Thursday, March 17, 2016

Where's the gaggle for the Goggle? Fat from feeding at the trough and then doing basically nothing, it's time for the press covering TV to shape up or ship out.

Longtime readers will know: There's little I despise more than the modern-day equivalent of Old Testament pestilence than an idiotic publicist working in TV who doesn't know, doesn't care, and who can't be bothered to actually know better and do better - but there's something else that's been bugging me for a really long time: about some of the writers and journalists, critics and wannabe celebrities covering television.

South African coverage of television and the TV biz - its industrial complex as well as on a superficial level about the content on face-value that it turns out ("Ooh, Pearl Thusi is back in Generations") - is in my opinion experiencing a nadir.

It's not the fault of our stars. It's the fault of ourselves.

I'm so tired of so-called publicists who are actually wannabe celebrities, living to attend "events" and "activations", who thirst to be on the red carpet in front of the step-and-repeat banner themselves, to show off their latest Mr Price shoezies instead of getting their clients there, or helping press with actual information.

There's a lot of them around - always rushing for the champers, taking selfies and doing fake air-kisses and hug-hugs when they see you, but who can't be bothered to respond to emails and media enquiries, or to pick up the phone when you call.

This thought piece though isn't about the PR trash that's part of my existence as a TV critic and a print journalist covering television and who I've seen come and go over the years - part of the bane of my existence.

To be fair, there's a number (although the small minority) of good, great and excellent individual public relations people at PR companies, shows, TV channels and broadcaster who have always been excellent, know their stuff, do their stuff and who I've always gotten along with.

Some spin the news, but they always help, they don't interfere, they get what a journalist like me and others are about, and they enable to benefit their brand(s), instead of damaging or doing nothing.

But it's not about PR's - excellent or awful - today. It's about the hacks.

The trash journos, the glorified bloggers, the wannabe celebrities, the here-today-gone-tomorrow journalists and the uneducated, uninformed media-types and self-deluded "brand influencers" who drank too much Kim Kardashian Kool-Aid who litter my profession and who not only shame themselves, but shame the business of journalism and of reporting about television.

My focus is on television, so I always look for news, and observe, seek out and speak to the TV people I see - either on-screen or behind the scenes.

But that's not all I see.

I've seen and continue to see what has happened in specifically the marketing, promotion and publicity side of TV-"eventing" where TV channels, shows and broadcasters hold launches and events, do press conferences and junkets, and invite and send journos to, in the hope of getting earned media.

After more than 15 years of doing this in South Africa, all I can do is share my opinion, and in my opinion it's become abusive, borderline scandalous and just plain wrong.

I'm referring to the really terrible, devoid of work ethics, unethical conduct of so-called journalists, TV critics and so-called "media" at these events and on "weekend holiday trip" and junkets who are not actually doing anything, but show up and want to be there with no intention of actually reporting back, or end up doing sponsor-infused drivel.

Again, I'm not talking about everyone. I'm not generalising. It's not everyone.

And yes, there's longtime, great, exciting and boring, intense and hardcore and softcore people who've been doing monotonous and diligent and trustworthy and wonderful work for a long time.

What I've been seeing though, more and more - and it's growing and is of concern - is the rise in the self-entitled trash media "covering" television. People who end up doing little or actually nothing but who think that going to cover something, means that it revolves around them and their demands and needs and that the world, publicists and press events revolve around them.

It's the type of person and publication who might read this now and go: Please keep quiet - you're going to spoil it for the rest of us.

While publicists and channels and shows keep inviting the same and more of The Walking Dead (zombies, if you didn't catch that reference) to their events, more and more of the brain dead keep showing up constantly to just grab "goodie bags, feed, drink themselves basically drunk on another company's budget and do ... nothing (except perhaps complain afterwards).

Not only do they do nothing later (meaning there's no earned media or return on the investment), they do nothing at the actual event!

For them it's not about television at all. For them, it's about them.

They don't know, or perhaps have forgotten, that media and the press are invited to something to report on it, not to have a great time. (If you happen to also have a great time, props to the publicists, their event worked, but that's an incidental.)

A political journalists covering a political presser or an business journalist covering a struggling parastatal or a company's financial results press con or a sport journo going asking questions of FIFA don't go to these things because they might be "fun". They go because it's news.

Why do entertainment journalists, and within that that subset those covering television, have delusions of grandeur that everything should be a party that's free from the responsibility of actually doing something and working there?

That in turn feeds into an existing stereotype that entertainment reporting is "less than": less trustworthy, less accurate, filler-fodder, and entertainment journalists lesser journalists. And that makes the job for those who are serious about this, more difficult.

As a journalist or blogger or vlogger or critic or representative of your magazine, or newspaper or whatever platform you represent, the truth is that you represent your 1, or 11, or a thousand or however many listeners or readers or viewers.

If you don't report back and do nothing, you are failing those people who you are the representative of. They get nothing - while you think you're royalty, instead of serving a higher calling of being a messenger for other people.

