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TWO WORDS THAT SHIT ON MY SOUL: 'COPY APPROVAL'

Don't get me wrong, press releases, sleeve-notes, ad-copy, that's different, I seek copy approval in those instances. No, what I'm on about is something that occurred to me yesterday, something that's never occured to me before in nigh on 25 years of doing this. Something I'm alarmed to find is happening increasingly in the world of mag journalism, specifically music journalism. And I blame it almost entirely on 'creatives'. Beardy fuckers. 




Long story short - I pitched a feature on a label I've loved for a while to a mag I've written for for awhile. The editor, a long-term colleague and friend and all round ledge yayed it, and actually gave me more pages than I expected. Started compiling interviews with label boss and roster. This is where the oddyssey of bullshit started but you don't need to know all the details - suffice to say the finickity sense of maniacal control over me (coupled with his operational ineptitude) that the PR seemed to be demonstrating was already ringing alarm bells through the whole process. The artists also showed signs of that generational gap between my generation of writers and artists and the current self-regarding fuckers currently calling themselves 'creatives'- the old pros on the label were swift and sure, knew the process, played the game like pros. The rest moaned about the questions, only got me answers three days after deadline day and generally acted like the spoiled little bitches they clearly are. 


ANYHOO - before I disappear up that particular alley of anger (been very radgy this week tbh) the crowning turd in the whole shamoli was 3 days after deadline day when I got this e-mail. Remember, I fought for this feature. I pitched it and secured it. I've been positively and proactively writing about the artists on this label for nearly a decade cos I think they're ace. And liddrally a minute before I was gonna click on 'send' I get this e-mail. Not from my editor, or a section editor or anyone from the mag. From the fucking PR. I quote it verbatim and with its original spelling. 


"Can i PLEASE have a look at the final piece before you submit it. We definitely need approval. This is very importnat to us!"


I know. 
I know. 
I couldn't believe it either. 




Exclamation marks, the last refuge of the scoundrel. TBH, when I first saw that it was like someone shat on my soul. I was shocked. I felt violated. And fuck you if you think that's an overreaction. Almost immediately fired back the following. 


"Approval? Never ever in 20 odd years of writing had to send a feature for approval first.   By the way,  I am the writer of the article. I pitched it, got commissioned and now I'm delivering it. This is called 'journalism'. If you wanted an advertorial you should've paid for it.  Or perhaps you would've rather written it yourself?"


Was trembling with rage. Still am, recalling it. I'm sorry but the fucking ENTITLEMENT of this generation of 'creatives fucking STAGGERS me. Unsurprising when they've told themselves and are told by others of similar guilessness and gauch that they're special, superior to those drongs in 'non-creative' jobs (i.e people who have to survive without pater/mater's help).

E.G - check THIS out and see if it doesn't make you simultaneously want to vomit and kill. 

What's perhaps more disturbing is the utter obliviousness as to why seeking copy approval for a mag-feature might snag so much, is actually so totally offensive for any writer. For so many of these cunting new 'creatives' the idea of 'journalism' is indistinguishable from PR, synonymous with the regurgitation of press releases to the point where they can see no reason why final say-so of the copy shouldn't be down to them, just as it would be with entirely corporate work.

This wasn't someone overstretching their bounds, rather for this generation of 'creatives' the map has been redrawn - copy is something they feel they can dictate if they are involved in any way in the process. The idea of stepping off and back and then trusting the writer to do his/her thing is anathema to them. Writing has to, at some point, be a private non-collaborative act, and for magazine work it's between the writer and whatever ed has commissioned it. Modern creatives, and I'm including some new eds as well as PRs in this, simply don't understand this. The writer is a lackey to them, and consequently can be treated with nil respect, just ground like a barrel-monkey, puppet-stringed through the writing process. This is what happens after a whole decade-long generation of people involved in magazines have all been all too happy to talk about content-provision and s.e.o: with mercenary pusillanimity smearing and blurring the lines between ad-copy and editorial to the point where the writer's job, his or her task, is simply to be the workhorse behind cranking the words out, collating the PR guff and turning it into copy. 



 With such a degenerated role - which I entirely blame not on PRs or publishers but on the craven fucking cowardice in not standing up to these cunts of way too many magazine editorial staff in the past decade-odd - the writer should presumably just acquiesce, reduce their writing to something almost 'guided' by the PR, surrender any creativity and any actual pleasure in writing to the business of keywords, target-reach, marketing and managing 'the message'. I can't stress to you how depressed this tiny wee e-mail exchange (and of course, my e-mail was ignored/breezed over) left me. Cos if this is what writing means now, magazine writing - fuck it, I don't wanna fucking do it anymore.



