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October 2007
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Social media is too important to leave to self-proclaimed experts

Social media is something you have to engage with yourself to fully understand.

I've previously voiced my fears about how many companies seem to believe they can outsource that whole 'Web 2.0 thing', leave it to third party providers, though just where I made that point escapes me right now (Update 29/11: I made a few notes on this here and here). However, this is good stuff:

I've seen this post by Reuter's CEO, Tom Glocer, widely linked up (and deservedly) commended during the last few days, but Adriana, as always, brings some interesting thoughts to the mix. Here's my favourite part of Adriana's post (full post here):

"Tom Glocer is spot on about the nature of expertise. Recently I noticed how people in business are starting to approach learning about social media second-hand, listening to the self-proclaimed experts* rather than jumping straight in themselves:

I believe that unless one interacts with and plays with the leading technology of the age, it is impossible to dream the big dreams, and difficult to create an environment in which creative individuals will feel at home. This does not mean that the ceo needs to program a third-party app on Facebook, but I believe it is ultimately more useful in understanding business concepts like viral marketing, crowd-sourcing or federated development to use a live example rather than wait for the Harvard Business Review article to appear in three years time.

We should all feel comfortable to follow our own paths. What counts is the results, not living-up to some outdated view of what “work” looks like in the 21st century.

"Indeed. This is an area of exploration that no CEO or other executive should leave to others. If part of the job of a business leader is to see the big picture, well, there is no more distinct big picture out there than what is happening at the crossroads of the web, technology, media and human interactions within networks and outside traditional organisations and institutions.

"*For the record, rather than consider myself an expert on social media or Web 2.0 or [fill in the web buzzword du jour], I’d prefer to be an ‘expert’ at shifting people’s mindset and helping them understand what is the web and what’s possible on the web."

(Everything in quotemarks is Adriana's words, italics is Tom Glocer, emphasis (bold) is my formatting)

R.I.P. Claude-Jean Bertrand

I had no idea. It was only when a copy of Ethical Space, an academic journal I write for, arrived in my mailbox this week, I learned that Claude-Jean Bertrand, whom I had the pleasure of meeting through Institute for Communication Ethics (ICE), had passed away late September. Obviously, I have not been keeping up with the blogs I should have.

Bertrand was a life-long advocate of ethical journalism, and spoke passionately about voluntary media accountability systems (M.A.S) on the occasions I met him (which must have been around 2003).

"Facebook's Beacon is spyware"

From Henrik Torstenssons Weblog: 'Facebook's Beacon program, where Facebook's partner sites automatically report your activity on their sites to your Facebook account, doesn't pass my smell test. What Facebook has built in Beacon is spyware. If Facebook doesn't redesign Beacon, making it opt-in and far more transparent than today, I will be very surprised if this doesn't lead to either a member backlash or regulation by lawmakers.

An example of how Beacon works: Click on Play Now and Joost will report your action to Facebook and unless you actively say no, your activity will end up in your newsfeed.'

More food for thought on the same issue from Ethan Zuckerman, "Facebook changes the norms for web purchasing and privacy", and from David Weinberger, "Facebook's privacy default" (via Rebecca MacKinnon)

Norwegian politicians want to restrict online ownership to maintain media plurality

Trond Giske, Norway's culture minister, seeks to amend the coutry's media ownership law to limit how big a share of national online traffic one company can control, a proposition that garners support from both sides of the political divide (via

It had to happen sooner or later, didn't it? I mean, Norway's media ownership law already dictates that no party may control more than a third of the newspaper, radio or television market, so why not regulate the national share(s) of the world wide web?

Incidentally, that would be the media ownership law many felt cleared the way for a foreigner like David Montgomery to acquire former Orkla Media, as national media companies had to watch the size of their market shares, but I digress....

'Plurality on the world wide web is just as important as on paper,' said Giske. Yesterday he proposed to introduce categorical ownership limitations for online media, measured by how many per cent of online traffic one operator may control.

Similar proposals have been abandoned twice before, as it was deemed too difficult to measure and categorise online traffic. However, in the light of Schibsted's prolonged efforts to create Media Norway, a merger that would dwarf just about any other player in the Norwegian media market, Giske feels it is time to re-evaluate the media ownership law.

