The gentle art of asking detailed questions

Journalism is about asking questions.

Questions answered, answers questioned.

That’s the game.

Last night on Twitter the award winning journalist Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News caused something of a stir by simply posing some questions about matters Ibrox.

At first some of his twitter followers seemed to mistake his questions for assertions.

However they were undoubtedly interrogatives, but highly detailed ones.

His first foray into this was to relate that at least one senior accountancy chap in Glasgow thought that Rangers would go into Administration on Wednesday.

[email protected] Rangers to go into Administration on Wednesday? At least one senior Glasgow accountant is saying so tonight.”

Apparently this seemed to send-according to Thomson- Sevco PR chap Jack Irvine to launch  into a flurry of activity.

Two hours after his first tweet Thomson told his followers:

[email protected] Why is Jack Irvine contacting journos quite unsolicited tonight to deny possible imminent Admin to people who hadn’t asked about it?”

Then the Channel 4 chap got specific:

[email protected] And will Rangers further deny Nash and Wallace have settled on one of them as potential Administrator?

[email protected] Will Rangers deny that Nash and Wallace have met 2 potential Administrators in the past 48 hours? #c4news”.

A quick general denial about going into Administration was shuffled out to the mainstream media in Scotland, but Thomson’s specific questions remain unanswered.

We have, of course, been here before on Planet Fitba.

I recall in August 2011 the outright denials of a story that I broke here about the imminent visitation of Sheriff Officers up the Marble Staircase.

Despite the outright denials and the ad hominem attacks on me I knew the information to be strong and I told my readers of the arrival of these two chaps.

I had my own freelance snapper outside Ibrox and, through a buddy, I tipped off The Sun.

I then allowed my chap to sell his spare images (the ones that I did not use on my site) to the Daily Record.

This means that the following morning the Fitba world could see these guys entering Ibrox.

One of the bits of spin was that what had been snapped were two innocent chaps trying to book a room!

This is what PR people do in such situations. In their trade it is called ‘firefighting’.

I have several close colleagues in the NUJ who are in PR.

The union’s current President Works in that trade and the chairman of the Irish Executive Council performs that function for a government body in Dublin.

I therefore know something of their trade and how they view the world of the media.

I can’t think of a single PR who doesn’t adhere to the wisdom that ‘less is more’ when dealing with a problematic story.

Bill Clinton believed in the ’10 day rule’ the idea that the media would tire of a story after then and move onto something else.

There is of course a corollary to that dictum.

If it is still alive on Day eleven then it aint going away.

Therefore the worst thing a PR can do is to give extra life to a story that takes it beyond that time frame.

Tony Blair’s spinmeisters Alastair Campbell modified Clinton’s rule and added a day.

The people who brought the British public the…err… truth about Saddam’s WMD hoped that things would blow over in a week or so.

It didn’t.

A very experienced PR chap in Glasgow has often remarked to me that “in this game you have to know when to turn the tap off”.

File under ‘less is more’.

Therefore it probably wasn’t such a good idea to be sending out unsolicited emails apropos Thomson’s tweets out to journalists.

Especially as he was likely to learn of this behaviour given his excellent sources of information.

Later that year when it was clear to anyone working the Rangers story that the Craig Whyte flying circus had simply run out of cash.

Once more there were steadfast denials.

You all know the rest.

Since he arrived on Planet Fitba the man from Channel 4 has had something of an explosive effect on the people at the top of the Marble Staircase.

This is not what they are used to because a basic assumption in Scottish life is that if you control the home dressing room at Ibrox then you have slavish obedience from the local media.

So last night we had an award winning journalist asking very pointed and detailed questions through the medium of Twitter.

The way to kill a story is to answer each detailed question with a similarly detailed answer.

That makes it all go away.

However, if that doesn’t happen then the story tends to linger, like a smell.

If journalism is about asking questions then churnalism is about obediently queuing for press releases.

I know which approach to my trade most pleases the people in the PR game.

For the avoidance of doubt if Graham Wallace and Philip Nash have not been meeting with prospective Administrators then RIFC/Sevco, through their highly paid PR chappie, should simply say so.

The PR fellow should also state that no plan for administration has been compiled for consideration by the RIFC board.

I’m sure Mr Thomson will be grateful to have that cleared up.

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