Tag Archives: bbc

“You’re probably going to be too poor to be buried!” says insurance company

The not-so-great leveller: dramatic differences in cost of dying just miles apart

Bereaved cutting back on flowers and opting for cheaper coffins to curb impact of funeral inflation

It is meant to be the great leveller but in Britain even death comes with a dramatically different price tag depending on where you live.

New research has exposed wide variations – as extreme as differences in house price – between the cost of funerals and burials in different postcodes.

Source: Telegraph, 5th October 2015

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Average cost of a basic funeral has leapt by £140 in one year, says new report

‘Vulnerable bereaved people are taking on increased debt; and we predict this problem will worsen’

The average cost of a basic funeral has leapt by £140 in the space of a year, a report has found.

Across the UK, the typical cost is now £3,702, a 3.9 per cent increase compared with 2014, when the average cost was £3,562, the insurer Royal London said.

Source: Independent, 5th Ocotber 2015

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This story garnered a lot of coverage recently, not just in the Telegraph and Independent, but also in the BBC, the Guardian, the Mirror and a host of local sources. Which would be fine, if all of those outlets made it absolutely clear that this story was sourced by an insurance company:

Simon Cox, a funeral cost expert at Royal London, said: “Our study shows people are striving to meet funeral price hikes, which they have little control over.

“Given the stressful situation, shopping around for a funeral is often not an option.

“Instead people are coping by cutting back on non-essentials if possible, and reconsidering how loved ones are buried.

While it’s undoubtedly true that funerals are costly affairs, it’s equally true that there’s a clear financial incentive for an insurance company to ensure people are afraid that their loved ones won’t have enough money to pay for their burial once they’re gone. I’m sure it won’t be a surprise to Royal London if they see an increase in interest in their life insurance policies as a result of stories like this. As ever with PR, it’s hard to distinguish the genuine message from the sales hook.

“Mentioning a faddy word will get us in the headlines!” says dictionary company

Every year, a number of words get added to the dictionary, and every year the oddest or faddiest of them make for national and international headlines:

‘Manspreading’ added to online dictionary

The act of “manspreading”, or sitting with legs wide apart on public transport, is among 1,000 new words to enter the online Oxford dictionary.

OxfordDictionaries.com issues quarterly updates on current definitions of English words.

Other new entries include Grexit, Brexit, hangry, beer and wine o’clock and NBD – meaning “no big deal”.

Source: BBC, 27th August 2015

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11 weirdest words added to online Oxford dictionary from ‘bants’ to ‘manspreading’

Oxford Dictionaries have been having some bants with their new website update, adding more than 1,000 awesomesauce new words and phrases. It’s NBD though and if this all annoys you then maybe you’re just hangry.

Understand all that? ‘Bants’, ‘awesomesauce’, ‘NBD’ and ‘hangry’ are just a handful of the new entries that reflect current trends in the English language. Many of the nouns, verbs and adjectives will be familiar to the younger generations bringing them in, but there are still a number of unexpected additions that most people will need explaining.

Source: Independent, 27th August 2015

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Why bants about manspreading at beer o’clock is NBD: 1,000 new words are added to the Oxford Dictionary

Britons are offending commuters by manspreading, revelling in bants with their friends at beer o’clock, and having a brain fart while talking about the Grexit – but it’s NBD.

These are just some of the 1,000 new terms added to OxfordDictionaries.com in its latest quarterly update, which reveals current trends in the usage of language.

New entries include manspreading, when a man sits with his legs wide apart on public transport encroaching on other seats, bants – short for banter – and NBD, an abbreviation of no big deal.

Source: Daily Mail, 27th August 2015

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How much of this represents the natural changing of language, and how much of it is an overt attempt to grab headlines? The question could be answered by looking at how Oxford Dictionaries announce the new intake of 1,000 words in their official press release, which all of these media outlets picked up on:

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It’s quite clear that of the 1,000 words admitted to the dictionary, it’s the ones with the most faddy usage that are prioritised in the press release – knowing that it’s these words that will generate the media headlines and gain the column inches the PR team desires.

Fiona McPherson, senior editor of Oxford Dictionaries, said the addition of multiple slang words did not represent a dumbing down of English.

