Robin Brown

Doing journalism. Teaching journalism.

Archive for February, 2010

20 things you shouldn’t do on Twitter

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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

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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