Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Express makes a Twit of itself

Unbelievably, it appears to have taken two Sunday Express typists, David Jarvis and David Stephenson, to pull together an inept wannabe-expose into the BBC's use of Twitter:


Do you see? It's a joke, because 'Twitter' sounds a bit like 'twit'. I wonder why nobody has noticed that before, eh?
STAFF at the BBC are sending thousands of Twitter messages – even though they are not reaching anyone.

What does that actually mean?
The BBC Radio 2 site, which gathers messages, or “tweets”, from presenters such as Chris Evans, Jonathan Ross and Alan Carr, has no followers.

The Radio 2 site actually sends the odd Tweet from staff at Radio 2 about the programmes, but not by or from Chris Evans. Oh, and the "no followers"? 12,470 at time of writing.

That's a bit of a miscount. Or perhaps lie.

Or maybe David and David are confused. There is a Twitter account called BBCRadio2 (without the underscores), which is unofficial. And even that account - with no tweets at all - has got 155 followers. It isn't following anyone. Could that be where the confusion has set in?

But even the Sunday Express wouldn't confuse 'a fake account not following anyone' with 'a genuine account not being followed by anyone', would they?

It turns out they might be confused:
The BBC Radio 5 Live site, run by presenter Victoria Derbyshire, has just two.

As this screengrab shows, Victoria is following just two people. But, erm, she's being followed by over three and a half thousand.

It gets worse, though:
Other Twitter sites at the Corporation uncovered by the Sunday Express include BBC Tamil, BBC Vietnam and BBC Southend.

"Uncovered by the Sunday Express"? This isn't the thalidomide scandal, you've typed 'BBC' into the search box, didn't you?

And why should it be surprising that the World Service has Twitter accounts? There's massive audiences for the network around the world; I get the snarky implication - the two Davids are hoping their readers will somehow think that licence-fee staff are poking out messages about tonight's EastEnders to Vietnam for no apparent reason. They really do underestimate their readers over at the Express, don't they?
Some accounts are duplicated – BBC Arabic has 2,244 followers while Arabic BBC has just 122.

But they're not duplicated. One is from World Service Radio, one is from the commercial World Television service. It's like seeing there's a BBC Radio 1 and a BBC One, and assuming they're the same thing.

Even if you're too dull to know that there are two distinct Arabic services, you can surely spot the content of the tweets are different, David? Or you could ask David to help you?

The two Davids worry that perhaps their readers might not even know what a Twitter is. Clearly, neither do they:
Twitter accounts, whose followers track daily tweets from other followers, are like emails between friends but shorter and open to everyone signed up to the site.

At least they got the name right, I suppose. They didn't call it Tweeter, or Twitterbook.
... whose followers track daily tweets from other followers ...

Hello, Daily Express reader. You might not understand Twitter. It's really quite simple, though - followers track daily tweets from other followers. They follow the followers. No, let me explain - these followers do a daily tweet, and they follow other followers who are following their follows... Hang on. Let's try that again:
like emails between friends but shorter and open to everyone signed up to the site

Yes, so they're like emails. Between friends. Except they're not, they're shorter than emails. And don't go between friends, they go between everyone signed up to the site. Who follow them. And... look: IT'S FAIRLY NEW AND ON THE INTERNET AND THUS IT MUST BE WRONG. And evil.

So the story is really coming together - we've got some blatant lies, some pathetic confusion, and an explanation that is neither accurate nor clear. What we'd really need now is some sort of quote from a person in a position of responsibility saying how terrible this all is. But since there's not actally an "all this" being terrible, where would you find a chump willing to honk off about it?

Hey... does anyone have a number for Tory central office?
Tory MP and former Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe said: “This seems like a very odd use of time, particularly as the people tweeting are paid by the licence payer. It is yet another example of the BBC not understanding that it is funded by the licence payer.”

Ann Widdecombe? She thinks Twitter is an "odd use of time", does she? That's hardly surprising - Widdyweb not withstanding, she does seem to approach anything invented after about 1853 as if it's somehow 'odd'. You suspect she still struggles with the idea of 'listening at a walnut cabinet to news coming out of a loudspeaker'. Why is it 'odd' to spend time connecting with your audiences? Blue Peter used to send a letter to every child who sent something in. That was time-consuming, and resource intensive, but it made sense because it was part of making sure everyone felt part of the BBC. Which is right, because we all pay for it.