She said: “There’s always been new slang words. I just think we are more aware of them because of the ways in which we consume and live our lives now.

“We are bombarded with more and more avenues where those sort of words are used and we just think that there are more of them. I don’t necessarily think that’s the case.”

What’s remarkable is that this story is exactly the same, year on year, every time new words and slang words are added to the dictionary. And every single year, the media run the story, complete with faux-outrage at the dumbing down of language.

Perhaps one of these years, ‘churnalism’ will make it into the Oxford English Dictionary

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“Nostalgia really is very fun, you know!” says scientist on behalf of tourist board

Remember that old game you used to play with sticks, bridges and rivers? The media had a lot to say about it recently:

Poohsticks formula prompts list of best places to play

A top engineer has devised a formula to aid budding players of Poohsticks – the game first devised by Winnie the Pooh.

The formula uses area, density and a drag coefficient to help competitors find the perfect twig.

It was written by Dr Rhys Morgan, from the Royal Academy of Engineering, and is to accompany a new book called Poohstickopedia.

Source: BBC, 26th August 2015

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Perfect formula for Pooh sticks

A TOP engineer has finally solved the problem of the perfect wood to play Pooh sticks.

The classic game originates from AA Milne’s children’s stories about Winnie the Pooh.

Players drop sticks from the upstream side of a bridge into the river below and see which appears first on the downstream side.

Now Dr Rhys Morgan, of the Royal Academy of Engineering, has devised a formula for the ideal stick to make players more competitive.

Source: Express, 25th August, 2015

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The poohsticks formula that ensures you winnie! Engineer says the perfect stick for the game is thick, dense and as rough as possible

For a Bear of Very Little Brain it may be a little too complicated.

But if Winnie the Pooh were able to get his head round a leading engineer’s work he would find an apparently surefire way of winning at his beloved poohsticks.

Dr Rhys Morgan claims to have found the formula for a perfect stick – which he says should be as thick, dense and rough as possible.

Source: Daily Mail, 26th August, 2015

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A formula for the perfect game of Poohsticks, you say? Sounds legit, Precisely what is this formula?

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So the perfect poohstick is one where the density (in an unspecified unit – kg/mperhaps?), multiplied by the cross-sectional area (in cm2  perhaps?), multiplied by the drag coefficient (in whatever unit that might be measured in).

Which seems odd, as one would have assumed that the lower the drag-coefficient, the faster it would travel in the water, and thus the sooner it would pass the bridge… but an optimally-lower drag coefficient would play havoc with the entire equation. Speaking of which, isn’t it unusual that these three supposedly-crucial parameters (given that no other parameter seems to matter) all have exactly equal importance, unless you get your units mixed up? 

It’s as if this isn’t a real scientific formula at all, but something cooked up as a piece of meaningless PR simply to get the body behind it into the news:

Visit England then compiled a list of the top places around the country to play the classic pastime.

Rebecca Lowe, of VisitEngland, said: “It remains a great way for families to spend time together and enjoy England’s great outdoors – just like Pooh.”

In fact, it’s nothing more than a nostalgia-exploiting attempt by a tourist body to remind us all of the joys of the great British countryside and the rich literary heritage we all share, via the abuse of scientific legitimacy and the minor degradation of the public’s opinion of what it means to be a scientist for a living.

If that weren’t enough, this story took a new twist a few days later, when another body attempted to use the story to secure themselves some positive PR, in a move which backfired terribly:

Don’t lean over, and make sure the bridge is structurally sound: Nanny state spoilsports set out ‘rules’ for a safe game of Poohsticks

Government officials have been branded ‘nanny state spoilsports’ after tweeting out a set of rules for a safe game of Poohsticks – only to delete it minutes later.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport posted the advice this afternoon but quickly removed it. A follow-up tweet claimed it had been posted in error.

It read: ‘When playing #Poohsticks check bridge sidebarriers are safe height with no large gaps and structurally sound bridges with slow-flowing water.’

Source: Daily Mail, 28th August 2015

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The Department of Culture, Media and Sport really put their foot in it with their nanny-state interference, right?

