Embargo farrago

Axa websitePublic relations (PR) officers from insurer AXA gave the trade press and the national press different embargoes for the same story on Friday.

Embargoed is a small town in Wales, my old ex-national newspaper editor used to say, emphasising the “ed” sound at the end of the word. It looks like AXA’s PR people give the embargo about as much respect.

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The BBC carried a story on a tax hoax phishing email this morning, timed at 01.49. I phoned the out of hours HMRC PR at 9am and he did not have the press release, said he would get it to me about 11am and, so far, still hasn’t.

Why are PRs so completely useless?

Update: After second chase up call, when release was still not ready, it arrived by email at 12.34, saying exactly the same as the BBC was given 11 hours earlier.

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Sunday PR roast

Accountants Ernst & Young issued a press release today (Sunday) but the named PR, Vicky Conybeer, did not have access to a photo of those quoted in the release because she was not in the office.

Why bother releasing it on Sunday or being the named PR if you can’t help working hacks? Continue reading

Council tax post

I finally got the figures I needed – though I had to find some via a link on Local Government Chronicle’s website to the Communities department’s site (new window) that the PR had not found.

Interesting that the chief PR seems to think the response “but will be Monday before I can come back to you” would be OK for a website that runs seven days a week.

When he gets back in on Monday he’ll find several more emails from me and that I have found the missing figure on his own website.

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Poor Govt. Pr

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Taking the rise out of council tax (Daily Finance)

Poor Govt. PR

Big Ben and a streetlight in the dark

Throw some light on it

An email to my MP asking whether I should complain about the Communities PR team to the minister or head of the Civil Service elicited a response, at last.

I called Matthew Gorman there on 15 December. I asked for the amount of council tax collected and the cost of collecting it, plus the amount of council tax benefit paid and the cost of paying it. I was given this information ten years earlier by the predecessor department for an article in the Guardian.

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Tweeting twits

Tweets from #governmentnews are so wrong the person tweeting should be taken out and shot. Journalists should avoid this site because of its inaccurate and misleading information.

Yesterday, 17 January, it tweeted that new donation and funding figures for political parties had been published. This was just baloney. Continue reading

Accessible web

Writing for the web means complying making your website accessible to blind or partially-sighted web users who may be using screen readers.

It is not just that your site may fall foul of the Disability Discrimination Act – if you are providing services to the public – but because there are ethical and logical reasons to do so. Why would you not want as wide an audience to be able to read your website, after all? Continue reading

Blog or bog off

In the past few days I have worked from my Macbook using mobile internet connections from:

  • The top and bottom decks of double decker buses
  • standing up on a London commuter train
  • Seated on a Virgin train
  • On the overground section on a London tube
  • In a Starbucks and a Pret
  • Standing on Oxenholme and Lewisham stations

I have used a mix of my Vodafone dongle and my BT Openworld account. And that is in addition to several other people’s home wireless broadband networks. Continue reading

Wheelchair hero

Andy Barrow in blue Team GB vestI lunched with Andy Barrow, captain of the GB wheelchair rugby team, at the Charlton Park rugby club vice-presidents’ day yesterday.

I follow Andy on Facebook. I was surprised to see him at the club as he is always abroad, usually playing for Team GB in another tournament, though sometimes just on a well-deserved holiday.

He’d just been with some Charlton Park players at the Dubai rugby sevens. He’s off next week to watch the cricket in South Africa.

Facebook friends

Andy follows me on Facebook. “How do you write seven stories before breakfast every day?” he asked. “I have to write one blog a week for the team’s website and it takes me ages.”

If that’s true – and I suspect it was just flattery – writing is one of a short list skills Andy has not mastered. He has become an expert press spokesperson for the team. He has negotiated higher levels of sponsorship from the RFU. And he is learning to be a motivational speaker.

All of that is on top of taking on the team captaincy. He will be captain at the London Olympics and possibly the Olympics beyond that. Andy has broad shoulders – both physically and metaphorically.

Follow the money

I’m going to ring Andy tomorrow and interview him in more detail about the finances involved in getting elite wheelchair athletes to the top of their sports. Andy has to chase up various grants, gifts and sponsorship to fund his sport.

I’ve been reading the NUJ’s guidelines for reporting disability. Well-meaning though they are, they are very hard to stick to.

“Ditch the super-crip stories – they are patronising and set disabled people impossible standards. Report disability sports as you would any other sport,” they begin. So that’s reporting Andy out of the question. And my headline will have me drummed out.

Spanish practices

“Would this be a story if the person was not disabled?” is another question. If the captain of the GB wheelchair rugby team were not disabled, it would be a bigger story. In 2000 Spain’s wheelchair basketball team all jumped out of their wheelchairs after the final whistle. It was a scandal.

“Is the person’s impairment really relevant to the story?” is another question. How can it not be? The players get graded by their level of disability and the team has to maintain a certain average disability score of players on the pitch at any one time.

“Life isn’t a ‘trial over adversity’ – most disabled people don’t see it that way,” the guidelines say. Well I am sorry but other people do see it that way. We’d report nothing interesting if the measure was whether the people doing the interesting thing “don’t see it that way”.

The best

Andy is an extraordinary person. He broke his neck playing rugby aged 17. When I visited him in hospital at the time he was determined to walk again. If anybody could have done, he would. When that dream died he turned to being the best wheelchair rugby player he could be.

I interviewed his doctor for The Guardian, shortly after Andy came out of hospital. He said that stem cell research might actually mean they could make a paraplegic walk again at some point in the future (Andy is tetraplegic – he has limited use of his hands too).

Yesterday I asked Andy about that. He’s happy just the way he is, thanks. He is one of the most level-headed people I know. He is a realist, understands the limitations his sporting career has and is readying himself for a second career afterwards.

He will be just as successful at whatever that is too.

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