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Using social media to kick racism out of soccer

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Twitter and other social media platforms were implicated by the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, in his press conference after the soccer summit at 10 Downing Street aimed at tackling racism in football. Hunt and the FA chairman David Bernstein said, in effect, that while overt racism was now much less a problem inside grounds, outside people were still making racist and homophobic remarks. And while in the past their audience may have numbered just a handful of tiny-minded idiots and those unfortunate enough to overhear the bile spilling out of their twisted mouths, they now have a much wider audience – online.

But legislating against them would be both difficult and, in my view, contrary to the open spirit of the social web. Even trying to outlaw them risks drawing far too much attention to odious individuals who haven’t the courage to make their foul remarks to someone’s face and hide behind the relative anonymity afforded by social network pseudonyms. And with a billion plus social network accounts to monitor we shouldn’t expect the networks themselves to do anything but passive monitoring. We might occasionally persuade the networks and the Internet Service Providers to deactivate the accounts and cut the connections of the worst offenders, but those offenders would soon set up new accounts from new IP addresses.

Better, surely, to simply ignore them. Don’t follow them on Twitter. Don’t retweet their posts – even if only to mock their narrow-mindedness from our lofty, liberal perches. Certainly don’t dignify their comments with comments of our own. Make them social network lepers. Deny them the oxygen of publicity, as we might have said in the old media days.

So here’s my social network manifesto…

Black footballers do a Joey Barton. Gay footballers come out of the closet and start Tweeting so we can follow you and show by simple force of numbers that the overwhelming majority of us – football lovers or not – are decent human beings. Stephen Fry has more than a million followers on Twitter and is a national treasure.

Don’t just let your footballing feet do the talking. Let your tweets do the talking too.

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Sorry seems to be the hardest word

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Forgive the crass comparison but not since Neville Chamberlain shook hands with Adolf Hitler has a handshake (or rather a non-handshake) been so forensically dissected. Of course the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United in 2012 may not match that of Britain and Nazi Germany in 1938 but there doesn’t seem to be much prospect of “peace in our time” between Louis Suarez and Patrice Evra. And the tardy apology issued by the Uruguayan and his boss Kenny Dalglish has been about as passifying as the piece of paper the Prime Minister famously waved on his return from Godesberg.


So what went wrong? The problem can’t have been quantitative – these days the public relations squad at major football clubs is almost as big as the playing squad. Perhaps, then, it was qualitative – poor advice. I suspect it was neither; that the guidance given was both abundant and accurate but simply ignored.

Players and managers paid £100k plus per week are unlikely to value the wisdom of those lucky to see half that much in a year. The solution? Either put PR staff on the same salary as footballers (owners like John Henry and the Glazer family please note) or make following professional advice a contractual obligation.


Rule number one in crisis communications: apologise immediately.

Rule number two: make sure the images the public see convey the same, contrite message.

Liverpool and Suarez broke both.

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The snow was mostly gone. But it lingered in the tramlines where tractors had trodden two months earlier. Then the ground was sticky and the tyres left what, from this distance, looked like the parallel prints of a finger painting.

We followed one of the grooves towards a drift of sheep. For the first half-mile they appeared as white woolen flakes sticking together for warmth and huddled against the hedge line for protection from the easterly wind.

But close up they resolved to a slushy grey. Winter coats tie-dyed with a combination of red clay streaks and blue woad farmers’ marks. Worsted darned with threads of bramble from close encounters with the field boundary. A woven landscape of which we were a part. Warp and weft.

Across the valley, behind a curl of woodsmoke, in a patch of the cloth with the sun still on it, the sheep were scattered. Pearls from a broken necklace rolled across a green carpet.

And in the field at our feet a stooped apple was festooned with mistletoe and garlanded with wool. Nature’s Christmas tree for anyone bothering to wait a while. There, under a priceless chandelier of white berries, we kissed.

Hands held. Eyes locked. And in that one moment physical and emotional landscapes entwined.

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Richard Uridge does Skomer

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OC_SkomerAn experimental trailer for BBC Radio 4’s Open Country programme shot and edited entirely on location by the presenter using only an iPhone4 and iMovie.