The merger has yet to gain regulatory approval, and after much ado about making sure Schibsted's print ownership stayed within the limits of the media ownership law, the regulatory powers are debating the actual influence of the papers involved and Media Norway's dominant online position. A major objection to the merger is how 'half of Norway' get their online news from Schibsted controlled websites, but that is currently not against the law.

Kjell Aamot, Schibsted's CEO, has rubbished the notion that it's possible to control online media ownership and said it's unfair to regulate national online traffic seeing that Google, MSN and Facebook are opinion formers in the same way as Norwegian news sites.

Adresseavisa quotes Aamot asking whether Giske is "going to stop us owning websites or starting new ones? If writes a big story that attracts a lot of traffic one day, will they be prevented from publishing a big story the following day so as not to gain too much traffic?"

Or as a friend suggested, will we live to see the day where you'll be greeted with the following message when you try to check Schibsted-owned (Norway's biggest news site): "Today's quota for online readers at has been filled, welcome back tomorrow."

Buzz or substance

Replace that with traffic vs substance if you like, excellent quote from Doc Searls in this post, something to think about:

... do you go for buzz, or do you go for substance? Yes, you can go for both, but if your main purpose is popularity you sell out substance. That’s just how it goes. You may still traffic in substance, but it’s secondary. And if you go for substance you’ll sometimes get some buzz, but as a secondary effect.

The post was written on the back of this debate about the blogosphere and TechMeme, but the questions it raises applies just as much to mainstream media.

The ultimate CEO blog explains the meaning of life

It was perhaps a bit improper to blog this on a Sunday as I intended, hence I conveniently forgot to publish it until today, but I stumbled across this CEO blog, which, hang on, is not just yet another of those boring CEO blogs, but may with some justification be called the ultimate CEO blog (via Jackie Danicki).

After all, this particular CEO has 6.6 billion potential customers, and even though he is believed to be able to read our minds and know all our questions in advance, this blogger is going for 'a more transparent and accountable method'. From the mission statement: ".. every Wednesday I’ll give you the opportunity to ask me, the Lord God Almighty, questions and I’ll try to answer them as best I can. I should warn you that my ways are so mysterious that I sometimes baffle myself. But ask away!"

And, in the words of Jackie, when "God is a British CEO", this is the sort of common sense answers you get to such mind-boggling questions as that one about the ever elusive meaning of life:

The meaning of life is a performance review that I use to ensure constant improvement and growth.

Well, the word “life” is a noun and describes the opposite state to dead. You are alive and you do stuff and when your life is over it will have no meaning to you because you are then dead. Then you come to me and have a chat about things – and this is the meaning of life performance review.

In the performance reviews we sit down and carefully examine your life, what you did with it and if you generated any value for others, the kingdom of heaven or me. When you get here you are allocated a line manager and he talks you through the results of your review as we see them and gives you the chance to give your side of the story. Together we decide your future within my organisation.

In another post, the almighty blogger slags off Seth Godin for suggesting that all problems can be quickly outlined, and in the comment field we learn that Satan is working part time as a middle manager with McCanns - somehow I think many people already suspected that.

Unfortunately, this transparency experiment seems to have been shortlived: no posts since the end of August.

'Digital natives' is a dangerous term

It's vouge these days to talk about how the younger generation will turn the media world upside down, digital natives as they are. And yet, this statement is paradoxical, as too many journalism students, digital natives or not, seem to "aspire to work in some newsroom ca 1973". Jill Walker Rettberg highlights a deeper problem, which chimes with my own experiences:

"...despite today’s students having grown up with technology, and despite their using the net extensively, they still lack very basic skills for using the net in learning at a university level - and the ways teens use the internet differently from older users (e.g. games, IM, social networking) can almost hide the fact that many of them lack skills seen as basic in what we oldies call digital literacy - such as being able to find relevant information, evaluate it, synthesize it and present it. Of course it’s also possible that they’ll simply redefine 'digital literacy' so it means something else once they’re adults, but I somehow doubt it. I think actually the idea of 'digital natives' is dangerous - it lets us as teachers and parents off the hook."

For the record I should say that I'm by no means a techie – I know some advanced stuff, am ignorant of some basic stuff and basically just learn as I go along – but then, neither do I belong to the generation of digital natives, missed that one by a year:-)

At what point does pitching a blogger become spam?

