Robin Brown

Journo. Editor. Tutor. Dour northerner.

Archive for February, 2010

20 things you shouldn’t do on Twitter

with 12 comments

I do like Twitter. I use it every day to learn, to broadcast, to share and to enjoy.

But Christ it can be annoying. To an extent this is the same with any new platform – familiarity breeds contempt after all – and in these times of decreasing attention spans and tolerances it’s easy to get hacked off by simple, and essentially inoffensive, things.

I think there are a number of things that apply across the board on Twitter that are annoying or inappropriate in most cases – particularly if you blur your social life with your professional life on Twitter, which I’d guess a majority do.


I’ve personally met about ten per cent of the people who follow me, and unless you’ve met someone in person I think you need to reflect on whether your Twitter followers want to hear about your personal life, sex life or toilet habits.

The banalities of your exercise regimen, diet, daily routines, coffee preferences and fluctuating mood are hardly of interest to anyone either – do it on Facebook if you must do it, at least those people know you personally.

Different, but just as inappropriate, is ignoring netiquette – that series of fluid and informal rules that just make the web a nicer place to be. They apply to Twitter too, just in subtly different ways.

None of this is a catch-all; not all of it will apply to everyone; and I probably indulge in a few myself. Nor am I setting myself up as some kind of expert, or arbiter of how to behave on Twitter.

I’m just someone who uses Twitter a lot and gets irritated easily, so I reckon the following list of what not to do on Twitter will serve most people well.

It won’t help you get 10,000 followers, but it might stop you looking like a bit of a dick.

20 things you shouldn’t do on Twitter

• Don’t DM unless you have a good reason – or you know someone personally

• Don’t set up an automated DM to new followers – sheer, pointless irritation

• Don’t announce you’re about to unfollow a load of people before you do – it’s pretty offensive to those about to be unfollowed

• Don’t unfollow genuine friends, no matter how annoying – it’ll bite you on the arse

• Don’t furiously live blog events you’re watching – keep it to a reasonable frequency

• Don’t set up a feed to churn out more than one link at a time – modify your application to spread them out

• Don’t automate more than a handful of tweets a day – you’ll get unfollowed

• Don’t tweet about your sex life or personal life – or apply a little common sense

• Don’t tweet random banal headlines – other people know how to use the internet for themselves

• Don’t ignore your followers – you’ve got to follow at least some people

• Don’t simply tweet your inventory if you’re selling something – it’s pointless

• Don’t slag off people you know – this isn’t Bebo

• Don’t slag of organisations you may work for or with – that tweet could come back to haunt you

• Don’t post orphaned links – no-one knows where they may go. That’s annoying

• Don’t post NSFW links, unless properly highlighted – even then, don’t (probably)

• Don’t use caps – it’s ANNOYING

• Don’t ask for followers or RTs – by and large

• Don’t cross-post between social networks – it’s a wild goose chase for everyone involved

• Don’t overdo services like that send out the same message to a number of platforms. What’s right for Facebook may not be right for Twitter

• Don’t be a dick – what’s true for the real world is true for the virtual

Feel free to let me know if I missed any obvious ones out below

You should follow me on Twitter at RobinBrown78

Written by Robin Brown

February 23rd, 2010 at 1:39 pm

British Steel, Corus and Teesside – the humbling of a region

with 3 comments

This weekend has pretty much seen the end of steel production on Teesside, with the news that the the Teesside Cast Products Redcar steelworks’ blast furnace is to be mothballed.

Mothballing is pretty much a death knell for a blast furnace, as they’re pretty difficult to start up gain once they’re taken off-line.

I have a personal connection as my Dad worked at Redcar – owned by British Steel, then as joint-venture privatised Corus, subsequently purchased by Tata – for nigh on 30 years. Before that, his father worked for Dorman Long.

Across the bay from Redcar is Hartlepool, my home town, and on a clear day the blast furnace makes for a stunning vista – steam billowing from the furnace.

Ridley Scott also thought so, he recalled the flashes of flame from burn-off and visual glow of industry of the steelworks when working on the visuals for Blade Runner, which is my favourite film as it goes.

At night the blast furnace looks faintly hellish – a pulsing red eye in the sky – but to me it was always the place where my Dad worked. And to many others in Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Billingham and Redcar.

Seeing the steelworks appear on the horizon always makes me feel like I’m home when approaching Teesside, along with the other industrial architecture of the region: the power station, the Transporter and ICI.

And sorting through some washing today, I looked a little harder at the British Steel towel that I still use in the kitchen.

Steel has flowed out of the north-east’s ports for 150 years, including to make the Sydney Harbour bridge.

But over the years the region’s heavy industry has taken a battering. No longer is the Tees a steel river, and all the traditional industries of the north-east have suffered.

