Those Darn PR People, Part XXXIV

It’s a cheap shot, I know, but it’s too good to pass up as an illustration of the need for a bare minimum of research by PR folk before they hit the send button on mass emails to reporters.

I’m not going to name names here, but a ‘leading global communications consultancy’ has just invited the Far Eastern Economic Review, the publication I used to write for, to a media briefing to meet a software company which wants to, the email I’ve just received says, “meet the local media for the first time since the recent opening of the company’s Asia-Pacific Headquarters”.

The problem is, as you all know, that the Far Eastern Economic Review has since last October ceased to exist as a reporting publication and is now a monthly collection of essays about the region written by contributors and put together by a hardworking staff of three. It certainly no longer covers media briefings by tech companies. And it certainly no longer carries my column (which many might say is a good thing.)

Sadly, this merely confirms to me that when the old FEER died, not everybody took as much notice as we employees might have thought. Anyway, I was told by friends to end these PR tirades on a practical and positive note, so here’s a tip to the few PR people who don’t do it already: Check the reporter you’re pitching to (or sending an unsolicited email to):

  • works for a company or publication that still exists;
  • doesn’t have a blog and take an impish delight in drawing attention to your rare missteps;
  • er, that’s it.

For my part I promise not to mention names.

A Wake, And A Wake-Up Call

Just got back from a ‘wake’ for the Far Eastern Economic Review, which, after 58 years, went monthly last October under the ownership of my employer, Dow Jones. I won’t get into the politics of that decision, but it did occur to me, listening to some eminent former FEER personnel talking this evening, that three things go into a publication like FEER, if you ignore distribution, financing, marketing and the non-editorial side. And it’s worth considering, from a blogger’s point of view.

First is material. You’ve got to have good material. Not just off-top-of-head stuff like this, but real material, gotten by use of footwear, dialling numbers or other forms of real digging.

Second, editing. Common wisdom is that material is no good if it’s not written and edited well. This includes writing style — an important part of traditional media that sucks up a lot of the whole publishing process.

Third, production. I’m an editor right now. A lot of our time is spent on layout, fitting stories to length and making everything look nice.

If you look at this from a post-print, blogging perspective, only the first remains a necessity. Editing? If we can write ok, who cares if it’s brilliantly written? I think it was Paul Graham who characterised as incongruous some NYT reporting when read in a blogging context. Print media need to look closely at how stories are written and why they’re written that way, and ask: Does it need to be like that anymore?

The last thing: production. Blogs, by their nature, involve very little production. In fact, part of the beauty of blogging is not just the lack of effort in producing something (write it up, post it. If it needs editing again, edit it), but in the fact that it looks good on the page. Blogs, well most blogs, actually have strong production values built in. It’s hard for a blog not to look nice on the page. Some look wonderful, really very aesthetically pleasing. At worst they look like this, a bog-standard TypePad template I’m too lazy to change. But who cares? You’re probably reading it in a RSS reader anyway, or using GreaseMonkey to tweak the formatting. (Then there’s efforts at standardising this sort of thing a little more, like StructuredBlogging.)

The bottom line is: Blogging is a powerful publishing force, not just a voice. Blogging has established a way to publish on the net and be noticed, without huge capital and design resources. Traditional media need to look at that and realise that the battle is not going to be over allocating resources to the second and third elements of the game I mentioned above, but the first. It’s going to be about material. It’s not going to be about the medium. Blogging — and the Internet — has already won that round.