Today's required reading for all PRs and marketeers who want to get a handle on how to approach bloggers: I mean, I've done my bit of PR-work in the past, and I'm embarrassed on a daily basis on behalf of all the PRs who send me press releases that should never have seen daylight. And that's just the stuff I get as a journalist, an ABC in PR here, but the press releases and approaches I get as blogger are even worse, if such a thing is possible - I wouldn't have thought it took too much research to figure out that I'm not likely to write about e.g. baby food. So three cheers for Hans Kullin's top 10 blog pitch pet peeves. Enough said, go read.

Keen, Leigh and the appeal to authority

I spent close to 1700 words outlining my objections to Keen's Cult of the Amateur last week, even though I could have done it in three. I refrained from using the phrase lurking in the back of my mind, partly because I deemed it too academic, but, just as I published that post, veteran investigative journalist David Leigh (via The Press Gazette) gave me the perfect lead to explain it:

"...web culture 'degrades valuable things' such as 'the idea of discrimination', that some voices are more credible than others, that a named source is better than an anonymous pamphleteer... The notion of authoritativeness is derided as a sort of ‘top-down’ fascism. I fear that these developments will endanger the role of the reporter," said Leigh (in this lecture).

To me, this quote sums up much of the common, and misplaced, arguments against web culture, Keen's included. It's not that web culture contests authority or authoritativeness as such, rather it contests the appeal to, or argument by, authority, which is a different thing altogether, not to mention a logical fallacy.

It's the kind of argument that goes 'It is right/correct/above reproach because The Guardian/Telegraph/BBC/some authority said so' that is being contested, an argument which effectively shortcuts all discussion (why is it right? because xx said so, and xx is an authority and authorities are always right. why? because that's just the way it is. dead end). In the case of Keen, the flawed argument runs roughly like this:

1) Andrew Keen and his straw men say today's Internet is killing our culture and assaulting our economy
2) Andrew Keen and his straw men are experts
3) consequently Andrew Keen's claim is true

Perhaps, once upon a time, it used to be the case that something was deemed true and beyond argument just because mainstream media reported it. If it was, I'm not old enough to remember it, and my grasp of media history must be too flimsy, as I can't recall it, but it's certainly not the case today.

Authority, like any virtue, is something we have for times of our lives, but we don't have it once and for all. It's earned though our actions, and increasingly through the transparency of our actions/editorial choices - and through how well we can validate those choices and actions.

Web culture tests, challenges, probes and requires engagement. That's both a challenge and an opportunity. Let me illustrate this with a quote The Cluetrain Manifesto, which to me still is the book that best describes web mentality:

"Your product broke. Why? We'd like to ask the guy who made it. Your corporate strategy makes no sense. We'd like to have a chat with your CEO. What do your mean she's not in? ... We want you to take us as seriously as you take one reporter from The Wall Street Journal... We know some people from your company. They're pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you're hiding? Can they come out and play?"

See, the web empowers people: when you can pretty much roll your own newspaper online with RSS and newsreaders, publish your own stuff without being a techie; talk freely with folks from all over the world about your good and bad experiences using various products; build your own tools, do your own thing - you get what some may feel is a group of uncomfortably empowered people (formerly known as the audience).

So you engage or perish.

It's not that web culture devalues everything, far from, but it has it's own way of establishing value, or authority if you like, and it's fickle in the respect that a web audience won't hang around forever just because you have an important brand or you once provided good stuff. I can't see how that's a bad thing.

In one respect, it's all about trust, but that's another debate. And of course engage does not equal agree, but that's yet another debate. And oops, that's 698 words. Ah well, that's why it takes me a while to get around to writing these things inbetween all my pressing deadlines...

'It's not new media, it's a new relationship'

I stumbled across this gem from Jeff Jarvis while catching up with my feeds. It explains all too well what too many mainstream media outlets fail to get, and hence where they fail, when implementing what they like to call 'new media' strategies:

"They think this is 'new media.' And they think that’s something they need to try. (I would have hoped they’d have come to that conclusion about 12 years ago.) Of course, it’s not just new media. This should be a new relationship. It should be about discovering and joining in a conversation.

I saw another sign of this at the BBC the other day when staffers kept fretting about filling a blog, as if it were a show rundown or a blank page. I told them to stop looking it that way and instead to take the advice I’m giving my students: Find the conversation. Join in. Contribute to it — indeed, contribute journalism, answering questions, finding facts, fact-checking the ones that are there. But to do that — beware — you have to talk at a human level with other humans with opinions (who don’t want to talk to a closed door)."