Shipbuilding, coal and now steel. The area has been brought to its knees over the years, with only call centres to replace them. For every direct job lost at Redcar, three or four will be lost in the supply chain.

While Redcar seemed to hover on the verge of closure for many years, this latest development seems like the real deal.

The blow is particularly unfair given that a consortium had agreed to buy steel from the plant for ten years, only to pull out with no apology, apparently unfettered by an agreements, contracts or obligations.

Unions don’t believe Corus is taking the issue of the plant’s mothballing seriously, and is ignoring bids from potential buyers. The government insists it is powerless to act, though steel workers may look askance at the government’s support of the car industry.

In return, car industry bods may be looking with interest at the Corus situation, to see how parent company Tata deals with the fallout. Tata bought Jaguar Land Rover from Ford two years ago amid fears that the company would asset strip the UK factories and shift production back to India. What happens on Teesside may be instructive.

The UK’s remaining steel workers across the country are contemplating strike action, but I can’t see a way out.

Successive Conservative and Labour governments have undermined manufacturing and heavy industry to such an extent that the end seems inevitable, and the market-first orthodoxy has left governments powerless as foreign companies snap up and grind down successive UK companies.

Just time then for one last stand against the wholesale destruction of skilled UK industry. A final throwback to a bygone age: like the brass bands, like community spirit, like a British Steel towel on a washing line, fluttering in the wind.

Written by Robin Brown

February 21st, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Tories aren’t funny

with 5 comments

There aren’t a lot of right-wing comedians, and of those right-wing comedians I can think of very few that are funny.

It’s long been a source of debate as to why this is the case, but the last few weeks have, I believe, provided the answer.

The battle ground has been the MyDavidCameron posters spoofing Conservative Party posters that have variously displayed an uber-Photoshopped Cameron, a gravestone implying a £20K Labour death tax, and a number of demographic groups explaining why they’ll be voting blue this time around.

The spoofs were pretty funny, with some genuinely inspired political satire. Crucially, it was all rather gentle too – a spot of light-hearted rough and tumble at a time when political campaigning seems genuinely vicious.

It was a spot of typically British lampoonery, with Dave Cameron copping it for his smooth brow, well-to-do background or his silly soundbites, as well as some comment on Tory policy.

Labour had the sense to generally stay out of it, and social media and politicos with a touch of Photoshop skills did the rest (as an aside it’s also interesting to ponder the political make-up of social media and geeky types, but that’s another article).

Inevitably, the right starting coming out with its own versions. Only this time there were two crucial differences: the spoofs weren’t funny; and they were often plain nasty.

Among the hilarious efforts at the MyLabourPoster blog were pot shots at immigrants and those on welfare.

But almost every single one displayed a kind of grammatical, political or – more to the point – satirical illiteracy.

They’re clearly created by people with little understanding of politics, and no comprehension of comedy. And if they have been through an editorial filter, it’s a remarkably inept one.

Spite and bile are the key drivers behind the MyLabourPoster images, and they provide a valuable insight into how necessary the filter used by the My DavidCameron team was. They kept it sharp, funny and civil.

And raising the bar was a charming effort from an artist called Louis Sidoli, which mocked up Brown as Hitler.

Explaining his reasoning, Sidoli offered the following:

These images tell you all you need to know: ‘This is Gordon Brown – the facts are staring you in the face – vote for someone else’

So, there’s no double meaning, innuendo or twist in the tail here, what you see is what you get – Brown is like Hitler.

Proving he is no student of satire, history or politics, he goes on to explain:

Of course it is provocative, but if you think about it, there are strong similarities: Both started out as chancellors, both bullied their way to the top and seized power without being democratically elected, both tried to rig the electoral process, both prone to flying into uncontrollable rages and both caused huge economic damage to our country etc…

In another piece, called Psychologically Flawed, Brown gets the ‘satan treatment’:

[the] demonic lurid green face clashing with bright orange background, which hints that this person is truly diabolical! The red hand and cufflink symbolises the budget deficit / the red hand of socialism or ‘being in the red’.

Iain Dale defends the posters, with a rather pathetic ‘the Left did worse in the 80s’ line that echoes the way the Right in the US justify anything that’s beyond the pale, though he doesn’t even acknowledge that the posters are vague and unfunny, regardless of how offensive they are.

I genuinely don’t think those on the Right that have lauded the anti-Labour posters get this.

Their response has said far more about those backing the Conservative party than the MyDavidCameron images ever did.

I can’t image Cameron, doing his best to bury the image of the Tories as the nasty party, can think them helpful.

After the Conservatives’ own misfires with the tombstone-death-tax poster, the spoofs have raised some rather ugly truths about many who are anti-Labour.

The anti-Europe, anti-benefits, anti-immigration undertones to many are an ugly reminder of persistent elements of Conservative policy and the mindsets of certain supporters.