That's what was so soul-sappingly depressing about this tiny little aperture through which I glimpsed the world of modern journalism. I realised that now, I'm dealing with a different type of PR, and a different kind of conception of what writing and press coverage is about. What simply didn't compute, doesn't compute with these people is the idea that a writer might actually care about what they create for money. That a writer might actually have their own things to say within their writing which might not entirely tally up with what's in the PR strategy. Because I still believe this, my communication with this new generation of media-people suffers from a definite gap in our thinking, our syntax, our meaning. For this particular guy I was dealing with a category error was going on in his thinking, and my thinking - it felt like I might as well have been talking Swahili . For him there was NO difference between writing a press release and writing a feature. For me, obliterating the difference between the two is equivalent to obliterating my identity as a writer. Yes I'm aware that I should just get with it. I'm aware that those getting ahead are precisely those people who can synonymise ad-copy and editorial. Too late for me now. Thank fuck.

Of course, what this largely rests on is a breakdown of trust - and for anyone who's worked in an institution that's dying you KNOW that breakdown of trust is one of the first signs and symptoms of deterioration. I think increasingly PRs don't trust writers anymore and they've learned not to, encouraged by editors and magazine staff who also don't trust writers anymore. Once that trust breaks down there's no rebuilding it. And so the media conducts its work in a constant air of suspicion and second-guessing. Everyone tries to interfere in the writing process. And at no point is the writer trusted to simply get on with their job. At all points the writer is prodded, pointed, guided, dictated to. And so what emerges from such a process is anaemic cowed writing. Don't get me wrong - there's a ton of great PRs out there who understand what a bad idea for their strategy asking for copy approval can be. But I think those kinds of PR are a dying breed. Partly also it's down to a movement I detect within PR and PR training in which writing skills have become less important than general management skills - consequently there's a farming out of writing to copywriters and hungry hacks. When those same hacks are used by papers and mags for writing editorial, PRs increasingly see no reason why their presence during that process shouldn't be exactly as over-seeing and intrusive as it is (and should be) for corporate work.





Us hacks are outnumbered massively now. There are way way more PR people than journalists in the UK and inevitably this poses dangers for journalism.  The growth of 'native ads' (shudder) and their commercial success is going to further blur the categories for this generation of PR and writers. For readers, used to clicking and digesting stories quickly, the checks for authority, veracity and motivation I try and teach my research students simply won't occur. Existential threats like native ads are not normally responded to well by journalists or print-media organisations. If those organisations recruit their management (as is increasingly happening in all management) from purely corporate non-journalistic backgrounds then why should we be surprised if within print journalism corporate etiquette changes in coming years in favour of cutting costs and purely acquiescing to PR? If editors increasingly see no reason why editorial staff shouldn't be primarily engaged in the worlds of marketing and advertising, lubricating the cashflow from corporate coffers to publishers by generating the correct content, to the detriment of less-lucrative actual opinion and investigation? Currently everyone seems to dictate 'content' apart from the fucking writers - the idea of 'reader-led' content itself seems keen to obliterate the notion that now and then as a writer there are things you WANT and NEED to tell the reader about, even if the reader hasn't previously expressed an interest in that subject. In truth readers NEED that, want occassionally to be told about things they don't know about and about things they haven't already expressed an interest in via clicks or social media interactions. The language of empowerment-of-readers masks a huge underestimation of readers, and a fundamental misunderstanding of what reading can feel like precisely because it's those intangibles, those affections and relationships we build as readers and writers that are unquantifiable and unamenable to statistic analysis.




The revelatory power of journalism will be extinguished if readers, or rather the algorhythmic agglomeration of reader-interaction (which is a totally diff. thing from an actual reader but is handy for ed's and publishers bereft of imagination), becomes the sole consideration of mags and papers. The youth of those involved, the shedding of old heads for new shills, also worries me because I remember being a young writer and being scared - wanting to get everything right, wanting to stay a writer. 24 hour news cycles means that press-releases, things that journalists used to disregard now go straight from e-mail into print saving time and money. Because it's assumed that the young are more 'in touch' with the digital world young writers with few contacts are learning that as a writer they have to suck up to PR, agree to things like copy-approval, skewing of stories, keeping questions easy. Again, don't get me wrong -  PRs should certainly be a source for journalists and some of my oldest and dearest friends in the music industry are PRs. Some of the most exciting writing I read is from young journalists. It's just that increasingly I feel the new generation of PR is all about bossing the journalistic process itself and is finding increasingly that young journalists, keen to keep what precarious toe-hold they have in such a nepotistic and incestuous industry, are more than keen to play ball. These are not 'transitional' times. They're tragic times. 