Danish Computerworld makes all its profit online

"I wouldn't bet on us having a print version in five years," said Mikael Lindholm, editor-in-chief of Computer World Denmark. According to Berlingske, the weekly publication is the first Danish newspaper to make all its profit online. Last year, the title's paper version yielded close to zero profit, while the online operation recorded a profit of 5m Dkk (a bit less than £500K).

For the moment, Computerworld will keep the print version going for the benefit of the IT-industry's middle aged decision makers, who still prefer paper, and to protect a market position others might try to acquire.

"We have full focus on developing online-journalism. We are working to invent new genres, new forms of journalism and work extensively with sound and pictures," said Lindholm. He added that the print version is turning more and more into a magazine with emphasis on analysis, perspectives and background.

Is American media superior to Norwegian?

Ashok of Rethink sent me a link to this piece by Bruce Bawer, asking me if the picture Bawer draws of Norwegian media could possible be correct. I thought Bawer's analysis raised so many interesting questions I thought I'd leave the floor open, what say you?

I'd hasten to add that Norway is a country that lends itself well to caricature and satire, for anyone who wants a better grasp of the Norwegian mentality I strongly recommend this book (available in English, French and German). Bawer has many funny observations about Norway, but my all-time favourite portrayal of Norwegians is probably Paul Henley's "What's so special about the Norwegians " for BBC Radio4. You really need to listen to the programme to appreciate it properly, I couldn't find a place to do that online, but here's a few headlines. 'Eccentrics is too weak a word for Norwegians', said Henley, describing the country as 'filthy rich', whereas Bawer has contested the reality of Norway's wealthy self-image here (also worth a read). In either case, here's Bawer on Norwegian media:

I’d marveled at Norwegians’ newspaper consumption; but what did they actually read in those newspapers? That this was, in fact, a crucial question was brought home to me when a travel piece I wrote for the New York Times about a weekend in rural Telemark received front-page coverage in Aftenposten, Norway’s newspaper of record. Not that my article’s contents were remotely newsworthy; its sole news value lay in the fact that Norway had been mentioned in the New York Times...

... Yes, there’s much about the American news media that deserves criticism... But to suggest that American journalism, taken as a whole, offers a narrower range of information and debate than its foreign counterparts is absurd. America’s major political magazines range from National Review and The Weekly Standard on the right to The Nation and Mother Jones on the left... Scores of TV programs and radio call-in shows are devoted to fiery polemic by, or vigorous exchanges between, true believers at both ends of the political spectrum. Nothing remotely approaching this breadth of news and opinion is available in a country like Norway.

Purportedly to strengthen journalistic diversity (which, in the ludicrous words of a recent prime minister, “is too important to be left up to the marketplace”), Norway’s social-democratic government actually subsidizes several of the country’s major newspapers (in addition to running two of its three broadcast channels and most of its radio); yet the Norwegian media are (guess what?) almost uniformly social-democratic—a fact reflected not only in their explicit editorial positions but also in the slant and selectivity of their international coverage. Reading the opinion pieces in Norwegian newspapers, one has the distinct impression that the professors and bureaucrats who write most of them view it as their paramount function not to introduce or debate fresh ideas but to remind the masses what they’re supposed to think.

The same is true of most of the journalists, who routinely spin the news from the perspective of social-democratic orthodoxy, systematically omitting or misrepresenting any challenge to that orthodoxy—and almost invariably presenting the U.S. in a negative light. Most Norwegians are so accustomed to being presented with only one position on certain events and issues (such as the Iraq War) that they don’t even realize that there exists an intelligent alternative position.

Things are scarcely better in neighboring Sweden... In other European countries, to be sure, the media spectrum is broader than this; yet with the exception of Britain, no Western European nation even approaches America’s journalistic diversity.

Keen's misguided cult of the professional

I've kept running out of time to expand on why exactly I find it so worrying that Andrew Keen's Cult of the Amateur, where he explains how 'amateurs' such as bloggers are destroying our culture, is taken seriously, but this post over at Daily Kos (via Martin Stabe) made me sit down and string together my thoughts.

For one, it's ironic, isn't it, that Keen should choose journalism, of all professions, to embody the shrine of professionalism the "hot air" of amateurs supposedly blows down?

In Keen's own words: "the internet is bloated with the hot air of these amateur journalists. Despite the size of their readership, even the A-List bloggers have no formal journalistic training."

