Raised £350bn in crowdsourced funding? Tell me about it (not)

Please release me, FFS let me go

Something for the Weekend, Sir? His Girl Friday, All The President’s Men, Pravda, Broadcast News... As a journalist, I ought to be thrilled by reading books and watching dramatisations about other journalists being journalists and generally going about doing their journalisming. Yet there are few things in popular media as forlorn as a journalist talking about journalism to the public at large.

How thrilled were you with the blanket TV coverage of the Leveson inquiry? Or the daily reports from the current phone hacking trial? Or indeed the unedifying sight of Sky TV’s Kay Burley decidedly failing to add any value whatsoever to the Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage Euro Debate by asking fellow journalists what they thought of it.

I rest my case.

It’s with this in mind that I apologise in advance for what follows. My handful of loyal Twitter followers will be used to this already but I would like to give you a selective peek into one very curious feature of computer industry journalism: the tech company press release.

Indulge me.

Steve Ballmer as Doctor Evil

Here at HAIR TODAY, GONE CEO, our research tells us that successful men all have thick, lustrous, er ***

To be fair, most of the emails that land in IT hacks’ inboxes are sent by honest businesses hoping to generate media coverage with press releases written in a variety of styles ranging from the earnest to the desperate. And most of these are headlined in the format Company launches product. However, if I’m really lucky, I might be treated to the dizzying thrills of Compliant e-Invoicing now available in Brazil or the raw sex appeal of Tablet hybrid device shipments to approach 50 million globally by 2018.

Hold the front fecking page.

Sarcasm aside, this information has its place, even though my inbox isn’t it. Someone else somewhere will want to know about Brazilian invoicing and easily challenged predictions of future worldwide tablet sales. I respect that.

Frustratingly, much less value can be gleaned from IT press releases that seem, at first glance at least, interesting or even entertaining. There is a highly successful marketing technique in which a blatant product advertisement is thinly disguised as the findings of market research commissioned by the tech company itself. You can see the results of this technique in newspapers, magazines and blogs everywhere.

Computer memory specialists urge users to back it up!

After a recent survey revealed that 54 per cent of people have either lost important files saved to their computer, or know someone else who has, computer memory specialists [insert company name here] are issuing a rallying cry…

This will be followed by a bunch of statistics that tell you 90 per cent of people say their digital data is valuable to them but only 10 per cent back it up on a daily basis. And the next day, it all appears in a morning newspaper as a story about lots of people losing their photos because they didn’t back up, accompanied by a quote from the computer memory specialist as if it was offering impartial advice.

So the next time you see a story that makes reference to “the findings from a recent survey” be wary: you are being sold to. Indeed, rehashing dressed-up press releases as valid market research stories is the laziest form of journalism. Well, given the nature of what you are reading at this very moment, perhaps we can relegate it to the second-laziest, but hopefully you get my drift.

Another pet hate is the endless round of emails informing me that yet another hipster has generated £350bn in crowdsourced funding for an app that doesn’t do anything that anyone in their right minds would ever want, which is just as well since it’s vapourware and will never come into existence anyway. Perhaps I’m just over-sensitive since I rub shoulders with these guys and can’t even get a small-business bank loan. It’s about time I stopped the name-calling, recognise my own limitations and admire my fellow app developers for their superior intellect and commercial talent.


A worrying new trend is for nobends (that’s people who don’t have bends) trying to sell you services on the wafer-thin promise that you need them to get ahead in the fast-changing world of emerging technology. What they really mean is that they will bamboozle you with useless jargon that no-one really uses in order to scare you into parting with your cash.

What they really really mean is that they’ve invented most of this jargon themselves so that even the most clued-up IT manager will piss himself in terror when he realises he has no idea what the press release is talking about.

My pet hate of the moment is a book called Stickier Marketing by Grant Leboff which purports to help me through a jungle of jargon that I suspect doesn’t exist outside the writer’s head. Actually, the book is pardonable under the rules of caveat emptor and may even deliver what it promises. The ghastly bit is having to suffer all the press releases for the bloody thing, each filled with such gems as…

“We all know that the digital technology and social media revolutions have thrown aside received wisdom, certain certainties and the old ways of doing things to create new paradigms”

…before incomprehensibly listing a selection of song titles from the Sex Pistols and Justin Bieber in order to illustrate a point about digital marketing that I have yet to ascertain, given that I would rather suck out my own eyeballs with a vacuum cleaner than read another sentence of this particular press release.

This, then, brings us on to the inadvertently ironic category of press release which celebrates the popularity of a product you’ve never heard of. I’m particularly pleased to read about a gentleman called Simon Wadsworth who stresses the importance of having a strong online reputation, even though up until the moment I saw his email, I was utterly unaware of his existence. Bless him.

We reached out to to you to let you know that if we can only be kinder to one ano...UUUUEEERGBLEIRRRGGGH

Moving on, we come to the pointless bandwagon press release. A recent example was NekNominate gets a socially responsible relaunch – meet RAKNominate. "RAK" stands for "random acts of kindness" which is a cute and fluffy enough concept to force my stomach inside out before I can scroll halfway through the email.

Then there’s the gratuitously weird press release such as the one I received headed:

沖縄国際映画祭 日本語 メールニュース

Who’d have imagined you could do that with just a curtain pelmet, white spirit and a herring? I was shocked.

Somewhat off-topic, you’ll also be pleased to learn that distrust of incompetent City millionaires in financial institutions is not an inevitable socio-political response to the recession they caused but is, in fact, a fantasy entirely concocted by journalists.

This is the conclusion drawn by an incentives specialist called Xactly Corp from the results of a YouGov poll it commissioned. Except of course it isn’t. What Xactly said was that “the widespread media outcry and coverage of bankers’ bonuses” has not made the public at large feel negatively about performance-based commission and bonuses for people who work in the generic field of sales. (Not banking.)

Go ahead, enjoy your money.
You're not a banker, so
that's, er, fine?

Yet when the time came to issue the press release, it was headlined Bankers’ bonus outrage overblown, which is a very different claim. So there you have it: the media made it all up. Or not.

Finally, allow me to round up my selection with an email from tech firm UKFast that told me what its CEO thinks about a variety of unrelated and incongruous topics, from the risk to British business from pulling out of the EC to the recent teacher’s strike.

“It’s not the best way to get your voice heard or to garner support,” says UKFast’s Lawrence Jones on this key technology topic of the day. “The strike simply stole time from our children – valuable time in which they could have been learning.”

The press release invited me to ask for further informed comment. I duly requested Mr Jones’s opinion on Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews winning the Oscar for Makeup and Hairstyling, his recommended ingredients for banana cake, and whether he had any comment to make about Cheryl Cole’s return to X Factor.

I have yet to receive a reply.

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He teaches media types how to write news stories but would never try to tell a public relations expert how to write a press release. He simply can’t think outside the box, raise that flag, break the envelope, shift the paradigm or seesaw the lemon. Especially not the lemon.

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