UPDATE: The following is a post I put up in 2005 , attacking Paul Carr, Guardian columnist and internet entrepreneur. As much as I think that in journalistic terms he was totally out of order PR-ing his company in his column (see below for the details) I also don’t want this post to stand forever about how I feel about Carr and his ventures. There will be other things he does I will like, no doubt. So in order that you, gentle reader, have that context in mind, then read on. As much as I am a believer in The Long Tail, I also know that The Long Tail of Bile and Vitriol is not really one worth preserving. We can leave that kind of business to others.
Update 2008: Turns out I was right. These days we get on just fine.
Is anyone else more than a little bemused that Paul Carr, Guardian New Media columnist, is allowed to rehash his own press release as a column in the Media Guardian? Email me your opinion or log in to comment below.
I feel Paul’s beloved blogosphere – a phrase he likes to recycle EVERY FUCKING WEEK [Update: sorry, the word he overuses is Blogistan] because there is NOTHING ELSE happening in new media is there? – may be about to bite back.
This is not the first time he has written in glowing terms about his own projects, The Friday Project being a case in point. Is this the kind of thing we should expect from a national newspaper?
Paul Carr has emailed me to protest about my criticism (above) of his column.
Below are the main points of our exchange:
CARR: Did I do something to offend you? I ask only because the last time I wrote about blogs for the Guardian (most recent column aside) was back in February.
ME: Paul, I have become increasingly disappointed that you don’t use the fantastic opportunity you have as a regular columnist in (what’s left of) the new media section to look at many more wider issues in this business.
CARR: Of course it’s a free blogosphere (I believe the word I overuse is actually ‘Blogistan’) and you are entitled to say or think whatever you like about my column, or my work in general. But your latest post just seemed like a particularly vicious attack which came without much justification.
ME: Was it vicious because I said you wrote about blogs “every fucking week” (clearly it’s an erroneous impression, but it’s still an impression), or was it because I pointed out the similarities between your company’s press release and the column? Being vicious is something of a character flaw of mine, and I don’t wear it as a badge of honour by any stretch. My problem is usually aiming for the moon to “hit the next field”. I apologise if I was vicious.
CARR: As regards the bloggers biting back, I’m not sure why you think that’s about to happen. I like blogs and I like bloggers. I write nice things about them all the time and, I hope, I’ve done my bit to tell the non-new media folk who read Media Guardian about the cool and interesting things they’re doing. And I’ve just set up a publishing company to move the best of them into print. Fuck, you’re right, they should be turning up at my door with burning torches.
ME: Yes, you have promoted blogging, and it’s fair to say you have been one of the earliest to do so. (Although plenty of people have been earlier, they just don’t have Guardian columns). Your new venture is clearly of interest to bloggers. But do we have to have it slapped in our faces in your newspaper column? Can’t you rely on your company to do its own PR?
CARR: I write for the Guardian about things I’m involved in because they ask me to. Most Media Guardian columnists write about things they’re doing with their companies and then relate them to wider themes. That’s the point of the column and why it has my company name at the bottom. There’s no suggestion that it’s unbiased journalism and in fact I’ve alluded to my bias several times in the columns. There’s even a picture of me at the top.
ME: Perhaps you are right? Perhaps I am confusing what I perceive to be the only major column left in the national newspaper industry (outside perhaps of John Naughton in the Observer) with a brief to write about “real” new media with what is essentially – as you put it – your brief to give a personal-eye-view about being inside a new media company and how that is going. However, I’m afraid to say I’m still just plain disappointed. I basically expect better of you than to write a column off the back of a your own press release, (which describes you as Editor in Chief and “an experienced journalist with a regular media column in The Guardian”). In my book, people like that don’t write those sorts of columns, bluntly. I expect that of advertising executives, not journalists. There’s also a country mile between the average ad agency executive writing in the Guardian saying: “This occurred this week and I think it means X to the ad industry,” and saying (I paraphrase) “We’ve just set up a company, aren’t we clever and aren’t Chrysalis chumps. In fact they even publicly said they love our idea, so we sent them flowers, the poor misguided old fools.” It’s like Steve Jobs writing a column and, when Sony announces its new MD for Walkman, writing: “Our iPod is fab, but get those guys at Sony! What a bunch of jokers, etc etc.” Yes, it’s fair play to say that your column, which is branded as you and your company and has a big health-warning slapped all over it, is your opinion. It does not pre-suppose that the readers understand that, in this instance at least, this is tantamount to a press release for your company. Apart from anything else, anyone so au fait with ‘Blogistan’ and its machinations should be hardly by stung by a posting on… a blog. And especially when – let’s be honest – you have effectively just indulged in some knocking copy at the expense of a newly-announced rival to your firm, namely Chrysalis.
CARR: If you want to do the column yourself, why not email The Media Guardian editor? For what it’s worth, I’ve always enjoyed your writing and I think it would be interesting you read about the projects you’re involved in. Alternatively drop the readers’ editor a line and ask him to investigate. Either way, I’m genuinely sorry to have pissed you off. Keep up the good work with Mbites. Best regards, Paul
ME: In turn, for what its worth, I think you are a good writer. That’s probably why you have lasted as a columnist so long – you are opinionated and write well, whether or not you are objectively right or wrong, week to week. But here’s the issue – please don’t sully your own, very good, writing and the amazing opportunity you have with that column, to cross the line directly into PR. Lastly, it may be of some comfort to you to know that I have had almost no response to this post, so it is clearly of niche interest! It’s a sure bet that you have many more fans than I do, and far more influence. And if you’d like to have a pint to have a proper slug-out face to face that’s fine. Cheers, Mike.
Paul writes again to say:
He’s not the only person who writes the New Media column.
He’s says he’s not squandering the column because he’s written about a lot more subjects than TFP (Google Print, the Advertising Standards agency, the death of Hunter S Thompson, the TVSF directive and internet censorship etc) – none PR-ing TFP.
He doesn’t use the column for his own personal PR, but “I do however know more about my own business than about anyone else’s, so I am more comfortable relating to personal experiences rather than trying to second-guess those of others.”