Now, leaving aside the factual inaccuracies of that statement, I must admit that, right here and now, I can't think of any other industry that harbours more latent scepticism to academia and formal training than the media.

Academia corrupts
It's often said that a journalist can be corrupted by too much academic training, can be such a thing as too much of a thinker, and the best of the lot are those who got into the trade at a young and tender age and learnt by doing, by the noble school of life, rather than 'wasted time' in academia.

One of my greatest, though also most unlikely, mentors, was, upon leaving school, offered both a scholarship to Oxford and a newspaper job. He chose the latter, and went on to work for institutions such as the Wall Street Journal and pioneer financial PR in Britain. An unschooled mind; flawed yet brilliant, imperfect yet successful, and a hell of a journalist to then end of his days.

The fact that the media industry worships a man who learned his craft the hard way, and is equally sceptical to people who've spent too much time locked up in the ivory towers of academia, has interesting ramifications for Keen's 'cult of the professional':

When exactly does a person working for mainstream media pass the line from amateur to professional?
A case in point: my first national newspaper story came at 18, after I'd been in Stockholm just when a group of European harm reduction advocates invaded town, and European Cities Against Drugs (EACD) was formed. History was made, my curiosity captivated, and I secured a few key interviews as the story was simply not reported back home. One month later, completely unrelated, I was approached for a role as a columnist for my regional newspaper. And I was hooked.

A few months after that, I covered the Polish presidential election where Kwasniewski won over Lech Walesa: I happened to have the opportunity to go to Warsaw around that time (95) and found a national newspaper who said they'd pay me enough for the story for me to justify the trip.

Oh, and in retrospective, if I'm honest, I think I studied politics and intellectual history partly to feel more confident debating the older and more experienced people I surrounded myself with, but didn't get my BA until five years after I penned my first article as a political commentator. Looking back today, I'm not all that impressed with the first newspaper stories I wrote, but I quite like my work as columnist.

Certainly, by Keen's standards, I was an unqualified amateur? Or is the fact that I had editors, and sometimes got paid, the dividing line that enabled me to call myself a professional in those seven years from my first national byline until I obtained my journalism degree? I use myself as an example here only because it's closest to me, but my story is hardly unique.

Journalists are lifelong amateurs
If we look at etymology, there is a strong a case for arguing that journalists are amateurs all their lives. The word amateur comes from the Latin 'amare', meaning 'to love', and what else than love and public spirit can make a person put up with the lousy pay and ungodly hours most media jobs require?

News journalists are by nature generalists rather than experts, and overall, to paraphrase Friedrich Hayek, 'journalists are second hand peddlers of ideas'. These days I specialise in media, so perhaps I am an expert of sorts, but when I do my job well, both as a media journalist and commentator, my role is more akin to that of a mediator, translator, facilitator, than that of an expert.

It's a matter of definition of course, I've also heard an expert defined as someone who can make complex or abstract ideas sound simple. By that definition, I've been an expert ever since my early days as a columnist.

And I don't mean to brag, in fact I've struggled at times to come to terms with the fact that I'm well versed in abstract ideas and good at applying them to, or translating them into, concrete situations. Being comfortable dabbling with philosophical or technological concepts goes against media's strong anti-intellectual undercurrent, and clashes with some murky notions of intellectual and/or anti-intellectual snobbishness that seem to see ideas and action as mutually exclusive categories.

Proud to be a second-hand dealer in ideas
Now, a lot has changed since Hayek's days. In 1949, he described how "there is little that the ordinary man of today learns about events or ideas except through the medium of this class [of intellectuals, or second-hand dealers in ideas as he called them]; and outside our special fields we are almost all ordinary men."

Today, even the ordinary man can learn most things all by himself by logging onto and searching the world wide web. But the abundance of information available is such that, given how most of us have busy professional lives to keep up with, those second-hand dealers in ideas still have a role to play, and I've come to feel quite proud to be one.

I see the role of journalists of the future more as that of curators, aggregators, translators, guides, which requires a particular skill set, a skill set that in some ways goes beyond that of a traditional journalist (I'll return to that in a separate post), but to quote from Suw Charman's White paper for the Freedom of Expression project:

We need human beings to act as curators of information, to help us understand the wider context of the story, provide analysis, make connections, and explain complex stories using metaphor or analogy... the web is built of hyperlinks, and there is a valuable opportunity for the media to deepen their coverage of the news by linking to the sources used in an article's preparation, plus background reading, watching or listening. Instead of simply republishing content in a flat unlinked form, news organisations should be considering how they can use hyperlinks to create richer, more informed, and more nuanced coverage of every type of news.

