said one must do as Christ did: “Forgive her, for she knows not what she says.”

Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s choice of Palin as his running mate surprised the nation and prompted questions about her qualifications to serve as vice president. The McCain campaign had no comment on Chavez’ comment.

Palin, the governor of Alaska, says she would take the lead as vice president in energy policy, overall government reform and working with families who have special-needs children.

This article will almost certainly be syndicated by hundreds, if not thousands of news organisations around the world.

If such careless journalism had occured on a blog or other social media, an early commentor would almost certainly point out the complete lack of context.

Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ traditional publishing model leaves time-consuming details like accuracy or clarification at the door. Readers are not provided with so much as an email address to offer comments or express concern.

The article will be read unchallenged and unedited by thousands around the world.

Participatory Media: 1
Centralised Media: 0

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  1. Gavin Heaton posted the following on October 25, 2008 at 10:24 pm.

    Let’s hope your post gets picked up and splashed around the world. Unfortunately, by the time that happens, Palin will have made another gaffe that will have overshadowed this one 😉

  2. Viveka posted the following on October 25, 2008 at 11:11 pm.

    I’ve submitted this to Digg – so click that link, log in and digg it ^_^


  3. Anthony posted the following on October 26, 2008 at 8:05 am.

    If one defines ‘popularly-elected’ as mutually exclusive to a leader being a dictator, then fine, Palin was in error. Sorry, I don’t.

  4. phil posted the following on October 26, 2008 at 8:12 am.

    Last time I checked all you needed to be VP was to be born in the US.

    Unqualified or not, my friends just received the biggest dividend check from the State of Alaska, ever. 3200 dollars pp. For Palin’s family that is near 20k. Pretty dumb huh? She re-negotiated the states cut with the oil majors. The people got paid. She will be around power, for a long, long time, if she can roll the oil companies from their money.

  5. phil posted the following on October 26, 2008 at 8:16 am.

    Sorry, over 20k, and closer to 23k. Even Trig gets his 3200 bucks. Where there is smoke there is fire, if Palin weren’t effective as a leader, nobody would be attacking her from the left.

    Being a “democracy” has no bearing on dictatorship, we all know that Germany elected their dictator back in the 30’s.

  6. Eddie posted the following on October 26, 2008 at 11:26 am.

    Ah Palin.

  7. brian posted the following on October 26, 2008 at 12:02 pm.

    Why do people keep saying american attacks on independent foreign leaders are mistakes or gaffes? We all know the US and its power elite hate Chavez, and aer prepared to use the Big Lie technique to condition the public. The media has the essential role of acting as conduit for these lise.
    These are not ‘mistakes’. They are deliberat and reflect both the decline of any sort of american moral conscience, and the desperate need to attack a succeful leader.

  8. Bringthanoize posted the following on October 26, 2008 at 4:16 pm.

    She reveals her own shortcomings everytime she speaks on issues ie Chavez was democratically elected- Bush was not in either 2000 or 2004- do the math on your dictactor allegations Palin.lol

    Btw- didn’t Bush say this(Iraq/Afghan war) would be “alot easier if this was a dictatorship as long as he the was the dictator”?

    Michelle Obama is better qualified than Palin and can speak on her own accord on issues as she has done when going on shows like- The View, Larry King Live(I would love to see Palin on) and so forth.

    Republican women = C McCain who is a documented homewrecker who stoles narcotics using a children’s charity as cover- do the math. Morality? Character? Integrity?

    S Palin- Trig is not your son- recognize we all know the truth.lol I have seen both the Alaska Government & hospital web pages before the photos/info was taken down and you weren’t listed as have given birth on said date to Trig nor did you look remotely pregnant at what would have been your 7th month.

    AIP(Alaska Independence Party)? You know me!!lol

  9. Carolina posted the following on October 26, 2008 at 6:33 pm.

    I’ve posted this to quite a few sites as well, and emailed it to journalists Stateside – hopefully this gets picked up!

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The future of newspapers – the Herald hasn’t found it yet

September 8th, 2008 · 7 Comments

In January this year, 128 year old newsmagazine, The Bulletin was shut down by its publisher. Although there had been attempts to keep the mag relevent, including a move to online, it wasn’t successful enough to justify the cost of publishing.

There are a lot of news magazines / papers who must be looking at The Bulletin‘s fate, and wondering, ‘how long until that’s us?’. It’s a tough question. In a rapidly changing world, spearheaded by web technologies that have made publishing the domain of anyone with a computer and a web connection, rising above the noise and keeping people engaged is hard enough; without having to pay for a newsroom of journos and editors.

