It is the second year in a row we’ve won the prize, once again beating off some big players (not least Travel Weekly, part of the group that housed the old job at Travolution).
It is all very humbling to be recognised by the industry for doing a good job and, of course, extremely satisfying professionally, especially for the team which works equally hard to keep this Tnooz thing going every day. I am very proud of them all.
But there is another tale to tell.
The event last night was held at the Royal Institute of British Architects on Portland Place, just a stone’s throw from the sparkling lights and retailing madness that is London’s West End on a Thursday evening, five weeks before Christmas.
Walking up Portland Place to the event from Oxford Circus tube, it was obvious that there was some kind of noisy activity going on outside the RIBA building.
Was it a protest by the National Union of Journalists (Disclosure: card-carrying member of 12 years) about poor rates of pay for travel journalists?
This was not a protest by dour hacks with placards, but a group of about 30 people waving Tibetan flags.
But why would they be lobbying a group of travel writers and PRs (lots of agency PRs at the event, inevitably) at an awards do?
It turns out those behind the boisterous but far-from-threatening activity were members of the UK branch of the Students for a Free Tibet, and their anger was directed at a building across the road: the Chinese Embassy.
The police will not allow them to picket outside the embassy itself, so they always set up camp outside the RIBA facility.
But what’s this “always” bit all about?
It turns out the group (in one form or other) has protested outside the embassy in London between 6pm and 8pm every Wednesday since 1987.
That’s 25 years (five years before I got into this journalism malarkey), rain or shine.
The group is currently trying to highlight, through its fortnightly vigils, the alarming number of self-immolations in Tibet as the ultimate act of protest against the Chinese government.
There have been around 70 known incidents since February 2009. And in the past seven days alone there have been a further seven, says one of the members of the group standing in the street.
The recent increase is related to the change in leadership in China - no doubt as a terrifying form of desperation as they try to put the Tibet issue (China has occupied the region for over 60 years) back on the international agenda as outsiders ponder if the new leaders will have a different view to their predecessors.
For Tibetans inside (especially) and outside their Himalayan homeland, it looks pretty bleak - China hasn’t shifted its position (geographically, economically or culturally) in 60 years. In fact, the regime has tightened the noose.
But protests such as these will (and should) continue, as the more noise they make the higher the chance they have of getting through to politicians around the world and the media.
And there, at the end of the sentence above, is the wrinkle in all of this.
Ironically, last night’s protest couldn’t have been better placed. Yet the people shouting noisily up at the windows opposite didn’t even realise.
The protester I spoke to didn’t seem to know (or understand, particularly) what was going on in the RIBA building.
It seemed embarrassing to explain in any great detail to him that myself and a group of journos were about to drink wine, eat canapés and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.
Indeed, it is impossible to switch from discussing self-immolation (you know, setting fire to yourself) as a form of political protest to describing the vagaries of the judging process for some travel press awards.
The really gloomy part of this 10-minute exchange was that it was apparent that until that point no-one else has stopped to talk to the protesters as they entered the building.
An event full of journalists. A street full of people with REAL stories to tell.
The situation reminded me of the rather controversial speech Matthew Teller gave at the TravelBlogCamp event earlier this month, where at one point he said (almost pleaded that) writers/bloggers should search to find “stories” to include in their articles.
Be inquisitive, find something else to write about beyond the normal or expected - be it stories about people, about the places these people live in, what it is like living there, etc.
I wondered, therefore, how many of the destination writers at the event were planning to or hoping to go on press trips to China - perhaps even Tibet - in the future.
And then it became clear that they - and even those that are not heading east any time soon - are perhaps missing out on enhancing the journalism they were hoping to be rewarded for at the event by not stopping to talk to the people shivering outside the venue.
And that’s rather sad. Or maybe it’s just me over-thinking.
NB: Apologies, of course, to any of those that did stop by for a chat.
NB2: This is in no way meant to be a criticism of the organising team behind the awards. They had to host it somewhere and it was, after all, a very good evening for Tnooz.
Many journalists have a particular way of handling annoyed readers and pushy PRs.
And after nearly two decades of writing (and especially in the past seven years as the editor of two titles) one gets to learn a few tricks.
Take our wonderful friends in the PR industry. Like many titles, we get dozens of utterly pointless press releases every single day of the week.