Still, it's good of Ann to lecture the BBC about not understanding stuff. Although since at least three of the accounts "uncovered" by the Express aren't, erm, funded by the licence payer (World Service drawing cash from grant-in-aid and World Television a commercial operation sitting under BBC Worldwide) she might want to brush up her own understanding before knee-jerking.
While the BBC insists the accounts on Twitter are free to set up, many BBC ­correspondents are sometimes “tweeting” up to 20 times a day during work hours.

Yeah, damn the BBC with it's "oh, the accounts are free to set up", just because they're free to set up. They've got an answer for everything.

Incidentally, can anyone explain the reason why sometimes the Express uses quotes around tweet and tweeting, and sometimes not?

It's true that - perhaps - some BBC staff are sending up to 20 tweets a day - which would add up to all of forty minutes at most, but given that the Express hasn't even attempted to explain why this is a bad thing, it's a bit like complaining that some continuity announcers are making as many as four announcements in an hour.

To be fair, the Express does quote someone from the BBC:
A BBC spokesman said: “Social media websites are an effective way of engaging with our audiences.

“Twitter is a free service and BBC accounts are popular with many users.”

- which is, awkwardly, demonstrably true.

Still, having thrown down the gauntlet about how connecting with your readers, viewers and listeners is a pointless overhead, the Express does at least practice what it screeches:
Have your say is unavailable for this story

Of course it is.


Anonymous said...

"This seems like a very odd use of time"

Something that could be said of Widdecome's entire career - paid for by the tax payer.

I'll never really understand this argument. I mean if the Express have a twitter (I'm not making odd use of my time to check) then that is presumably a waste of Express buyer's money?

James said...

The hacks presumably realise that a lot of the BBC's Twitter accounts are simply automatically-generated feeds from the website, e.g. Sending out the latest headlines and links to the website?

Tsk! Encouraging licence-payers to visit the website and get the most for their money. Those bastards...

Captain-Awesome said...

Excellent post. David and David are very lucky to have jobs.

Robin Carmody said...

What must it say about the Express titles that even Peter Hitchens - I repeat, *even Peter Hitchens* - is now so embarrassed by them that he won't even say which paper he used to work for?

Unknown said...

How i wish that this expose could be front page news.
So much fear and ignorance out there- i suppose that makes the Express representational, somehow, but surely the fearful and ignorant deserve better journalism?
Great piece.

A Very Public Sociologist said...

Typical moronic crap from the Express. Why do people buy this paper? As a general rule even Tory blogs are better than this sorry excuse for a publication - and they're free!

Chris Bardell said...

Nice post :-)

Staggeringly inept, even for one of Dirty Des's rags.

Ciarán Norris said...

Considering all the cuts at the Express, the two people writing this were probably delivering the post a year ago.

That said, there is a nugget of a point here: yes, they get following and followers mixed up, but even so, is 3.5k really worth mentioning for the presenter of a radio show with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of listeners?

When one considers that Richard Bacon is (I think) the most followed Brit on Twitter (and he works for the Beeb), perhaps there should be some guidance on whether they're making the best use of their time, and Twitter.

Perhaps, dare I say it, for some audiences, it's just not a very relevant medium.

Neil Boothman said...

An excellent post...

duckie said...

Better still, Widdecombe was using a Twitter account of her own, as well as a website, until December last year. These were paid for by the BBC (a very odd use of their and her time, and doesn't she realise she's funded by the taxpayer?) as part of a forthcoming telly programme on utilising the internet as a tool of democracy, or something. Or is it a tool of hypocrisy? With Widdecombe it's often very hard to tell the difference.

junklight said...

Surely buying the paper itself is the thing that is "...a waste of Express buyer's money?"

The depressing thing is that large parts of the country still think that the internet is full of frivolous evil and will happily cheer on the destruction of the BBC only to discover one day there is no BBC and the quality of TV and radio in this country is pitiful.

Anonymous said...

"The article you are looking for does not exist. It may have been deleted."


Writing a poorly conceived article then deleting it when you're caught out seems like an odd use of time.

TC said...

Excellent post :)

James said...

I bet someome at can answer the questions raised in the comments.

Anonymous said...

Google still has a cache of the Express article

Anonymous said...

One of the Davids is so gud at riting that he rote a buk abowt it:

Anne said...

I came across this article from, aptly, a Twitter RT. And no wonder it was RT'd: a very well-written piece, which has made for a most entertaining use of my time this Monday afternoon!

Richie said...

