Why was Sky News’s #chileminers counter crass? Any why didn’t they fix it?

There was a veritable storm on Twitter when a new on screen graphic appeared on Sky News’s coverage of the Chile mine rescue this evening. I have read comments describing it as a “joke” or “spectacularly crass” or “insensitive.” I plumped for “sensationalist.”

On the face of it the graphic – a counter of miners rescued – is innocuous. Why the outrage?

I think the reasons for the Twitter disgust are pretty subtle, and can be summed up as:

  1. Bad timing. The counter appeared, and stayed on screen, for several hours in the run up to the rescue, even when it became apparent the rescue was some way off.
  2. Sky introduced a custom set of graphics for this story, which they do for many major stories. However in this case, the soil texture used in the graphics is unusually in-your-face in saying to the viewer “just in case you have the attention span of a flea, these men are underground.”
  3. The location – top left corner, flush with the  Sky News logo, along with the presentation of two numbers in that format has an unfortunate and trivialising echo of a sports score.
  4. The tally has at times been accompanied by an advert for Sky News HD – nothing says ‘we are willing to insensitively exploit the situation these men are in’ quite like inserting an ad just above the counter recording their fate.
  5. And of course, as with most Twitter storms plenty of the comments are unthinking re-tweets and mock outrage.

Sky should not draw too much comfort from my fifth point – their credibility has taken such a hit that more than one person genuinely believed a spoof that circulated showing a parallell “Miners Dead: 0 of 33″ counter.

And why not? To many it seems no more or less ridiculous.

The information itself is relevant and useful. If Sky had stuck to their regular graphics and included the tally on the ticker, or on a loop in the main graphics, no-one would have batted an eyelid.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that at the time of writing, with new criticism of Sky appearing on Twitter at a rate of one critical tweet every five seconds, they haven’t taken the simple steps necessary to fix it.

Orfordness lighthouse reveals the power of Twitter and generous people

Every couple of months I drive up to Orford – it’s one of those rare places in the UK where the sky seems a little bigger, and the light a little warmer. Watching over the village is the arresting Orford Ness lighthouse.

One cold afternoon in January I stumbled on the news that Orford Ness lighthouse had been recommended for closure, and had an idea. An idea which, thanks to Twitter, I could simultaneously share with the world and pitch directly to Radio 4 continuity announcer and Suffolk-born man Zeb Soanes. Why not read the shipping forecast from the top of Orford Ness lighthouse, to give it a romantic send off?

What began and ended with a few casual (and easily forgotten) keystrokes for me was the beginning of a chain of thought and real time commitment for Zeb, so it’s really pleasing that by his own account he had an enjoyable time reading an excerpt of the shipping forecast from the lighthouse this morning.

This recording is from today’s Lesley Dolphin show on BBC Radio Suffolk and yes, of course, I blushed a little at the name check.

Some thoughts on where #Eurostar's communications went wrong

There are plenty of people rushing to judge Eurostar this weekend. The headline on TechCrunch is almost comical – “As hundreds of Eurostar passengers languish, Eurostar ignores Twitter.” On the face of it, it’s rather like saying “As shelves run dry of food, Tesco ignores Susan Boyle.” It’s quite random. TechCrunch’s view of the issue is pretty narrow (as this post from We are social shows.)

The whole communications effort could have been better, and the speed of the social media response is just one symptom – hopefully Eurostar will take some lessons away from this weekend.

Where did Eurostar go wrong?

  • It’s worth saying that when it comes to PR, Eurostar were unlucky – as ever there’s not a lot of news around at Christmas, and this is a big story which is relatively low effort / low cost to cover.  Dramatic though it is, is it really a bigger story than a vulnerable toddler being abducted from a police station? Personally I don’t believe so – but there are unfortunately a lot of angry passengers in the Eurostar story who are able to keep the story running.
  • It sounds like there was confusion in Eurostar HQWe are social’s Robin Grant describes grabbing the chief executive for a minute “in between various crisis meetings”, and being sat alongside the Sales and Marketing Director.  In a situation as fast moving and high profile as this, the key people could have worked better together if they had been co-located in one room. It would have been good to see Eurostar’s crisis team validate or update their corporate message every thirty minutes, while managing the operational challenge.
  • I think Eurostar could have picked a better core message – the explanation offered about changes in temperature affecting the trains left more questions than answers. Over time it looked like the company didn’t know what was causing the breakdowns, so it would have been more credible to say “we don’t know what’s happened to the trains, but we’re working as fast as possible to understand it.” There was also an attempt to move too quickly to the final stage of the comms plan – the review and compensation line – when practical operational comms to passengers was needed. (more…)