Journalists and robots – nasty dream

Just woke from a nightmare. I'd submitted a piece to the Guardian and, when it appeared, it contained all sorts of stuff I hadn't written.

I was used to sub-editors gently straightening my prose, but this was wholesale wrecking of my original intent. I didn't mind the historical, factual and statistical additions too much – when not too intrusive, they enriched what I wrote. But it was the wholly new paragraphs that put a commercial spin into the piece that made me hopping mad.

I quickly realised that this was a barmy attempt by the newspaper to earn money from erstwhile advertisers who had found that neither print nor web models were working any more.

Fellow journalists shared my horror – mainly appalled that something was going out with their name on that they hadn't actually written. They were also horrified by the thought that their hard-won reputations for objectivity had been destroyed at a stroke by the insertion of automated 'puff'. We collectively decided to stop writing for any paper that did this to us and to make sure readers knew what they were being served.

As I say, this was a dream. (Really – it happens to me several times every night, but this is probably the first that I thought worth sharing here.) When I woke up, and before I wrote this, I dug into 'robotic writing' and found this piece from The Guardian of all places: And the Pulitzer goes to… a computer

 

 

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Help the reader and help yourself

No-one needs to tell you that the reader is the most important person in the world to a publication.

Conventionally, the journalist is responsible for maintaining this focus. Sadly, a great deal of journalism these days, especially online, is 'churnalism' in which barely disguised press releases take the place of reader-centric writing.

There is another way. It probably won't win me many friends among my journalistic peers (although it could save their financial bacon) and that is to ask vendors themselves to write reader-focused and informative, non-selling, articles about their specialist subjects. In my case, the readers being focused on are those responsible for technology in law firms.

The trick is to have a good editor who will help the contributors to get it right – i.e. send it back with recommended changes, seek clarifications and corrections or simply give it a light polish. Having handled a couple of dozen pieces for LawTech magazine, I'm amazed how few had to go back for a rework.

Let's come back to the journalists and their 'financial bacon'. The document properties of one or two of the pieces revealed that they were ghost-written by freelance writers. If vendor staff are too busy to do the writing and publications are too strapped to pay decent rates, this represents a good 'halfway house' for a writer. They're not involved in writing 'puff' pieces, the vendor gets a mention and a web address in the magazine and the reader gets some solid information which contributes further to their understanding.

To add a little colour to what I've said above, here's my latest editorial from LawTech magazine. It also introduces Tom Foremski and his Every Company is a Media Company philosophy.

TNLTMayWhat a terrific bunch of people we have writing for us this month.They are all experts in their various fields and, despite the majority working for vendor organisations, they've all made a real effort to talk to you and address your needs. It's not easy for them; they must feel tempted to give their products and services a little mention in every paragraph. But they've resisted heroically. The result is a collection of articles, which we hope you find interesting and informative.

Yes, each is written by someone who knows his or her company better than any other, but show me someone in a senior position that doesn't have wider experience of the marketplace. Most bring a broader perspective, and it shows. You will find that some articles overlap others but these different points of view will all help to round out your own perspectives.

We are not here to guide you in a particular direction but we hope that by laying out these different viewpoints, article by article, issue by issue, that you are better placed to make your own tough decisions about which strategies to pursue and what sort of vendors you'd like to work with.

For me, it's a great honour and privilege to be able to take this fresh approach to publishing. No one who's been aware of changes in the media over the past fifteen years can fail to have noticed a rise in the "Every Company is a Media Company" sentiment. This phrase was first coined ten
years ago by Tom Foremski, a former journalist who left the Financial Times after 30 years to found the Silicon Valley Watcher blog. He's seen first hand how important it is for companies to share their knowledge, usually through their own online media. He has helped many companies achieve this by applying strong editorial standards to the process.

And this is where we come in. We're an independent publication with a strong editorial ethos that believes in giving the experts a chance to engage with a carefully selected audience. And that's you.

Thank you for reading LawTech magazine.

We have some great issues planned for the future. The feature themes for the coming year are detailed on the website. The backdrop of 'security' and 'cloud' will always be there, but if there's anything else you'd like us to cover, please drop me a line.

David Tebbutt
Editor – LawTech Magazine

 

 

25 years of clients: alive, eaten and dead

I’ve been training mainly IT companies for over 25 years, mostly in partnership with Martin Banks. I thought it might be interesting to find out where all these companies are now,

After a lot of digging, I found out that about 20 percent are more or less untraceable – either out of business or fragmented and buried deep in multiple owners. About half are still ‘themselves’ and the remainder are now part of other organisations.

Here are a couple of charts which might interest you:

ClientDestinies

 

The chart below shows which companies have been absorbing other clients.

ClientEaters

. If you want to find out more, ownership details and website links are on my website.

From the personal computer to the web: a searchable archive

Phew! That was hard work. I've tarted up the HTML of 263 of my columns and features written in the pre-web days (1979 to 1995). They should all be readable in any browser on any device.

The archive is searchable, so if you're into nostalgia or research, you can  check out my take on just about anything personal computer (including Mac) related from those years. It's a mix of opinion, reviews and feature articles written for a mix of consumer and business publications.