A Geek’s Lexicon

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 1 May 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c)   2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
It’s unsurprising, given the kind of people who design and play with computers, but I’ve always felt there to be a chronic shortage of terms to describe what we actually do with our technology. So I’ve come up with some of my own. And, in case I’m accused of merely adding words to the English language, I’ve used existing words, in this case from the villages of the United Kingdom (I make no claim for originality here; the late author of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, did it first with a marvellous book called The Meaning of Liff. I also offer a nod in the direction of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter). Here’s my contribution (these are all real place names, so my apologies in advance to offended residents):
appledore (n) Someone who touts the superior benefits of Macintosh computers at parties, even after the dancing has started.   

aynho (n) Someone who forwards inane jokes, hoax virus alerts and cutesy e-mails to everyone in their address book, however much they’re asked not to. Usage: Who is the aynho that keeps sending Saddam  jokes?

biggleswade (v) The process of scouring through tonnes of Word files, spreadsheets, and e-mails to find a crucial document. As in: I’ve been biggleswading all afternoon and I still can’t find the dang thing.   

branksome (adj) A temperamental Internet connection. The Net’s been really branksome today.  

chettle (collective n) The debris, such as crumbs, dead insects and lint, that gets stuck inside your computer keyboard.

chew magna (v) When your floppy or ZIP drive, instead of reading a disk, grindingly destroys it.   

chipping norton (n) The point a PC reaches when it requires the use of an error-fixing program such as Norton Utilities. As in: I’m   sorry, guv, but your computer’s chipping norton.

crackington haven (n) A Web site that is home to ne’er-do-well hackers, crackers and credit-card fraudsters.   

cridling stubbs (n) The stunted, misshapen fingers and thumbs of teenagers who have spent too long sending text messages on their cellphones.

devizes (n) Gadgets you bought, used once and then, realizing they took up more time than they saved, threw in a drawer.   

fiddleford (n) A person who jabs away on a personal digital assistant in public places.

fladdabister (n) A sore or bruise that appears shortly before the onset of cridling stubbs (qv).   

foindle (v) The (usually) unconscious act of stroking a much loved gadget in public.

fugglestone (v) Frustration experienced after failing to   master an item of hardware or software. I’ve spent three hours on this dumb   program and I’m completely fugglestoned. (Not in polite usage.)   

gnosall (n) A person who frequents newsgroups and appears to know the answer to everything, while having no apparent qualifications or job.

hanslope (n) The slouch adopted when text messaging in public.   

hayling (n) The gesture made by someone answering his hand-phone during a meeting or meal, signifying it’s important and they’ll be with you in a minute.

hordle (v) The noise a modem makes when it is trying to connect to the Internet. As in: My modem isn’t working. I can’t hear it   hordle. (Also see millom)   

inchgrundle (v) To assist, reluctantly and grudgingly, a customer with their recently purchased computer.

keevil (n) A small icon residing in your Windows system   tray, the purpose of which remains a mystery.   

lostwithiel (n) The remote area not covered by your cellphone operator. As in: I would have called you, boss, but I was in lostwithiel.

melbury bubb (n) The noise of people talking on their handphone on public transport, unaware they are driving fellow commuters to distraction. How was your day, dear? Fine, but the melbury bubb on the train   home was awful. What’s for dinner?  

melplash (n) An annoying window that pops up on your screen   when you’re trying to do something important.

millom (n) The period of blissful silence when, after hours   of fiddling with settings and wall sockets, your modem no longer hordles   (qv) and connects to the Internet.   

much wenlock (n) The belated realization that you’ve been typing with the cAPS lOCK oN.

odstock (n) Gadgets and peripherals you can no longer use because you’ve lost the cables, software or power adaptor for them.   

padstow (n) The place where all your mousepads mysteriously head for when they go missing from your desk.

puncknowle (n) A geeky teenager who knows the answer to all your computer problems but never seems to actually get around to fixing them. 

scrooby (adj) When a computer screen starts behaving oddly for no apparent reason. Common usage: Jeremy can you come round and take a look at my computer? It’s gone all scrooby again.

swaffham bulbeck (n) The pseudo-authoritative spiel delivered by computer-store staff in the hope of browbeating a sale. As in:   I tried to find out which was the best computer to buy but the guy just gave me a load of swaffham bulbeck. I’m not going back to that store again.

tibshelf (n) The area near your computer where you keep software and hardware manuals you never refer to.   

ufton nervet (n) The suspense experienced upon rebooting a crashed computer, fearing that valuable data has been lost.

upper tooting (n) An insister error beep, the source of which cannot be identified. As in: I have no idea what the problem is, the   thing just keeps upper tooting.  

wantage (n) The shortfall between your present computer’s capacity and that required to run the program you just bought.

whitnash (n) The pain in your shoulder at the end of a long laptop-carrying trip. As in: The trip went fine, but I’ve got serious   whitnash and need a bubble bath. What’s for dinner?

