Phone hacking reverberations - rising media wariness

It's only personal, anecdotal evidence - nothing scientific here - but over the past two or three months, we at Hatch have noticed a marked difference in the level of wariness people have in dealing with the media. I'm wondering if other PRs are noticing this, too. Furthermore, I'm wondering if this is an immediate effect of the phone hacking scandal - the extent to which has only been exposed in the same time period - and has emerged as one of the most egregious attacks on privacy the media has conducted in nearly a decade. Of course, it was only one publication committing offense, hardly the whole sector - a publication that, sadly, people are still buying - but the effect seems to have reverberated across journalism as a whole. (But the question obviously still lingers, was it really just the News of the World, or is this typical everyday practice at the tabloids?)

It used to be that people in the tech sector (where Hatch mainly does business) were chomping at the bit to talk to me about what their technology was, what it did, whom it did it for, etc. In 2011, people are extremely quick to jump to the default "none of this can go to the press, by the way," line, glancing at me nervously as if I'm going to email my notes of the conversation to the BBC or the Financial Times the minute he or she turns her back. (And as if these world-class publications had been holding their front page for said notes.) They then drop their tone to a whisper and start giving me yes or no answers to innocuous questions such as, 'how long have you been using the technology?'

Obviously, I'm used to some level of wariness, and believe all media spokespeople should have an amount of it, particularly when dealing with the UK press. But lately it seems like a deep-seeded fear that innermost secrets will be exposed, jobs will be lost, and all hell will break loose if a PR goes anywhere near valuable information.

We're interested if other media professionals have noticed this increasing wariness, and whether you have other explanations for it. Further, what impact will this have on our industry, when we are paid to talk about stuff, and no one wants to talk?


Skeletons in your closet: dead physical media

No one was surprised by this month's admission by HMV that it is dying a slow death. The closure of 60 stores was announced immediately after the New Year, as people race to buy media online rather than visiting their favourite bricks and mortar. I recently had my fingers burnt trying to buck the trend. Wanting to send my father a physical copy of the Fisherman's Friend album for Christmas, I went to HMV. The salesfolk couldn't find the one copy that was meant to be on the shelves, but wasn't in the right place, and navigating the shop was like being caught in a hot, sweaty game of Labyrinth. My dad got a jar of marmalade instead.

We want music digitally because it's easier, but also because everywhere across the UK cobwebs can be found in the under-the-stairs closet covering untouched DVDs, software discs, CDs and games. There is no good use for the physical media that goes completely untouched once the media or application has been uploaded onto a computer, mp3 player or iPad. Herein lies the problem for all high street retailers.

The interesting question is not why this is happening, or whether it will continue (of course it will), but rather whether digital media sales will ever add up to what physical media sales did in its heyday. Many argue that the music industry will never enjoy the sales it once did, especially in the age of piracy (and in my opinion, the age of Simon Cowell). In 2009, total album sales fell 7 per cent, according to the Official Charts Company. Though digital sales rose more than 30 per cent, the physical sales shortage was greater. (Source: FT.com)

We think that just like with music, when it comes to software, the newest trend is not buying discs, having them posted to you (thereby paying delivery fees) and uploading them onto your computer. Rather, downloading directly from the internet enables users to bypass the entire discs-in-the-post, discs-to-discard loop. Though most major software manufacturers still haven't gotten in the game, insisting on sending discs in the post, smart online retailers are jumping on the trend. It is a way for online retailers to give back to the customer in the form of convenience and lack of delivery fees, and most importantly, saving the planet. But analysts agree that retailers must offer special features and a never-ending cycle of moneysaving deals to entice the customer in shark-filled waters.

For those readers wanting to know how to recycle old DVDs or CDs rather than feeding the nearest landfill, this blog post by ReduceReuseRecycle mentions a few ways, including the gardener's favourite: turning them into digital scarecrows. Maybe someday physical media will disappear altogether rather than losing its value in such an unsavoury fashion. I passed a charity shop in Birmingham the other day that advertised "£1 for a carrier bag of videos (VHS)." We're not too far off seeing the same loss in value of CDs and DVDs.


Christmas gift ideas for gadget heads

I went looking for Christmas inspiration, needing ideas on what to get my husband this year, and I found some unique gift sites for gadget heads:

*Gift Ideas
Lots of unique, very random gifts. Will shortly be buying my brother-in-law the 'badass motherf*cker' Pulp Fiction wallet and my husband the denture ice cube tray. (Probably best not to ask.....)

