31st Jan 2014

My Views on Stan Collymore Twitter Abuse Row (Press Association Report for MSN, AOL, etc)

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30th Nov 2013

60 Seconds Vid of Me

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16th Oct 2013

Back Region Media: Catchphrase Classic

This week in my Media Theory seminars we’ve been discussing the merits of American sociologist Erving Goffman’s ‘front region’ and ‘back region’ concepts for the purposes of media analysis.

To illustrate the lighter side of Goffman’s theory, I show students the famous Catchphrase ‘Snake charmer’ episode above. For those readers unfamiliar with the show, Catchphrase is a long-running ITV quiz show based on the US game show of the same name.

The clip nicely illustrates what can go wrong, completely unintentionally, when all is not what it appears. Back-region gaffes of this kind are what Goffman understands to be moments of intense embarrasment and disorientation for the front-region performers; moments when the implicit bridge dividing media performers/producers from audiences/the public collapses. What we’re left with, in this example, is a Catchphrase culture of production and viewing temporarily – but irrevocably – meshed together in intimate hilarity. Roy Walker, game-show host extraordinaire, does his best to hold the fort… but even his professionalism teeters on the brink.

Not all back-region bloomers are quite so trivial and harmless however. Political leaders like Mitt Romney (Mitt the Twit) and – in a 1980s British context – Michael Foot were clearly hampered in their ambitions by what could be called, in Goffmanian terms, weak self-presentation. That’s why included in the job description of anyone with the potential to be caught in the public eye is a need for media training and PR acumen.

George W Bush once confused Iraq with Iran; thankfully, on that occasion, the former US president’s prowess in back-region performance didn’t trigger an international crisis. One day it may well.

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31st Aug 2013

BT Sport: Promising Beginnings

This month saw the start of a new UK-based sports network, BT Sport, with two channels, available on subscription and carried by some content providers like Virgin Media.

Last year BT Sport won the rights from ESPN to show 38 live English Premier League games per season for the 2013-16 rights period. Subsequently the network bought ESPN’s UK channels and other broadcasting rights, including English domestic rugby union, Bundesliga (German) and Serie A (Italian) league football as well as Europa League games.

And so far the coverage, especially football-related, has been impressive. Presenters like Ray Stubbs and Jake Humphrey do a decent job, and pundits of the calibre of Michael Owen, David James and Steve McManaman (the 90s spice boys no less!) provide for intelligent discussion and speculation.

ESPN did a reasonable job back in 2009, when the US network effectively took on part of the catastrophic debt that led to the collapse of Setanta Sports UK, in return for their modest programming portfolio. But the fact that ESPN went to the last Premier League bidding table with a half-hearted proposal suggests not only that the American media firm (owned by the Disney conglomerate) had lost interest in English football, but that its US-domestic audience continued to show lukewarm interest in the sport. The MLS league has done well in recent years, thanks in no small part to Beckham’s days at LA Galaxy, but Americans have not caught the EPL fever to anything like the same degree as audiences in parts of Asia and elsewhere.

So… so far, so good for BT Sport. It remains a minor player in comparison with Murdoch’s sports media empire, of course. But let’s hope it can become a serious competitor to Sky come the next bidding rounds for major football and other sports rights. After, the telecommunications company that famously floated on the stock exchange thirty or so years ago, and is now one of the biggest British companies of any sector, cannot be short of a bob or two.

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25th Jul 2013

Mediated Badgering: For England & King George!


TV (BBC, Sky) coverage of the royal birth – or make that, the royal pregnancy, labour, birth, baby, bath water, what’s its goddamn name! – was farcical bordering on ludicrous.

The most revealing dimension to this media circus-without-an-act was a conspiracy cooked up by bored journalists and royal-family fanatics to badger the happy triumvirate into opening the doors of the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital and showing us all what we, the British public (not just the fruitcakes who’ve been squatting outdoors for the last three weeks), want to see. The Royal Baby! Cuckcoocachoo!

Pulling teeth doesn’t do justice to the painful viewing experience accompanying this sort of news manufacture - making news from no news. Even the daily palaver known as Changing the Guard was spun to look like an integral prelude to the long-awaited arrival. And the waiting went on, and on, and on, and the longer it went on, the more desperate and dull the coverage became. Sometimes people complain about the high salaries enjoyed by news presenters, especially the public service variety, but by golly they earnt their crust trying, albeit failing, to sustain the suspense.

‘We want to see the baby!’ cried the fanatics. ‘We want to hear William speak!’ pleaded the presenters. ‘We can’t stand on these ladders much longer!’ screamed the journos. ‘Actually, we’d like to know what else is going on in the universe, or failing that, a weather forecast would be nice’ reflected the discerning viewer.

But this is not an occasion for the discerning viewer; not an occasion to broadcast news for a broad public interest. Oh no! This is news to suit the raving monarchists, the mothers and grandmothers, the midwives and health visitors, the Americans and one or two Commonwealth folk who’ve not yet defected.

So why don’t I just switch off and watch something less boring instead? The truth is that I, too, became fixated by the Lindo Wing front entrance. When were those double doors going to open? Wait, here we go! Ah never mind, just some random bloke wearing a Pringle jumper. But wait! Signs of movement behind the glass, someone waving, lights on, lights off, last-minute backstage adjustments before the curtain comes up. Who knows what goes on behind closed doors? No one, but one can do one’s best to sneak a peep.

Wait for it… wait for it… wait a bit longer… put the kettle on… pour the tea… now reheat the tea… wait a bit more… you’ll never get this time back, you know… wait for Kate, wait for William, wait for baby, wait for Godot if you like but he’s not coming…. and then, hoorah! They happy triumvirate arrive! Flash photography, I feel dizzy, time to press the remote. Ah, that’s much better – the joys of watching the test card.

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