I’m currently reading “The Content Makers”, a book that examines the possible futures for media in Australia. Margaret Simons’ book, so far, paints a picture of anxious insiders feeling an awful lot like they’re riding a toy boat in a bath tub.

Well, the anxiety of those in control at the Sydney Morning Herald is starting to show… The SMH website is turning into a wilderness devoid of interaction and overgrowing with foreign content and advertisements.

A bit of background
I grew up with the Sydney Morning Herald – when I was a kid I loved Column 8, the column that was essentially thrown open to Sydney locals to send in their observations: the things they overheard on the train; the questions they had about their city. It was talk-back radio in print: engaging and short. For me, a kid, a great introduction to the paper.

Over the years, various elements of the Herald have held my interest, most recently, it’s been the smh.com.au website, which offers a taste of how things are going in Sydney – whether I’m in town or overseas.

Well, friends, I’ve had enough of the Herald and the way it’s treating me as a reader. Here’s a few points –

Where’s the conversation?
Here’s a fact: media is increasingly about conversations, but only on a tiny fraction of Herald stories do they allow their readers to discuss / object / add to content. Reading Paul Sheehan’s article praising Sarah Palin, I really would have liked to read how Sydneysiders have reacted to the recent Republican pick for VP nominee. Hell, I’d always be interested in reading how people are responding to Miranda Devine. But no, Paul and Miranda talk – we just have to shut up and read.

Where’s the local content?
The whole point of turning to a Sydney-based newspaper is for me to read news written from / for a Sydney perspective. Like many papers, the Herald subscribes to ‘wire services’ like the Associated Press. Unfortunately, instead of taking these stories and updating them or editing them for their audience, the Herald seems to have taken to ‘dumping’ wire stories on their site, regardless of the relevance or possibility of a local angle. It’s lazy and it waters-down the experience – I can read an AP story ANYWHERE on the web… I don’t come to SMH.com.au for cheap, syndicated content.

Where’s the sub-editing?
My blog’s full of typo’s and misspellings – I do my best to avoid them, but it happens. You know why? Because I don’t have a newsroom with sub-editors looking through my content before I publish it. Increasingly I’m wondering if the Herald has a newsroom, because it seems almost every story features the word, “and” twice in a row, or some other hastily-written mistake that even a second reading would have picked up.

What’s with the rotating puff?
The Herald’s website front page is dominated by a litany of photoshopped images of movie stars and Herald “relationship bloggers”, the two Sams… It makes me question my city when ‘those in the know’ seem to think we’re only interested in trying to work out ‘what makes men tick’, ‘how to please a woman’ or WTF Paris Hilton is doing today… Don’t get me wrong, I like the two Sams, it just feels that they’re promoted at the expense of all other contributors.

Why doesn’t the Herald ask me what I want, ever?
It was more than TEN YEARS ago that Excite showed that it was possible to know a little about your audience and tailor information to their interests. I’ve been a ‘member’ of SMH.com.au (I can log in to the site) for a long time – possibly ten years – and I’ve never been asked a question beyond “Which newsletter do you want us to send you?”.

Thanks, but working out how to send me “Electronic Direct Marketing” does not count as taking an interest in me. I would be prepared to answer a reasonably detailed survey of my interests if I was going to get ‘hand-picked’ news served to me daily. In a world of customized content (see Facebook), a ‘one size fits all’ home page is alienating (see ‘rotating puff’ above). And do I need to explain the value of detailed reader information to advertisers?

Flash animation hell
Most recently, the Herald has decided to pledge alleigence to advertisers at the expense of their readers. The gloves have come off and the advertisers are now allowed to fight dirty… In the past seven days I’ve started hearing humming sounds while reading articles – turns out that’s a banner ad for a car – WTF?!… Beyond that, entire videos are starting to play WITH SOUND as soon as I open an article. I click on ‘innovations’ and I’m met with a flash-based advertorial for Volkswagen, completely blurring the lines between editorial and advertising, the section descends rapidly from “brought to you by VW” to “all content is provided by volkswagen”…

If the Sydney Morning Herald were a restaurant…
If the SMH was a restaurant, their walls would feature animated advertisements, their soup would be watered down; the gruff waiters wouldn’t care what you wanted – they’d just bring you what they felt like; the ‘music’ would be advertisements turned up so you’d have to shout at your date; they’d send in photographers and women with flowers to your table (because they’d be getting a cut) and more than occasionally a customer would find that the bolognese had icy bits in it because it hadn’t been microwaved for long enough.