*Hammacher Schlemmer
Fabulous gifts for the gadget-minded. I'm not sure what their international shipping policy is, mind. It's from the US.

Some excellent deals on software this holiday season. Direct downloads, no discs-in-the-post nonsense. I've got my eye on Dragon NaturallySpeaking to speed up the process of completing my novel.

Ok, ok - disclaimer - Softwareload is a client. Shameless plug: we disclosed some interesting Yougov research statistics last Friday on online shopping habits, found here.

See how I did that?

Merry Christmas shopping!


How I rekindled my Facebook love affair

(by Emily McDaid)

Having used FB heavily for upwards of three years, I started to notice a change in my attitude towards my friend Facebook. I'll refer to Facebook as a 'he'.

He was starting to bother me. Not just when I was logged in, physically using him to look at my newsfeed or to get in touch with friends. I was thinking about him when I wasn't logged in, but not in a good way. He was starting to interfere with my thought processes. I was becoming paranoid that my activities with him were putting my innermost thoughts and information out there for everyone to see, while keeping me from updating people I actually liked. I was worried that my 'friend' was actually a gaping security and privacy hole in my life -- and could potentially affect my life in a profound way. He was connecting me to people who I didn't really know, and didn't really want to know. And more importantly I didn't really want them to know me.

So, I closed my Facebook account. Immediately, I felt much better. However, I have a lot of friends who live across the pond. They put a lot of pictures and fun information on Facebook. I missed being in synch with their lives. Email just wasn't the same.

So I set up a new Facebook account with a different name and birthdate, starting a new gmail account to receive the endless (and completely, utterly redundant) FB notifications. It was an alias account. Some of my friends laughed at me, others said it was really smart and they wanted to follow suit (and some actually followed suit). My husband thinks it's weird. (But he's not really that technically savvy, so I don't think he really understands why I did it. And because he has a job where he deals with the general public everyday, I think he should do it too.)

Anyway, the point of this blog is that my new alias account rocks. I love Facebook again. I have 35 friends who I actually like. I can see their updates in my newsfeed because it's not overtaken by random people I don't really know. In one fell swoop I deleted old pictures I didn't really want people rifling through anymore, I deleted personal info that on retrospect I didn't really want online and I deleted false friendships that weren't adding anything to my life. It was worth being laughed at by the odd few.

There are much better articles available by people who understand security and privacy issues much better than I do. But here is why I chose to surf Facebook with an alias:

It has become nearly impossible to delete old stuff off Facebook, meaning that, for heavy users, FB is essentially an online diary of everything you've done in the past X years. That really bothered me, but I couldn't delete things easily.

Facebook's nonchalent association with Face.com's picture recognition software freaks me out. A lot.

I don't want to be anywhere near that "People you may know" tool, because I didn't want to grow my friend base with random schoolmates anymore, but you can't opt out of it.

I absolutely despise that sidebar application that draws up old photo albums. I had people who I just met in 2010 commenting on stuff that I had uploaded in 2007. Weird.

It was connecting me to people I really didn't want to be connected with.

My newsfeed was out of control with said people's random updates I didn't really care about.

I was paranoid that with the correct spelling of my name, my real email address, and my birth date, people who really weren't that skilled at hacking could steal my identity far too easily.

It really, really annoys me that you can't opt out of tagging - so anyone can tag anything of you they want. Even that picture of you holding a gigantic bottle of gin.

In a nutshell, Facebook's privacy and security settings are a complete farce. They are dumb, they don't give you any real privacy or security and I would go so far as to say FB has become irresponsible with the data it holds on 250 million people. Having watched The Social Network, it appears other people believe Facebook to be a largely irresponsible organisation too.

I dare say I'm on the cusp of a trend - if FB doesn't start tightening its privacy controls, more and more people will start using alias accounts.

What do you think?


Blogger on leave. I repeat - blogger on leave.

Hi Readers,

Just a quick note from this blogger to say, thanks for all the attention and support over the past year or so since Re:medial's inception. You have probably noticed our blogging has slowed down. This is primarily because I'm off on maternity leave now for my first baby. So, thanks for reading and we'll kick things off again after my maternity leave.

I put up a little tribute to PR in my Facebook status which I'll repeat here for your pleasure :-)

"Farewell to being a spin dr for now. Bye, press releases, briefings & conferences. So long, dealing with the overworked and underpaid press corps. Farewell to the constant battle against hyperbole and broken English. Ciao, inventing news out of thin air, pitching non-stories to irate journalists & teaching clients to employ the lethal cocktail of charm, evasion and persuasion. Bye, PR - catch you on the flip side!"