Loose Wire Reopens For Business at The AWSJ

Today is the launch of Loose Wire in The Asian Wall Street Journal, following the shift of my old homestay, the Far Eastern Economic Review, to a monthly newsletter format. Of course Dow Jones own both publications, so it’s not that great a change; the column actually used to appear there a few years back, when it was just called Asian Technology. So in a sense I’m going home, although I’ll miss the FEER folks, who were an excellent and motley crew.

I’m not quite sure of the link to the AWSJ stories and columns, but for sure they’ll be subscription only. The permanent home to my column at WSJ.com is this, where Loose Wire will continue to appear. I’ll pass on more when I know it. Oh, and I still do my spot on the BBC World Service’s World Business Report. (More on that here.)

For readers of the AWSJ, thanks for reading. For FEER readers, I hope you’ll come across. For pure blog readers, none of this will mean that much to you. But thanks for reading anyway. This blog will continue to go on as before, and will act as a repository for extra bits and pieces that I couldn’t manage to fit in the AWSJ column.

Oh, and further to my piece in today’s Personal Journal on telecommuting, here are a couple of suggestions for wannabe teleworkers that we didn’t have space for on the page:

  • If you want to be mobile in the house, you still need to think about surfaces. Laptops are too hot to have in your lap, and while commercials show people happily working with laptops resting on their bed, on the carpet or on their spouse’s stomach, in real life this doesn’t happen without lawsuits. Buy a laptop rest, such as the Laptop Desk from Lapworks ($30) or the Intrigo Lapstation (which may, sadly, be out of business, as I can’t get into their website. This was a great product, since it not only served as a good work surface, but also doubled as a portable table you can use on the floor, in bed, or by the pool.)
  • For those wedded to the desk, I’d recommend buying a second monitor for your computer. Most desktop computers and laptops support spreading your display across two screens, and with prices of flat screen LCD monitors falling, it’s a no-brainer to buy one. Trust me: It’s a great timesaver to be able to read stuff on one screen, and type on the other. Just make sure your computer supports dual monitors before you buy.

If you’ve got any more tips for telecommuters, please let me know.

Sad News For The Review

Sad news: As of today, the Far Eastern Economic Review, primary home to the Loose Wire column for the past few years, has ceased publishing as a weekly magazine. That means that the column will move elseswhere, although WSJ.com readers will continue to be able to read it online. For FEER and other readers, please do drop me an email if you’d like to be kept informed of the column’s new home once I’ve decided where it’s going to be.

Loose Wire blog will continue as usual.

A Directory Of RSS Variants

This week’s Loose Wire column is about how to get RSS feeds without too much palaver.

Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at WSJ.com (subscription required). Old columns at feer.com here.

Here’s some other stuff I wasn’t able to include in the column for reasons of space (I’ve removed the blurb, but all are worth checking out. More detailed reviews to follow). All involve feeds in some form or another, but aren’t straight standalone RSS readers, either because they’re web-based or because they do other stuff as well. Additions/corrections/opinions as welcome as ever.

This week’s column – Beat the bugs

This week’s Loose Wire column is about cleaning viruses:

IF YOUR COMPUTER is infected by a virus, Trojan, worm or some other nasty slice of code, never fear: Worst comes to worst, you can call on a 60-year-old retired Australian lab technician who goes by the on-line nickname of Pancake.

Though he wouldn’t put it this way himself, Ed Figg (his real name) is living proof of the failure of anti-virus companies, firewall manufacturers and Microsoft to keep us safe from viruses. Given that we each spend about $100 a year for software to protect our computers, you’d think that would leave us safe. But no. Ed the Pancake, and dozens like him, spend up to eight hours a day on-line as unpaid experts helping other users with problems–most of them viruses that have slipped past their computer’s defences. So what should you do if you think it’s happened to you?

Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at WSJ.com (subscription also required). Old columns at feer.com here.

This week’s column – Hard-Disk Hunters

This week’s Loose Wire column is about hard disk indexers, a topic familiar to those of you reading this blog. 

CONSIDER THIS: Your hard drive probably contains more info than you could ever imagine. Say you’ve got a modest hard drive of 20 gigabytes. That’s the equivalent of about 20 copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Or 20,000 floppy disks. That’s a lot of stuff, and, chances are, you have little or no idea what’s actually on there or, if you do, how to find it. Be ignorant no more: Help is at hand.

Now, I know we’ve been here before. One of my bugbears has been the lack of a decent program to find files on your computer. By this I don’t mean looking for anything particularly obscure, just your last letter home, or the e-mail you got from the accounts department demanding your expense report from covering the Burma Campaign. Simple stuff, and it’s always annoyed me that Internet search engines do this so much better on the world wide Web than they do on our own Word files or e-mails. (Mac fans will chime in at this point and say they’ve always had this feature; Windows fans will say XP has its own search-and-index function. But, with respect to both groups, I’d say neither is particularly useful and, in the case of XP’s, practical. It’s clunky, hard to figure out, and slows your computer down to a snail’s pace.) But now sharp new programs promise to do something about this, and they are aimed directly at the casual user who just wants to find stuff, without a lot of fuss.

In the column I mention most of the indexers listed here. Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at WSJ.com (subscription required). Old columns at feer.com here.

This week’s column – Get a Grip On Your Inbox

This week’s Loose Wire column looks at email and offers some tips on blowing off the cobwebs on your inbox and getting organized.

GIVEN THE AMOUNT of time we spend handling our e-mail–checking it, reading it, writing it, occasionally clicking on attachments we suspect we probably shouldn’t–you’d think we would do a better job of organizing it.

If you’re anything like the rest of the world, nearly every e-mail you’ve ever received sits in your inbox, gathering dust, cobwebs and the digital equivalent of bedsores. Some of them appear to date back to the Magna Carta. Your basic attitude towards e-mail is to read it when it comes in, and then, if you work for the government or any company with more than 10 employees, forward it to as many colleagues as possible in the hope that you won’t actually have to do anything more about it. The same applies to outgoing e-mail: You write it, usually with a revealing and helpful subject title like “Meeting” or “Proposal” and then send it, retaining only the haziest idea of whether you still have a copy of it and, if so, where it might be.

Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at WSJ.com (subscription required). Old columns at feer.com here.

For the column I took a look at some newish products on the market, including a new version of Bloomba, a new email/organizer from Poco Systems called Barca and Thunderbird, the free email sister of browser Firefox.

Knowledge Management, Corporate Blogging, and Scobleizer

This week I wrote a couple of pieces on Knowledge Management for the Far Eastern Economic Review — a sort of overview of KM for the layman, and a column on corporate blogging, centred around Robert Scoble. (Both are subscription only, I’m afraid. The WSJ version of the column will appear here next week.) Here’s a taster:

ONCE UPON A TIME there was an evil bespectacled king called Bill who ran nearly 98% of the world, imposing on it bloated software solutions and enslaving it in usurious licensing agreements. Resentment of Bill was so widespread that all the king’s public relations and philanthropic works couldn’t put his image back together again. Then, one day, along came a rather chubby computer marketer called Robert Scoble who, via his on-line journal, or blog, turned it all around. Suddenly everybody liked the king again and bought all his products. (Well, at least, they didn’t resent him quite so much, and even spoke to him at parties.)

Anyway, I wanted to thank everyone who helped me get my brain around KM, and my apologies to those I couldn’t include in the piece, and to those who feel I got it all, or any of it, horribly wrong. As a journalist, I can honestly say writing about KM is not easy.