The Secret Sex Shame Behind John Lewis’s Monty The Penguin Ad

John Lewis Christmas ad with Monty the Penguin

Monty the Penguin and schoolboy friend.

Just hours after being released to an expectant public, it seems Monty the Penguin is a big, fat, online viral hit.

John Lewis appears to have scored another home run in its series of schmaltzy, heartstring-tugging but ultimately heart warming Christmas adverts.

Except today someone at the department store – a bastion of middle class sensibilities – will be waking up to the realisation that in choosing the cute, CGI penguin star of the commercial, they have cast the avian equivalent of Jimmy Savile.

And that cannot be a good feeling. Continue reading


Social Media Might Just Save My Life: The Weight of Expectation

Shaun Milne and Iain Pope are Two Fat Laddies

Shaun Milne: weight challenge

“Social media might just save my life” … a sobering thought, isn’t it?

More so when such a raw, sincere statement comes from someone you count as a good friend.

Those were the words journalist Shaun Milne used during the most recent recording of the weekly media podcast we host together, Quiet News Days.

You see, Shaun has just been unveiled as half of Two Fat Laddies. His partner in this is Iain Pope, digital editor at the Daily Record.

Both are top journalists and top blokes who ended 2010 with the stark realisation that their respective weight had become a threat to their health. They are each tipping the scales a lot more than is good for them.

Not for Shaun and Iain the usual New Year resolutions to eat better, cut down on the booze and join a gym.

Nope. Instead they’ve chosen to do something truly radical: a year-long, bellybusting, life-changing programme to shed at least five stone (each).

What makes the task even more daunting is that it will all be carried out in the fiercest glare of public scrutiny they can engineer between them via social media.

That’s likely to be a lot of attention. You’d be hard pushed to find two bigger (no pun intended) evangelists for the new communication tools available through digital and social media.

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Seeing Through The Media Numbers Game Aint As Easy as 1-2-3

The Numbers Game

There’s nothing quite as confounding as the numbers game.

Whether being wilfully misused, skillfully manipulated, or cheerfully misunderstood, numbers can turn ‘facts’ into incomprehensible mush.

Enter stage right the mathematician Matt Parker, who issued a hoax media release at the end of December. It showed an astonishingly clear and powerful link between the number of telephone masts in any given area and an increased birth rate.

All of the figures were accurate and from credible, publicly available sources. Just one snag: these figures showed correlation, not causality. In fact, it is perfectly understandable that the number of births and the number of phone masts would each increase according to the size of population. But one does not cause the other.

Commendably, nobody in the media picked up Matt Parker’s intentionally misleading story, even at the height of the festive silly season.

I came across this tale when it was discussed on Radio 4’s excellent More Or Less show, which takes a light-hearted look behind the stats. I’d heartily recommend subscribing to the podcast

As a student journalist I was introduced to the phrase, lies, damned lies and statistics. The term was popularised by Mark Twain, it is often credited to Benjamin Disraeli. Whoever came up with it gets my eternal thanks. This pithy little quote has since underlined my healthy disdain for any material professing to give some startling, numbers-based insight into our lives.

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Endless Fun With Google Ngrams. A Few Examples to Get You Started.

Google Labs

Without much fanfare search giant Google has launched an incredibly addictive tool upon an unsuspecting world.

It’s called the Ngram Viewer and it quickly gives users a colourful graph which shows how the use of any word or phrase has changed over the last few centuries.

In fact it spans a period (astoundingly) of 500 years, though the best results are reserved for the years between 1800 to 2000. This is possible because Google has been quietly carrying out the digitisation of around 15 million books since 2004.

Now a subset of those books (actually around five million of them, accounting for around 4% of all the books ever published) can be searched for the 500 billion unique words included within them.

What does this mean? Well, in data visualisation terms anyone can now compare the impact certain people, events, names or phrases have made on popular culture down the centuries.

I’ve seen graphs to show how Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley jostled for a place in the social psyche of the last century. Or another showing how El Dorado and Atlantis have vied for position of the most written about mythical places in the English language.

You can also find out why this is likely to be an absolute delight to linguists, wordsmiths and lexicographers of every stripe, as described in this fascinating take (including a bunch of interesting examples) on Joel Segal’s blogThis Guardian article also includes a bunch of interesting Ngrams pulled together by punters, while a fast-growing collection of examples can be found on Twitter at #ngrams.

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How to slice and dice the media to fit the categories in Facebook Groups





There’s never been more amazing time to be involved in the media – but how would you categorise what we do?

Facebook has a pretty clear idea of where we all fit in. And since Mark Zuckerberg’s social network is the biggest of the new kids on the block, I suppose we’d better be paying attention.

If you haven’t already heard, Facebook has set the  social media digerati abuzz this week, with the launch of its new Groups function.

Twitter, techsites and the blogosphere have all been positively oscillating as commentators trip over one another to froth or fume at the networking giant’s latest announcement.

Never one to miss a bandwagon I thought I’d jump on by testing out Facebook Groups for myself.

Since the idea seems to be to engage likeminded people, I planned setting up a Facebook group for those who listen to Quiet News Day (, the weekly media podcast I put together with co-host Shaun Milne.

With his background in journalism, mine in public relations and a joint interest in social media those are three subjects we talk about regularly – while also touching on tech, search, marketing and even advertising.

But when I tried to find a niche for a Quiet News Day Group, I was totally outfoxed by Facebook’s categorisation system.

While, it’s a fairly broad church, I was pretty sure there would be a “media” category. Nope. Here is the rundown of how Facebook has decided to segment those of us in the media game: Continue reading

Jay Rosen: “Ninety Percent of Everything is Crap. There’s Just More Everything Now”

Jay Rosen interview

Jay Rosen in The Economist

This is the stand out quote from a Q&A interview between The Economist and the American journalistic thinker, Jay Rosen:

The media establishment is being shocked into awareness of how fragile its authority and franchise are. Through the fallen gates stream bad actors, good people with no talent, young people who won’t wait, smart people who don’t need anyone’s permission to publish, the people formerly known as your sources, assorted charlatans, paranoids, shysters and fools, and the obsessives who will probably discover the next press. Almost everything remains up for grabs, but the traditional players have not been swept away and so they are in position to grab a lot of it. Some new players will do well too. Ninety percent of everything is crap, but that’s nothing novel. There’s just more everything now.

I commend anyone interested in the future of the media to read the full interview.

Find it at The Economist’s Democracy in America section on line

Hack versus flack? Maybe we all need a smack.



Two unrelated events…

At a Daily Record leaving do, louche sax man (and top class sub – well, he still needs to make a living) Frank Morgan raises a quizzical eyebrow and asks me: “What is it about men of a certain age that they feel the need to go yomping off into the wilds of Knoydart?”

Ten days later Greig Cameron, the tireless engine room of Business 7 newspaper, is left agog when a fluffy PR type phones him and breathlessly inquires: “When does the Daily Record come out?”

At this point let me dip a toe into the rather muddy waters of the hack-v-flack debate (to the uninitiated or just the plain disinterested a “hack” is a journalist and a “flack” is a PR person).

It’s a subject which caught my eye because Kevin Taylor, the President of the CIPR recently wrote on this very subject, asking: Journalists and PRs: can it ever be a marriage?

All of which set me thinking about these two unrelated stories which, for me, perfectly sum up the rather pointless divisions that seem to exist between our two professions.

The rest of this post can be read at the Holyrood Partnership PR blog, HP Sauce