Keen's arbiters of taste
Which brings me back to Keen. Because this vision about journalists as guides is not entirely out of sync with Keen's arguments, except for the fact that Keen seems to see journalists and publishers not only as guides or curators, but as vital arbiters of taste, and it's the fact that internet challenges their hegemony that Keen seems to bemoan.

Well I say, good riddance, if those were artificially imposed tastes that didn't reflect reality, we are much better served without them. Except, I don't buy into the argument that internet is destroying our economy and our culture, that it will replace professional journalists with an army of stampeding citizen journalists bent on destroying everything in their way, leaving all mainstream media outlets and publishing houses bankrupt.

Which internet is Keen an expert on?
In fact, I'm at loss as to how a person who calls himself an internet expert, and one would assume knows how to navigate the online landscape of online forums, blogs, You Tube, social networks etc, can come away with Keen's conclusions. I'm tempted to question which internet Keen has surfed, it's certainly not the one I inhabit, but then my time is much too precious to go looking for the bad stuff.

Rather than a garbage tip, I see the internet as a treasure throve, not at least for journalists. I see conversations, tidbits, insights, buzz it previously was impossible for me to listen into, unless I happened to be in the right pub at the right time, made available and searchable through hyperlinks.

I see a world where I can tap into peoples conversations about a company I follow in all the countries it operates, and sample the private notes of an influential academic and the latest Whitehall gossip and banter at the same time; a world where I can track multiple conversations and keep in touch with friends and contacts all over the world, without leaving my office chair. None of this constitute journalism per see, but it's a marvellous starting point for informed reporting.

I see new voices enriching and broadening what academics like to call the 'public discourse' – though surely, it's about time we added an s to the end of that phrase to make it better reflect reality. I see unexplored opportunities for mainstream media (MSM) to work closer with the various communities they serve and hence become more relevant and important to those communities. I see opportunities for MSM to become part of a broader distributed conversation; opportunities to increase traffic and revenues through better distribution, increased credibility and more targeted, or rather relevant, marketing.

There are opportunities aplenty. Yes, change is painful, particularly for those who stand in the middle of it and find their jobs restructured away, but there are also more opportunities than ever to start afresh on your own, do your own thing. Yes, there are challenges, pitfalls, unanswered questions, but was there ever a point in time where we could freeze, would want to freeze, reality and thereby make sure we had all the answers and would live happy ever after?

Blogger Guido Fawkes talks to The Independent about his life in the media

Remember, remember, the fifth of November... until today I have not seen The Independent's "My Life in Media" interview a blogger before, and how timely that they should choose to interview none other than Guido Fawkes, one of Britain's most influential bloggers, on Bonfire night. Last time I checked, Guido had about 250,000 unique users per month.

In the words of The Independent: "The parliamentary blogger Guido Fawkes has been setting Westminster alight with his tales of plots, rumours and conspiracy for the past three years. He describes himself as 'the only man to enter parliament with honest intention', and his blog, a sort of political Popbitch, runs stories that the printed and broadcast media are prevented from touching through lack of evidence or libel laws."

A bit more about Guido here, if you're unfamiliar with his work, and a bit about how journalists use him here.

Now, one part of the interview really impressed me. The Independent asks Guido what the best thing about his job is, and he answers: "The fact that now, when I call up a minister's office, they don't go, 'Who?'. You can hear them go, 'Oh shit, it's Guido'. That might be egotistical, but nobody looks forward to a telephone call from me."

If you live in my part of the world, where you often can call up, at least the most publicity hungry government ministers, and pretty much get them on the phone straight away, especially if you're calling for an English newspaper, you may think "what's the big deal?".

But in England, where you often have to partly bully and partly charm your way past layer upon layer of secretaries and their likes, only to have the minister or his/her PR call you back and have a shot at bullying you about the paper you are calling from if you're deemed important enough (oh, coming from The Observer, Express etc you would ask that, wouldn't you? You lot are always asking this and that, are so bent on this particular issue etc, insinuating with the nicest possible words that you are stupid, obsessive, a crook or worse), it's quite a feat.