I must have been doing something right because my writing was put up for eight awards, I was a finalist for all eight and won the Times/Hewlett Packard Technology Columnist of the Year three years running. (I was then banned from re-entry.)

Apologies for any remaining typos. The articles were scanned and some words got mangled. I've fixed them where I've spotted them.

Have fun (or not).

http://www.tebbo.com/archive/

Something for would-be writers and spokespeople

Videos

Tebbo's Tips

All the above are free.They help you get started with handling the media or with business writing.

I created them because organisations need to influence their prospects, customers and other stakeholders either indirectly through the media or directly through their own efforts, whether they're self-published (company website/blog) or through submission to a media company. (See Tom Foremski's EC=MC: Every Company is a Media Company if you want to read more.)

The top image links to two videos, each broken down (if you want) into eight mini-videos of approximately two to five minutes duration. The bottom two link to downloadable pocket-sized memory-joggers. (They're actually A4 and come with printing and folding instructions.) If you prefer, just go to tebbo.com which also includes some useful links.

I offer all of this free of charge. In one respect it's me 'giving back' and sharing my knowledge. In another, I hope they reflect favourably on me and my work and attract people who'd like me to work with them. They're all Creative Commons – share by all means, but please don't alter them.

The videos are hosted on YouTube and the memory joggers are hosted on Google Drive. I had some fun writing the delivery script for the Tebbo's Tips memory-joggers, but that's another story.

I hope you enjoy what you see. I showed a few of my more critical friends and they've been very kind.

I'm enormously grateful to Alison O'Leary for agreeing to work out some questions and grill me for the videos. And, of course, to all those customers, friends and colleagues that have helped me throughout a most enjoyable career. Which, incidentally, I hope is far from over.

This is not breaking news… it’s already gone viral

Why does something happen just when you can't get to the computer?

Yesterday a man (you probably know who) appeared on the radio and tv in advance of his company's launch of a new product. No doubt he couldn't reveal too many details, so the interviews were theoretically too early. But then, if he'd tried to get on today, the news would have already gone round the world and the programmes would have been less interested.

So, he arrived with a set of inward-looking and content-free messages which he was determined to deliver. If anyone had advised him about bridging techniques or addressing the interests of his audience, his memory clearly failed him.

He answered every question with a non sequitur, usually involving words like unique, new, proposition, experience, essence and transformation.Oh yes, and he found it "exciting", several times. Completely forgetting perhaps that he's paid to be excited.

In the end, one of the presenters was so anxious to get something out of the interview that they offered an open goal, "Sell it to us then." And he talked about "managing to find the way to transition the essence …"

Handling the media is not rocket science but I accept it can be stressful. That's why you need to prepare. Know what you want to say and what you can say. Make sure it is of interest and, hopefully, benefit to the audience. Say it in concrete language that they understand. Know how to bridge (I call it transition – am I guilty of the same crime?) away from the awkward question and get onto something interesting to the audience.

My mate and highly regarded journalist/editor, Dick Pountain, came up with a form of words that would have got the interview off to a racing start and actually delivered value to the audience within a few seconds. Sadly I can't share those words because it would identify our miscreant.

Know any passionate pragmatists?

The Right Thing To Do? is a blog where experienced people share their insights – the 500 or so words that they hope will inspire others in their quest to make the world a better place.

Posts are run fortnightly and they provide a useful link for the writer's portfolio. In time, we'd like it to be seen as a reliable place for inspiration and conversation. It is non-commercial.

We make it as easy as possible for contributors, often ghost-writing pieces for those who are too busy to do anything but spend 15 minutes on the phone. Everyone, whether ghosted or edited, gets to approve the final piece.

Each post is about life and work and is non-promotional, although contributors usually mention their affiliations (with hyperlink) in their 40-word bio (plus headshot).

The About us page is probably the best place to check us out.

Do you know anyone who's passionate yet pragmatic? (Including yourself, of course.)

Please let us know.

Thank you.

We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Here's a list of the posts we've run so far:

Why things will get better from the work of Matt Ridley, December 22, 2011

Entrepreneur Extraordinaire, Felix Dennis, on Good Fortune January 12, 2012

Never mind GDP, what about Gross National Happiness? from the work of Chip Conley, January 19, 2012

Reconnecting kids with the school curriculum by Ray Maguire, January 26, 2012

Has the Khan Academy found the right way to educate? by me with Jim Farver, February 1, 2012

Why green makes business sense by Ben Goldsmith, February 9, 2012

Is sustainable growth a myth? by Clive Longbottom, February 23, 2012

Rag and bone men of the information world by Euan Semple, March 7, 2012

The power of community by Mark Chillingworth, March 21, 2012

Where's the 'social' in 'accountancy'? by Martin Banks, April 4, 2012

Mind the gap by Hussein Dickie, April 18, 2012

Inhumane HR behaviour by Tracey Poulton, May 2, 2012

Listen! (To the right people) inspired by the Cognitive Edge folk, May 16, 2012

Get on the trust trajectory by Rob Wirszycz, May 30, 2012

Baby, bathwater, beware … by Anne Marie McEwan aided and abetted by me, June 13, 2012