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No surprise that a certain be-knighted football club manager should try to ban the reporter with the temerity to ask a question about Rhino. But deeply disturbing that the 199 or so other hacks at the news conference agreed to abide by some PR lackey’s arbitrary rule not to ask the very questions on everyone’s lips. Asking awkward questions – however unwelcome – is at the very heart of being a journalist and once that right is abdicated one becomes a sychophant and a cipher. A sad and sorry example of just how neutered the modern so-called reporter has become. Evidently the swarthy-faced footballer has more balls than a roomful of sheepskin-clad yes men. That starlet, whose name is not dissimilar to the glass of Sanatogen I am sipping as I write this, is clearly a lucky duck. (Note to subs: yes duck).

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Glen Gordon

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Molecule by molecule the mountain is dismantled by the soft but irresistible rain. The beech tree has snagged a scrap of night in its boughs and is holding it hostage to the day. Black wool on a wire fence stirred by the wind but unable to escape.

The rain cloud necklace will not pull him down. Nor the winds that whip and slap his granite face. But this is demolition on a geological span and the fan of broken rock at the mountain’s foot shows elemental forces cannot be resisted.

A lupin flames and flares among the scree, a terrestrial reminder of the fire below. White splash on silver. A heron patrols the loch. His lonely watch a blink in time. The keys to the glen passed from generation to generation.

The cloud is lifting. Now only cobwebs cling to the valley sides. Rejoice! The mountain top survives.

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A FUNGI TO BE WITH – eating wild mushrooms for the BBC

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Sometimes you have to suffer for your art. Take tomorrow’s Open Country programme on BBC Radio 4. There I am scrunching through the leaf litter in the  New Forest looking for wild mushrooms when my guide, the mycologist John Wright (off Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage show), says to me “go on try that one.” So I do. With interesting consequences. Listen out for the sound of spitting tomorrow, Saturday, morning just after six or the following Thursday lunchtime.

And if you can’t catch it on the wireless then you can listen here once it’s been broadcast.

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Approx. reading time: 2 minutes

So at last Tony Hayward has admitted BP was ‘not prepared’ for the Gulf oil spill. In an interview for the BBC’s Money programme – his first since the disaster – the former oil company boss said BP wasn’t ready to deal with the fallout of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the media “feeding frenzy” that followed it. Hayward said as the face of BP he had been “demonised and vilified”, but he understood why.

“If I had done a degree at Rada [The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] rather than a degree in geology, I may have done better, but I’m not certain it would’ve changed the outcome,” he said before adding “But certainly the perception of myself may have been different.”

Tony you could have saved yourself the time and expense of a degree in dramatic art and simply booked a couple of ACM Training’s media, crisis communications and emergency planning courses. They’d have set you back £99 per person or £999 per workshop but think how much you might have saved? The debacle is estimated to have cost BP £30 billion – of which a significant chunk was knocked off the company’s share price simply because of the spectacularly bad PR.

In just one day we could have helped you gaze at the “disaster horizon” and see (without yet another degree – this one in clairvoyance) which direction the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse might be coming from. Then armed with the certain knowledge that if you drill for oil one day that oil is going to get spilt we’d have helped you draw up a very simple media plan complete with a number of straightforward, credible and punchy key messages that even a geologist could deliver.

Sorry for the sarcastic tone Tone but I still cannot quite grasp the fact that a company the size of BP should have been so useless in PR and media terms. There are small business across Britain bp than BP (better prepared than BP).

So if you’re reading this Tony give me a call or drop me a line and avoid another costly mistake in future. And if you’re not Tony Hayward but would like to know how we can help you and your organisation deal with the media in a crisis then why not come along to one of our public crisis communications workshops or book us to deliver crisis comms training in-house? 

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So much writing (and speech for that matter) is lazy. People peck at their keyboards or open their mouths and let whatever comes to mind spill out. Which very often is cliché-laden, jargon-strewn nonsense. Take a look at “50 Office-Speak Phrases You Love to Hate” and you’ll see what I mean.

No excuses. Think before you write. Take Samuel Johnson’s advice. The 18th Century English writer of dictionary fame said: “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” Or Ernest Hemmingway’s. “The first draft of anything is shit.”

Avoid clichés like the plague. Don’t make your readers as sick as proverbial parrots. Please them with your well-crafted words. Let me show you how with one of my writing workshops.