This blog post is being written during a turbulent industrial dispute between Fairfax, publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald, and many of its workers.

I don’t know much about Fairfax’s innovation program (does it have one?), but it seems to me that the conversation about the future of media and how Fairfax can best position itself is either happening without key stakeholders (such as its readers or journalists), or its happening behind closed doors, and only some journos and readers are being included in the conversation. But I’m pretty sure there’s no conversation, because if there was, there’s no way the Herald would look the way it does now.

A customer for life
Building a great business is about having lifelong relationships with your customers. There’s no way that the Herald advertising team are really interested in building a life-long relationship with their readers and I suspect that may be a big mistake.

I actually believe that newspapers – including The Herald, have a role to play in the future of media, but unless management open up and accept that they don’t have all the answers, the masthead is going to be dragged through the mud and the brand will be destroyed.

So what would you advise Fairfax? Which newspapers are having open conversations? What futures of media do you find appealing? I’ve got smart contributors on this blog – all opinions welcome!

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Category: Communication and connection

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  1. Wade M posted the following on September 8, 2008 at 11:52 am.

    Great as always Tim.

    I am also extremely annoyed with Trad Media and their continued bombardment of advertising like the translation of media makes no difference.

    It’s obvious that Advertising is running the paper, not News, but that’s nothing new here. On topic now.

    The costs for running a website are almost free. Trad Media is greedy, not trying to just cover costs, but make a fortune off it’s readers.

    Chris Anderson looks at how easy it is to innovate when you have little/no costs to engage, which is the point we are at today. (http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-03/ff_free)

    More to say, nothing new to add. Will leave it here for now.



  2. Troy posted the following on September 8, 2008 at 11:54 am.

    Spot on Tim,

    But it’s not just the news. It’s Spiderman 3, It’s the Pussycat dolls and it’s Dancing with the stars. It’s traditional media with their heads up their arses, Feeding us their own agendas.

    Does that make the Daily Telegraph a quad burger?
    (cheese, cheese, cheese and more cheese)


  3. Fleta posted the following on September 8, 2008 at 12:00 pm.

    In term of the subediting – I’m sure you just threw in that typo for effect 😉

    I think you raise an interesting point in regards to Column 8. It’s been a good 19 years since I started reading this column, following a rather embarrassing at the time appearance in it. I used to enjoy (and find comfort in) reading about other people saying odd/funny things, people with apt names for their profession and little sydney-centric coincidences. It would be 5 years since I’ve read this column with any regularity however, firstly because it receives no promotion on smh.com.au beyond a little link above the Opinion section, and secondly because all it ever seems to have is record first sightings of flowers, people whinging about the downfall of grammar, and funny references to last Thursday’s column, which of course I didn’t read. Is that really my loss?

    I remember reading something a year or so ago about why fairfax stopped collecting info on their readers – I think the fact they made you sign up and then sign in to read more than 2 articles was sending people to other news sites. You’d think they could at least come up with ads which match the content of the article you’re reading, although Paris Hilton probably isn’t one of their clients.

  4. Fleta posted the following on September 8, 2008 at 12:03 pm.

    you fixed your typo faster than smh.com.au – well done.

    And I forgot to mention Crikey as the online news service of choice.

  5. Aela posted the following on September 17, 2008 at 7:08 pm.

    Couldn’t agree more, Tim. The crud becomes more obvious when you get overseas. It seems that the Herald online, and also the Age online are suffering a severe lack of direction and sadly, it comes down to money. One of my talented friends who worked there was exasperated after 12 months, so she left. She told of funding problems, bad treatment of staff and managers failing to grasp key concepts of the new media they were trying to create (for example, trying to make a 3 minute news bulletin with few or no moving pictures)
    It’s a sad story when this is the best online news site that Australia has to offer. Have you checked out news.com lately? Or for that matter, any of the television stations who are meant to be masters of communication? In an age where more people are going online for their news, never before has the demand for high quality content and analysis been greater. Yet few seem to be able to deliver.

  6. Stig posted the following on October 1, 2008 at 4:17 pm.

    And an extension of the issue of ads running WITH SOUND is that media companies start to favour sites where their clients can run ads that annoy people. Regardless of whether the placement is best media planning.

    Crap, intrusive, annoying, interuptive advertising once again becomes the norm.


  7. phauna posted the following on October 20, 2008 at 10:21 pm.

    Just get firefox and adblock, and you won’t see any ads again. It never even occurred to me that the smh website had ads. They fight dirty, you fight dirty.

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