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Yes, we have no hidden agendas!

April 19th, 2005

Dr Petra

Previously in this blog I’ve complained about the preoccupation with celebrity in the media, and how this obsession has led to features becoming just a means of free advertising, not quality reporting.

Greeting me this morning was an email entitled ‘interview for [a Sunday newspaper]’, which sums up exactly that current problem.

I wrongly assumed it was a request for help with a sex feature. It began:

“Hello. I am particularly looking for well-known names for the regular [motors] interview in ___________ and would love to help you with your promotions”.

This was a bit odd. True, I’ve been asked before if fast cars turn people on, or how some people prefer a car to a partner. But I couldn’t see what I could promote in relation to a Sunday newspaper’s motoring pages.

I read on.

“If you are working with any celebrities, authors, TV personalities, actors, presenters, politicians, sports stars etc. who you think might be suitable please feel free to suggest them”.

Even more odd. I’m not an agent, I don’t know anyone famous, and even if I did I couldn’t refer them to a journalist because my professional code of conduct forbids it.

I thought journalists prided themselves on accuracy? Surely a basic fact check should show I had nothing to offer.

The email continued to list some of the ‘extremely well-known people’ they’d either featured, or hoped to interview for the newspaper’s motoring section.

“Hugh Fernley Whittingstall, Geri Halliwell, David Soul, Sadie Frost, the Dalai Lama, Ross Kemp”.

“please only put names forward if they are recognisable” the email commanded.

Well that put pay to my chance to help. Recently on a trip to South Africa I met a guy who spends his time driving medics to rural areas so people can get vital health care. He would have made a great subject for a motoring feature, but he wasn’t famous like Ross Kemp, so obviously there was no point in sharing that tale.

Although the email was inviting names for a motoring section, the only criterion for inclusion was being famous. “They [the interviewees] don’t have to [be] car fanatics. They don’t even have to drive – we can ask them why not”

The reason? Because the newspaper assumed readers only want to hear about celebrities, and celebrities only seem willing to be featured if there’s something in it for them.

“Here’s how this interview can assist your promotions [the email continued]:
a) we can offer a big plug for your promotion, whatever it may be…It even works with something unrelated (e.g. ‘Person X is currently helping promote Gilette shaving gel’) and is obviously ideal for mentioning their own projects. I can also often ensure you get an italicised credit carrying a website address or phone number for further information.
b) it is a positive and upbeat profile (possibly a cover). The great thing about car features is that the editorial has no hidden agenda – it’s just a gentle read for a large audience over the weekend”

Yeah right, no hidden agenda at all.

If you discount the product placement.

And the fact that only the famous need apply.

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