Let's call this Lovejoygate
A strange turn of events that smashes our server to pieces and forces our editor to stick his hand in the air.
By James York, 13 November 2013
You'd think that a deluge of traffic, a wave intense enough to crash my website, would be a good thing, a success? If only business was so kind. No, my interview with Tim Lovejoy has become a bit of "car-crash". It's going to cost me money - because subsequent site crashing affected a few other sites sharing a server with us - and the reputational cost is, scarily, a little unquantifiable. Have we blundered into our own "gate": Lovejoygate, complete with moral hazard? I aim to reflect on the events and vow to learn from the rinsing i've been given.
Lovejoygate begins to rattle
It started with a call from a frantic engineer: the site was crashing. It seems an interview i'd run with the aforementioned presenter in August was going viral. Sadly, it wasn't being heralded, rather dug up, dissected and ripped apart. Not just by trolls but by journalists and bloggers with a cumulative twitter reach of, maybe, circa 400,000. Terrifying levels of humiliation for yours truly.
The proximate cause was a story that The Telegraph published. A bit of a hatchet job on the front man of football's latest inflationary variable. Thanks to BT's chequebook further [commercialising] sodomising the so-called "soul" of football - if a shred of that mystical identity ever existed - searches for Lovejoy revealed one of my interviews. (Damn that SEO footprint?!) It was not well-received.
What ensued was dozens of tweets, you can find some dotted around this page and the rest on the "discover" tab on twitter, here. Behold a rolling viral outrage. I'd [poorly] presented the man in stark contrast to the zeitgeist. A zeitgeist fuelled, in part, by Lovejoy's own words - which were bludgeoned quite eloquently by When Saturday Comes back in 2008 following Lovejoy's departure from Soccer AM. Having failed to endear himself to sport's truth-guardians, my positivity got caught in the firing line. And, one of my less technically-brilliant stories, examined with equal intensity. A spotlight that was powerfully damming.
"They" say there's no such thing as bad press. Well that's horse manure. They're correct that not all people are equally opinionated, and that notoriety can be monetised, but bad press it remains. That's especially true if it's online, puts off prospective repeat-visitors and is conjured by people with strong reputations. Having nurtured my brand to some vestige of credibility, this twitter storm blows some fog over my efforts.
I've stuck my hand in the air and tried to say: "my bad". Why? Not because I didn't think Tim Lovejoy was a decent guy. But because I could have definitely done more to challenge his views. It's almost an obligation. In that light, I agreed that other journalists would be justified for suggesting the piece was imbalanced.
New brands have to start from scratch
What many a judge of this case study might not acknowledge is the status quo. There isn't a single celebrity whose time is free to interview for the sake of it. Every single one, virtually without exception, is tethered to endorsements and their commercial obligations. You might think that fair - it might well be. Endorsements are paid for by brands and brands have PR agencies. A PR agency rightly cares about getting their message to the most people for the cheapest price. They, and the brands they work with, collectively select and allow access to their talent assets. The bigger and older your media brand or employer, the greater the guarantee of access.
Consider, though, how that affects the market, especially the newer media brands, like mine. Rhys Ifans "interview from hell" was another symptom of this train ride we all take part in. Some interviews go well, others badly. A few are average. I can't afford to just "drop" all of the opportunities I am given, there's a chance I may not get another.
I suppose, in truth, this interview is the product of that moral hazard smaller business faces. You wouldn't know, or believe - unless you have had to do it - how much networking, breakfasting, hangovers, press days, cold calls and emails i've had to work on to get the interviews, contacts and opportunities I have cultivated. I've worked hard, and on the grand scale of the pecking order, managed to move forward.
But, I am certain that, within this story, is small evidence that i've somehow been affected by the process. It's made me look like a "company man", a flack-hack that'll say anything. Not true, of course. I just try to be positive. Sometimes it works, other times it may, I admit, seem a little puffier. This is one of those unfortunate examples of that.
I'd like to thank the sneers from the twitterati, though, especially by those that enjoy a position of commentary and influence. A proportion of them have my respect. They've earned their spot on the battlements. They can throw that blisteringly hot oil, because years ago, I know they were pounding the pavements and throwing out the swill themselves. The stories you hear about newspaper editors, brutal sub-editors and back-stabbing colleagues betray a sector that eats its own young on a daily basis. In terms of survival of the fittest, there are few industries that compare.
I'd just remind them that everything I create is earned. Self-cultivated. So, it's painfully ironic that those inflated traffic stats will enable me to coax more interviews into the fold and grow the brand even more. They weren't the "right" kind of traffic, were they?
But, those that don't fit the bill, the people tweeting upon wittier coattails? Some might think your average troller resembles a vacuous, obtuse fool, the kind that enjoys throwing one out in front of the mirror - whilst kissing the tiny atrophied "gun" on their spare arm. All the while, weeping, wishing they could be of value to society. Observers might also point to the pathetic dearth of productivity and creativity these people exhibit. They might suggest that their pointless existences are only propped up by the daily intake of narcotic trolling and an unhappy employer able to suffer them gladly.
Not me. I embrace their feedback as well, and gleefully sip their bile by the millilitre - apparently it builds up an immunity. And it's touching to know that, even in my weaker moments, I can provide a butt for them to phlegm their thoughts into.
I'll certainly never give an interview without recalling this incident, but as to the Catch-22 of securing opportunities, and the status quo, I am at a somewhat of a loss. Blokely is still growing, without a huge pile of additional funding, we have to grow through effort and improvement. That surely demands me to engage in the quickstep of media's status quo. So long as Blokely resembles something I am proud of, I'll continue to improve it because I genuinely enjoy doing that, and the challenges it brings. (I'll also give every effort not to make people want to "vomit blood".)
If anyone has a better idea - I am all ears.
Whilst i've never once held Blokely, or any of my writing, up to be the pinnacle of journalistic quality, I do strive for and respect the virtues of the sector's professional and ethical culture. Ultimately, though, I just write about things I like.
As for the trolls, I hope they avoid the sunlight and live to hose bile another day - without a reference point, how can anyone ever appraise their progress?