I've put up a Gogglebox South Africa image at the top of this opinion piece, since I've been thinking about that show for the past three weeks ever since Sony Pictures Television launched the Sony Channel's (DStv 127) first local TV production in South Africa on its MultiChoice channel on DStv.

Lyle Stewart, the senior vice president for the Sony Pictures Television Networks' Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEEMA) region flew all the way to South Africa (Sonja Underwood as well), and perhaps even others too.

I wasn't invited, neither were TV critics and journalists elsewhere in South Africa to the somewhat of a biggie as it was the channel's first local show, but a lot of (I would guess 40? 50?) media types packed into a Johannesburg movie lounge to first pre-feed.

Then it was off to a cinema to watch and "review" the first episode of Gogglebox SA at the media launch and preview session.

Lyle spoke. The mediarati saw the episode. I would guess they clapped.

Now use your googler and type in words like "Gogglebox SA" and "review", or try and find what exactly Lyle Stewart who flew all the way to South Africa for this, actually said.

Surprised? Where are the stories? Where's the coverage? And whose fault is that?

Did the bulk of those who attended do so just for the Gogglebox SA snack box?

Most importantly, who suffers because of that? It's the reader who knows less, the TV executive who is less informed, the TV producer who gets less feedback, and it is the ordinary TV viewer who is less empowered by knowing less and having a harder time to make a more informed choice about what is on television, going on in television, and what is good, bad and worthwhile watching.

A+E Networks UK flew out British executives like Heather Jones recently for an A+E Networks Africa upfront. The event that several media people I spoke to didn't even know about until I told them it happened, got little traction and scant coverage in the press for what's in store for channels like History, Lifetime and C+I Network.

Have you seen any actual comprehensive stories and multiple articles from, and about, the event from those who were there?

What about's "Soap Shows" media night earlier this week? Or E!'s jam-packed fashion show of last month where people were packed in like sardines and that NBCUniversal marketing executives like Kaisa Kantalainen and Eva Dvorakova flew to South Africa for?

Go look and see how many actual stories and reporting you find - or in fact, can't find.

On Friday and Sunday it will again be the South African Film and Television Awards. What will we see on Monday?

Barely nothing if anything about Thursday night's event because it's not "sexy" (although it's ironically the "real" people making TV's event?

My guess will be the same, stale, one press release that people put their bylines on. The same, narrow one, two, or three stories although the media swarmed the red carpet for Instagram selfies. And again the same pandering, the same uninformed and biased articles; the same less that the collectively more that there could or should be.

It's as if South Africa's Press Covering Television has largely descended into one neverending party; a Great Gatsby-ish soiree where the wine never stops flowing, the PR doesn't care if you actually do something with the press release (if there even is one), and everyone fake-friendly flutters along from the one under-reported TV event and announcement to the next.

Dear PR executive, like at the circus, stop feeding the animals beforehand. If you give the media liquor or food, they will leave early, struggle to concentrate and care even less. Throw food if you must, but only after.

Stop with the insane goodie bags and gifties. It's appreciated and I know why you do it, but for a lot of wannabe trash supposedly covering television its become about that. They don't come to hear, understand and to report, they come to harvest.

The real gift a journalist should be going home with is the access (and what the person did with that in terms of the talent or executives who were there) and the information.

Stop shaming yourself but trying to lure media to your event by saying in invitations "ooh, one lucky idiot can win a LG flat screen", "one lucky moron can get a Sony".

What you're doing is diluting your value, signaling that your real reason for wanting media there - for your show, your talent, your channel and what you want to announce or share - isn't good enough for the media to show up for that. Do a lucky draw if you must, but don't pre-announce it.

Lastly, if you even do look at coverage (or non-coverage!) perhaps stop inviting the hanger-ons, the floaters, the media drifters - the ones who show up and who then don't deliver.

If some publications and journalists are able to find news or churn out two or three stories or do a respectable article or double page photo spread about your event, you need to start asking serious questions about why some of the non-performing media you keep inviting as "press" are not.

Earlier this year after a TV junket with daily press conference sessions that I attended, a longtime colleague leaned over and whispered to me that a perplexed media type asked: "What's with all the questions? Why must [he] keep asking so many questions?"

Well, love. Sadly you might not know it, but it's not "many" questions, and going to a press conference isn't actually about getting yourself a free red Grapetiser.

It's to actually work; the opportunity to ask the perhaps difficult, and awkward and burning question(s) the thousands of people your publication represent are not able to ask. And to then go and report it.

If you're a journalist and you go to an event to "eat" (and I get it, I love the food too) it's a problem. That shouldn't be your main goal. Neither is mingling, chatting with champagne in the hand, or ogling the goodie bag table.

Capture the event, report the news, share what you see and what's to be seen with your audience and your readers - the people you're supposed to represent professionally as a journalist and who won't make it pass the junior publicist at the name tag station to see it for themselves.

When the Press Who Cover Television in South Africa actually cover television, or cover it better, we all actually will get a bit more of what we really want: better television.