Quite often they begin something like this (paraphrasing, but you’ll get the idea):
"Hey, Kevin, hope you are well and had an awesome weekend."
[Not the best start - if only they knew]
"Hotel X has just redecorated its lounge area, using materials and the imagination of Obscure Designer Y. I thought this would be an amazing story for Tnooz."
Nine times out of ten the release heads straight into the email bin.
But sometimes, perhaps when sitting in the garden having a quick cuppa or bored on a train, it is rather rewarding to have a play around for a while to get the real story or set the boundaries for future pitches.
Nevertheless, perhaps one of the biggest complaints journos have these days is around meaningless pitches accompanied with further time-wasting by PRs.
This next scenario happens far too (and increasingly) often to be funny any more.
"Hey Kevin, it’s Tarquin Plummy-Soho here of Awesomosity PR."
Oh god, here goes.
"Hi, what can I do for you on this incredibly busy day."
Still in upbeat mode:
"Hey, how’s it going?"
Getting a bad feeling about this:
"I was ok."
Here it comes:
"Fantastic. Hey, I just sent you an email a few minutes ago with a really interesting press release attached."
No, no, no:
On a roll here:
"Yeah, my client, Hotel X, has just redecorated its lounge area, using materials and the imagination of Obscure Designer Y. I thought this would be an amazing story for Tnooz."
"Yes, I got it."
"So is it something you can feature on Tnooz? I think it’s a great fit."
Enough is enough:
"Really? As I presume you know full well, Tnooz writes primarily about travel technology, so on a scale of one to ten, with ten being probably the best story we’re ever had the pleasure of publishing, it is highly likely that this story is hanging around at minus-two at the moment, given that this is a pitch to write about the new furnishings in a hotel. Sorry."
Disappointment kicks in:
"Oh, there’s no need to be like that."
Trying to get the upper hand/back on friendly terms:
"Well, err, fair enough, I suppose. Next time, if you can just quickly let me know that you’re not going to use a release, then that would be awesome."
Have to get the final waspish dig in, obviously:
"No, it’s okay, I’ll just wait for when you call me two minutes after sending the email."
I count many PRs as good friends and have strong relationships with comms people everywhere, but this is far too common these days that it sours and therefore strains the relationship media folk have with the industry.
Angry readers, however, are another matter entirely.
Any journo will know that if an article is fair, balanced and accurate then if mud is thrown at you by a disgruntled reader then it is unlikely to stick, both from a legal or reputation standpoint.
Web publishing has allowed us to react far quicker to issues than in the good ol’ days of the Dead Tree Press, such as making corrections, clarifying a point-of-view in the comments section of an article, etc.
But sometimes, when a reader is so outraged that they actually pick up the phone to complain, then a defter touch is required.
More often than not, just letting the caller scream at the editor of a title for a few minutes is a remarkably efficient way of diffusing a situation.
This should always be followed by a calm and simple explanation of why a particular angle was taken, how you hope the next story about Company X will be better received, etc.
Of course, if a story is wrong in some way, just get it fixed.
There are masters out there who know how to manage such potentially explosive situations in various ways, but almost all of them are cool, calm and collected when doing so.
Indeed, years ago I had an editor who had a canny knack of upsetting people, but always managed to be on the receiving end of an invitation to lunch by the end of the phone call.
Still, the best and funniest example of handling an angry reader, albeit in a very spiky fashion, is the (in)famous Arkell vs Pressdram case from 1971, featuring ongoing thorn-in-the-side of almost anyone in a position of power, satirical weekly magazine Private Eye.
Solicitor (Goodman Derrick & Co.):
"We act for Mr Arkell who is Retail Credit Manager of Granada TV Rental Ltd. His attention has been drawn to an article appearing in the issue of Private Eye dated 9th April 1971 on page 4. The statements made about Mr Arkell are entirely untrue and clearly highly defamatory. We are therefore instructed to require from you immediately your proposals for dealing with the matter. Mr Arkell’s first concern is that there should be a full retraction at the earliest possible date in Private Eye and he will also want his costs paid. His attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of your reply."
"We acknowledge your letter of 29th April referring to Mr J. Arkell. We note that Mr Arkell’s attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of our reply and would therefore be grateful if you would inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off."
There was, inevitably, no reply…
NB: Pic via SXC.