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Either that, or they lightheartedly decided to jump on the bandwagon of a national puff-piece story during silly-season, and were shamed into retracting things. No, it has to be the first of those, because the government is an interfering nanny-state, isn’t it? At least, that’s the angle of the Daily Mail piece, complete with outraged quote:

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said the tweets were evidence of the overbearing insistence on over-the-top health and safety measures by the government.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance – the reliable rent-a-gob for all of your small-state needs. On the plus side, at least VisitEngland’s story got twice as much coverage as they’d planned.

So, to recap: a tourism board hires a scientist to create a dodgy faux-formula to invoke some nostalia-bait headlines, the media run with it, a government body decides to bandwagon onto the fun and then an anti-government body decides to bandwagon onto the government’s bandwagoning.

And to think that people are nostalgic for when the media covered real news.

Nestlé to create machine to give people “everything they need”. They should start with clean drinking water.

Nestle reveals secret project to build food ‘replicator’ that can create personalised meals to give people exactly the nutrients they need

Nespresso machine have taken the coffee world by storm – and now Nestle hopes a new food making system could have a similar effect on the way we eat.

The firm is developing a ‘food replicator’ that bosses describe as ‘the next microwave’.

It will deliver meals personalised for each user, with exactly the right balance of nutrients they need for a healthy diet.

Source: Daily Mail, 23rd June 2014

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Nestlé wants a Star Trek style ‘replicator’ that scans you to create nutritionally perfect food

It looks like 3D printers are going to give us the best chance to ‘dial up’ a meal science fiction style -but food giant Nestlé has gone one better and said they’re also working on a machine that can figure out the nutrients our body needs as well.

Bloomberg reports that the project (which has been inexplicably code-named ‘Iron Man’) would analyse an individuals’ dietary deficiencies, studying a range of factors from carbohydrates to cholesterol to produce highly personalized meals.

“Iron Man is an analysis of what’s missing in our diets, and a product, tailored to you, to help make up that difference,” Ed Beagle, the director of Nestlé’s Institute of Health Sciences research arm, told Bloomberg. “In the past, food was just food. We’re going in a new direction.”

Source: Independent, 24th June 2014

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Ah, the spirit of invention and innovation, alive and well Nestlé! Aren’t they a wonderful, forward-thinking, positive company about whom we should only have warm, fuzzy and happy thoughts – thoughts like the ones this press-release-published-as-news engender?

It’s almost enough to make one forget that Nestlé are a company who’ve been the subject of a widespread public boycott for over 30 years over their aggressive promotion of baby formula in developing countries with poor access to clean drinking water.

In fact, the positive-if-entirely-speculative story about something Nestlé have suggested they might look at in the future might have changed some people’s minds about the company – maybe.

Yet, there’s something slightly disingenuous about Nestlé’s claims to develop a machine that would give its user ‘exactly the nutrients they need’. After all, Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe has only recently confirmed he recognises the importance of water to people, having previously argued that water is not a basic human right.

While it’s impossible to say whether the story about the future, possible, one-day development of an ‘everything you need’ machine is linked to Nestlé’s recent ‘we don’t actually think everyone *needs* access to water’ position, the timing is still interesting. Is there a food-security version of greenwashing?

“Nuts are actually really good for you!” says nut advocacy group

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“Mentioning a faddy word will get us in the headlines!” says dictionary company, everywhere

Churnalism: Not just the Daily Mail, and not just commercial

Posts on this site, I’m positive you’ve noticed, tend to follow a pretty regular pattern: take a story from the tabloids, trace it to a press release from a company who has a vested interest in placing the story into the press, demonstrating along the way the lack of editorial changes (or, as it tends to be called in the trade, ‘journalism’) to have taken place between the press release being issued and the article appearing in your newspaper. So far, so low-hanging. 

It’s fair to say many of the pieces featured here aren’t exactly the most weighty of stories, and often don’t have the most immediate of impact. Sure, the incremental weight these stories add to a stereotype can be underestimated, and the momentum from this faux-zeitgeist can soon add up to become an unstoppable freighter train (especially when the central points of the article appear not just in the tabloids, but as content in subsequent magazine articles, radio phone-ins, TV chat shows, factoid twitterfeeds and further tabloid articles, for years to come), but in terms of immediate real-world impact, the contents of this site rarely have any really severe ramifications to them. This is, in part, by design – if I were documenting the next Watergate or the next Hillsborough, I’d be using a more grown-up platform than Tumblr.