It's worth mentioning that BBC Click has over 1.75 MILLION FOLLOWERS. Posting a tweet on there promoting the BBC is an incredibly efficient use of BBC staffers' time. To get a message to an equivalent number of TV viewers would cost a few hundred grand at least. The entire Daily Express article (and organisation) is shoddy, depressingly weak on research and founded on strong opinions that are entirely based on assumption and hearsay rather than fact

George said...

This article has now been removed by the Express, but they're still advertising the article on the site - see this image:

SJNR said...

I assume that this David Stephenson is the same David Stephenson who ends his his weekly TV column in the Express by telling his readers to follow him on Twitter (@pindarri)?

Anonymous said...

This is what you see when you try to access the Daily Express twitter feed. Oh the irony. Classic...

Anonymous said...

^ (correction) that's the Sunday Express twitter feed - as the article was published originally on the Sunday.

David Stephenson said...

For a broadcaster that strives for "universal access", tweeting strikes me as a minority activity that is unlikely to be supported by a majority of licence fee payers.

Robin Carmody said...

"A majority of licence fee payers" means whatever you want it to mean. There is a significant subset of the audience out there who feel increasingly disconnected from traditional media - bear in mind that if the BBC is going to survive (do you want it to?) it will have to gain long-term legitimacy among that coming generation. This method of contact with the public, whose entire use throughout the BBC probably costs far less than one episode of Doctor Who, makes many people who might otherwise feel alienated and isolated from the BBC feel as though they are part of it. They pay the licence fee as well - and will even more in future, if it survives of course (which would be no thanks to the Express).

If you believe that past models can and should survive without alteration you should be calling for a return to Reithian rigour - but why do I suspect that the very same hacks, such as yourself no doubt, who now talk about "dumbing down" would go on about "elitism" should such a change occur (perhaps forced on the BBC by your own beloved Tories)?

Anonymous said...

fair play for stevo posting, if it be the real one. But isnt universal access achieved by using multiple channels of communication? If the beeb started printing minoriyy newspapers, then you have a point.

Robin Carmody said...

Another way of putting this: if you are going to gain "universal access" these days tweeting is *part* of that. We are no longer living in an environment where everyone gets their cultural tastes and model of social existence top-down. No doubt the Express wishes we were, if only because it might then sell four million copies a day again.

Irregular Shed said...

It has been established that the three most pointless things on the planet are the pope's testicles and the opinion of the Express.

Robin Carmody said...

At least the Mail is (unfortunately) an influential, high-circulation paper. What it says makes a difference. That once applied to the Express, but no longer.

Instead the Express - which in the era it yearns for sold more copies every day than any paper does now - is an incompetent imitation of the Mail, just as the Daily Star is an incompetent imitation of the Sun. Their respective circulations make clear that even their target audiences can tell the difference between a well-targeted, professional product and a cheap imitation. Indeed Richard Desmond's rags are the most pointless and purposeless things in the world: unpopular populism.

Peter Edwards said...

Goddamn the BBC World Service, wasting FCO money creating a Twitter account in staff's own (unpaid) time at the weekend to marshal messages to #haiti earthquake victims and helpers.
And the Twitter channel they ran in the #iranelection which was the only way the people in Iran behind the firewall could get at the video stories they uploaded themselves from their mobile phones while their own police shot them.
And how about giving breaking news stories to the Arabic world to counter Al-Qaeda propaganda.
What can the BBC World Service be thinking?
Oh wait - they're doing their job and *exactly* what the FCO funded them to do!
I do hope Ann Widdecombe was hoodwinked by The Express and gives them "what for" when she realises what a laughing stock they are making of her.
Needless to say, the "Flat Earth News"-style expose here tells you everything you ever needed to know about lazy, inaccurate and careless journalism from the Express.

Andy Mabbett said...

David Stephenson has a blog, too:

With comments!

Anonymous said...

Small point - Arabic TV is not commercial, it's World Service grant-in-aid funded too. Otherwise, good response!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

It's interesting that the original article is no longer available on the web site. A cached version's here though:

Anonymous said...

Is David Stephenson tweeting to no-one?

Following 13
Followers 33

myinfamy said...

I wonder if these right-wing rag writers fell from the stupid tree & hit every branch on the way down? And using the testament of ancient dinosaur Ann Widdecombe is hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Very very funny. This is one of the best posts I've read in a very long time.

Robin Carmody said...

Odd to look back on this.

I can bet that lots of people who were moaning about Twitter back in January 2010 use it regularly and take it for granted now.


Thank you, your article is very good

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