What startled me, in online discussion with editors and colleagues, was the stories I heard about demands for 'copy approval' becoming a fairly common occurence - not just from the big names and stars but the tiniest poxiest little labels and artists. Undoubtedly fear of stitch-up is a driver too, and the press can't exactly cover themselves with glory on that score. But the ASSUMPTION behind the e-mail I mention, the sickening feeling that THIS IS THE WAY THINGS ARE DONE NOW GRANDAD really shocked me to my core. With increasing amounts of journalism students seeing Marketing & PR as more viable career roles than the dwindling amount of remaining writing jobs we should be worried about how soon unfiltered corporate communication will entirely replace journalism altogether. 




For now - Hacks - if a PR seeks 'copy approval' grass them up to your editor like I did and then tell em to go fuck. We are NOT fucking finished yet. 
NB: At least the whole experience inspired me as to an easy starter for my next Print Media lesson in my proper job. Gonna sling up on the board 'Publisher', 'Editor', 'Advertiser', 'PR', 'Section Editor' and ask my group - who is your PRIMARY responsibility to when writing for magazines? 

I hope one of them gets the right answer which is of course not even on the board - the reader. The writer and the reader are the two most devalued people in current media thinking. But THAT is who any writer should care about first and foremost, the reader. Cos unlike all the other people in that list the writer and the reader BOTH WANT THE SAME THING. Friendship. The chance to say and hear things you won't say or hear anywhere else. The chance for intimacy, for sharing, for making someone laugh, think, feel. Friendship. Never ever ever fucking forget it. 

Comments

  1. I wish I dealt with journalists like you ! I teach music biz now having worked in PR and promo for over 20 years in the music industry. My experience of late has been working with young journalists (mainly) who don't want a conversation about the product/band/artist/event they just copy and paste my press release which is not why I got into what I do/did. So from my end I know what's going to appear, free without taking out a paid ad, however it takes the joy out of the partnership we should have but don't. I've always said PR's should be made to spend time in a paper/mag office for a week to see how the other side works (there would be fisty cuffs I know) and vice versa (never going to happen) sighs �� But on the other hand an example from last week where I did a favour for a colleagues album and put my PR hat on - I email press release to said local journalist from the MEN, called office to speak to, she is busy, no call back but she emails to request pics, email pics, nothing, email to check all ok with pics?, nothing, ask politely if/when article might appear?, nothing, friend asks?, email to explain artist is wondering if/ when piece might appear as there was interest in piece and picture request? ....nothing! God knows what they are teaching them at uni on both sides? Maybe that's the problem? I fell into PR on back of working in the industry maybe that's why I'm still in it for the right reasons ? ... thoughts? Jo

    ReplyDelete
  2. thank you :) also for the exclamation marks !!!

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  3. We would like copy approval - this is very important to us.
    Fuck no.. and that's very important to me. That sound? Oh, just me retreating from any future support for your label. You think you're important mr and ms creative industries? Well I did battle in the 90s when the entire industry was full of cocaine self importance... you're just a part of the entitlement generation, the self important generation - and you're happily steering the ship into oblivion. You're the kings and queens of nothing... you gave it all away and now, in a state of utter fear at how irrelevant you and your kind are, you try to regain some control of your lives that you've willingly streamed away by asking for copy approval. Show me the contract. Show me the contract. And in future I demand approval on your release schedule you utter piece of shit for nothing irrelevant nothingness

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  4. Back when I first encountered your writing in MM,I used to look for anything you'd written before exploring the rest of its was because you were not only the vituperatively acid-tongued iconoclast who delighted in tearing establishment untouchables to pieces, but the most informed, informative and wickedly funny writer that paper had. I didn't care if you were wielding a hatchet or shining a light on a marginalised genius, you never talked down (or up) to me but as if I was sitting next to you in a pub. You had (and still have) the crucial fun factor the demoniacs in your article want excising from music journalism for good. I pray like the proud antitheist I am they don't succeed.

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  5. Apologies for the slight entanglement of words towards the beginning of my comment - it should have read '...before exploring the rest of its content because ... I really should stop smoking this shit.

    ReplyDelete

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