That said, the reason I post so frequently on commercial PR is relatively simple: it’s ubiquitous, and instructive. By following an article all the way back to it’s source, it’s easy in the commercial PR world to show the company behind the story, the PR agency they hired to come up with an angle, the Market Research company commissioned by the PR agency to generate some (often-biased) data, and the journalists who failed to do any fact-checking before published the press release as if it were actual news, about actual things that happen in the genuine world. By taking a look at the workings at the lowest level, we can see the cogs all turning the correct way, even as we watch the entire news machine drive backwards.

That all said, it’s important to realise that the very same flaws, systems and inadequacies which exist in the pithy and frivolous world of commercial PR exist also in other, less obvious, more severe areas of the news. Take, for example, a very quick search from a fortnight of press releases put out by a single police force, the North Wales Police:

Don’t tie up the line – don’t misuse 999

Reporting a faulty phone line, a request for prescribed medication and reporting a lost dog are just some of the inappropriate 999 calls North Wales Police have received this year.

Traditionally Christmas and New Year are among the busiest times of year for the Force and officers are asking people to use the 999 system wisely to help ensure a genuine emergency is not missed over the festive period.

Other inappropriate calls made to the force during the year include reporting bins being left outside property, wanting a telephone number for a local authority due to a dog being lost and a call from a man stating their son was playing on his Xbox and refusing to go to bed.

Source: North Wales Police Press Release, 24 December 2012

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This press release, as so often, was churned neatly into the Daily Mail:

999? My son won’t go to bed: Police reveal the ridiculous calls people make to emergency number

An angry dad dialled 999 to report his teenage son for refusing to go to bed.

The schoolboy, 14, was playing on his games console at midnight and ignored his parents’ pleas to switch it off and get some sleep.

The late-night row got so heated the boy’s father picked up the phone and dialled 999.

Police in North Wales say it was one of the hundreds of ‘inappropriate’ 999 calls they have received in 2012.

Source: Daily Mail, 24 December 2012

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Running the press release through Churnalism.com shows a copy/paste rating of 27% – however, much of the remainder of the article was actually taken directly from a very similar story from the Cleveland police on the same topic.

In fact, taking the Mail’s article apart line by line, the elements they’ve included which are not directly mentioned in the press releases from the Cleveland and North Wales police services are the age of the boy who refused to go to bed, his intended bedtime, and a quote attributed to an un-named man who needed a dental surgery.

It may well be that these were details added as a result of some genuine journalism and fact-checking from Sam Webb at the Daily Mail (it’s equally possible that they’re complete embellishments, of course) – either way, those three facts represent the sum total of work done to add to the details given directly from the police.

As is often the case, the Daily Mail weren’t alone in running the press release – however, somewhat unusually, it was the BBC which picked up the story, running with 73% of the original press release untouched:

North Wales Police: 999 call over son’s bedtime refusal

A man saying his son is refusing to go to bed was among several “inappropriate” 999 calls received by North Wales Police this year.

Others included a request for prescribed medication, reports of a faulty phone line and a lost dog.

Police said the festive period was one of its busiest times of year and asked people to use the 999 system wisely.

Source: BBC News, 24 December 2012

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You may be forgiven for thinking this is a rarity from the BBC, themselves featuring less often on this blog than the more PR-friendly Daily Mail, but you’d be mistaken. In fact, on December 31st, the BBC put out another press release from the North Wales Police, again with a high percentage of verbatim copy:

Anglesey pubs closed for selling alcohol to under 18s.

Six Anglesey public houses are to close for three days after selling alcohol to under-age drinkers.

The 72-hour ban is being imposed after a police operation.

North Wales Police say the licensees opted to close as an alternative to prosecution.

Source: BBC News, 31 December 2012

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This is not a rare case, then – in fact, I could continue. The above stories all came from a single fortnight, from a single police force – however, as the hoax calls story shows, this is not isolated to the North Wales Police. It’s reasonably fair to say, the BBC routinely publishes barely-edited press releases issued by police forces around the contry.