Moreover, it reveals how basic the thinking of those agents of the Right out in the web is on social media, engagement and, yes, humour.

Clifford Singer, behind the MyDavidCameron site and arguably an agent of Left, has devised a well-conceived and executed viral marketing strategy that is plainly successful in its reach and its impact.

It’s hard to see who the tory posters will appeal to, beyond people who already share the same views. That’s a massive social media, marketing and satire fail right there. I’d hazard a guess that they could even end up backfiring on the Right, so nasty are some of the examples.

Singer goes on to include a summary of the lessons learned from the experience and an explanation of the thinking behind the site.

Lesson Five is ‘Political satire is hard’. Indeed satire is hard, particularly if you don’t really understand what it is.

Fox comprehensively proved this a couple of years ago with its appalling and short-lived 1/2 Hour News Hour – billed as the Right’s answer to the likes of The Daily Show and Colbert Report.

Timing, an eye for the absurd, an understanding of the form and a knowledge of the audience are all required for the successful lampoon.

Which is why Singer is retiring MyDavidCameron before it gets tiresome or simply unfunny.

Because there’s nothing worse than an unfunny joke missing the mark. Just ask the Right.

• Full disclosure: Two of my own posters are on MyDavidCameron

Written by Robin Brown

February 21st, 2010 at 11:23 am

MyToryTombstone: Berk and Hair

with 3 comments

This is my poster for the MyToryTombstone site that’s ripping the new Tory attack ad, a fairly distasteful and disingenuous effort that makes out that Labour will slap a £20K death tax on everyone who karks it.

That’s not really true, of course, and smacks rather of desperation to me – a return to the Demon Eyes school of political campaigning.

Anyway, here’s mine. It’s pretty rough and ready and the reference may be a bit obscure. WIth any luck they won’t swap my joke with a less funny one this time, assuming they do use it.

Written by Robin Brown

February 11th, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Should I write for free?

without comments

I’ve noticed a bit of an upsurge in emails asking me if I want to be part of something exciting!, BIG! or fantastic!. These are, invariably, invitations from some massive corporation to provide professional copy for them – for free.

The way this model works is fairly straightforward. The company takes your copy, and that of several dozen other journalists or bloggers, hosts in on ad-heavy sites or syndicates it to larger media organisations and watches the cash roll in.

In exchange it gives you nothing of real value, beyond vague promises of link juice, raising your profile or potentially the odd bone thrown from central office – a DVD or trip.

There’s another model a step above this that promises revenue share – a split of the advertising revenue generated from the page on which your articles sit. This will literally add up to a few pennies a day.

I’m aware of a few services that have contacted me in the past, offering decent copy at under a penny a word. How can anyone make a living out of that?

Likewise, there’s a whole host of subcontinental outfits offering cheap content from skilled writers. The costs from a client side don’t really stack up when you look at everything, but you can bet there’ll be plenty of agencies weighing them up against employing a UK-based hack.

Now, the market and collapse of newspaper and online ad revenues is ultimately to blame for all of this – that’s globalisation for you. Simply put, there are not enough jobs out there for skilled journalists, or snappers for that matter.

But I’m extremely uncomfortable with the way certain companies are taking advantage of this. They are, essentially, using free labour and making money off the back of it. Where to begin with the moral ramifications of that one?

Journalism is a skill without compare in many ways, in that it’s extremely hard to put a value on writing. Most quality stuff rises to the top in journalism but, in the online arms race for more and more content, crap will suffice a lot of the time.

So it’s becoming harder for good writers to stand out in a crowded market. Quite simply, that market isn’t too picky at the moment.

You might provide an article for less than you’d like, but someone else will do it for less. And if they do it for half the amount you would, who’s to say that it’s only half as good? Certainly not the Community Managers scavenging out-of-work journos and bloggers these days for free copy.

I find it hard to blame any journalists who do provide copy for free – that nebulous offers of ‘influence’ and ‘exposure’ may be a valuable one further down the line.

And short of some kind of universal ‘all for one’ stand by writers of every stripe on the planet, refusing to work for free is a rather empty – if noble – gesture, I fear.

To an extent working for free – especially in PR, journalism, advertising – has always been part of the equation, but when companies actively go out soliciting free work from professionals it’s a bridge too far.

What’s to be done? Send a polite but pointed reply turning the offer down?

That’s certainly my choice, but I’m gainfully employed. Who could blame an out-of-work journo or freelance hack for taking a punt?

There is no answer: there’s demand and there’s supply – no amount of wailing or gnashing of teeth is going to do anything about it.

I’m reminded of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists: the powerless and exploited workforces; the lowering of standards; the compromise of quality for a fast buck.

It’s not edifying, but it’s the economic system we live in. Manual workers have been exploited in the way for decades, centuries even. Now it’s the turn of professionals.

Written by Robin Brown

February 2nd, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Journalism

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