Now for some context: just because a news service routinely publishes press releases as news, it does not necessarily follow that journalists aren’t doing their job correctly. It’s reasonably unlikely that the reports issue by the North Wales Police about the closure of a pub in Anglesey and the nuisance of inappropriate 999 calls are untrue, or contain flattering exaggerations designed to hide misdeeds by the police.

It may well be, then, that the journalist checked the facts, found that they aligned neatly with the press release, and used the words of the police as they best described reality (this is quite possible: in fact, projects I’ve worked on myself have been reported in the press with a pleasingly high rate of my own copy published untouched – that I made the effort to put my own press release through Churnalism.com says as much about myself as it does about the industry).

However, that the media – and the BBC in particular, as a news source considered amongst the best – routinely publish press releases issued by the police with seemingly-little independent fact checking is worrying, to say the least. Bear in mind, at the end of 2012, after decades of campaigning, it was finally comprehensively proven that the official police version of the events surrounding the Hillsborough disaster was fundamentally untrue.

During the year, too, the notion – accepted and released at the time by the police – that the News International phone hacking scandal was the work of ‘one rogue reporter’ in the form of Clive Goodman was spectacularly unravelled, with the (in my opinion) uncomfortably-close relationship between the Metropolitan Police and News International exposed for all to see.

And let’s not forget that in 2006 in London’s Forest Gate, the Metropolitan Police shot terror suspect Mohammed Abdul Kahar in the shoulder, with initial press reports claiming the shot had been fired by Kahar’s brother, and that the pair had been discovered in the process of building a chemical bomb – claims that were proven to be incorrect, with the Metropolitan Police later issuing a full public apology.

At a time when budgets and appetites for real journalism are falling, and increasingly journalists are being turned into copy factories churning out a near-impossible frequency of articles per day, to allow PR companies to uncritically place biased material into the tabloids in order to promote their commercial clients is damaging, but to remove the ability and will from the most respected elements of our media to check the claims of those in power can be outright dangerous.

“British kids lack culture!” says city tourism board ahead of half term week

February 15th, 2012

Let’s not believe that the Daily Mail are the only media source printing ideology-led opinion polls as news (although they’re probably the worst offenders). Take, for example, this from the BBC:

British children are culture starved, study says

Millions of British children are “culture starved” as they have never been to an art gallery, theatre or museum, a study has claimed.

The research, commissioned by Visit Birmingham, found four in 10 children had never been to an art gallery, while a quarter of parents had never taken their offspring to the theatre.

One in five parents said they did not think their child would be interested.

The study surveyed 2,000 parents of five to 12-year-olds around the UK.

Quite who thinks it’s a nice idea to be taking children under twelve (and as young as five) to an art gallery, I’ve no idea.

Looking at the stats, is this anything so remarkable? 40% of children aged 5-12 haven’t been in an art gallery – but 40% of children in that age bracket are under nine, so is it odd that children under nice haven’t been taken to an art gallery? I’m not sure. Further, was the breakdown across the age groups equal? Or were there a lot of five year olds included, but not as many twelve year olds – thus potentially skewing the numbers? 

I’ve no idea – the data isn’t presented, and isn’t freely available. Without the sample group, the raw figures don’t tell us much.

Should we expect more children under 12 to have visited art galleries? What would be a non-remarkable percentage, or what would be the expected percentage in a society which isn’t ‘culturally starved’? Again, we’re not told. Without context, the figures are meaningless at best, and misleading at worst. And that’s only if, indeed, they’re even accurate…

This – and the same story in The Telegraph and Daily Mail – came from a survey commissioned by OnePoll, the polling arm of press agency and PR firm 72 Point. We know this is true, because the press release is featured on both websites:

Although, oddly enough, the text is about an entirely different story (an error by the company in putting the story on their site, I presume). Still, it’s clear that they’re the originators, given the URLs of the relevant pages.

Handily, Visit Birmingham themselves published the full press release which the BBC and Telegraph based their articles on, which happily enough appears to coincide entirely coincidentally with their what-to-do-during-half-term offers.

So, a culturally bereft generation gone to the dogs? Or a tourist board advertising their half term offers?