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An Abysmal PR Job: LonCon 3 and Jonathan Ross And How Could You Not Have Seen This Coming? - The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal
March 1st, 2014
03:44 pm

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An Abysmal PR Job: LonCon 3 and Jonathan Ross And How Could You Not Have Seen This Coming?

In case you missed it, a storm swept through science fiction this morning.  It’s over now.

Basically: the Hugo Awards announced the presenter this year would be Jonathan Ross, who I mostly know for being mean to Manuel.  Jonathan Ross is, apparently, known for saying really offensive things on a regular basis – his Wiki page even has a lengthy list of “Controversies” – and when he hosted the British Comedy Awards, it was such a mess of obscenities and obscene jokes that many viewers called for it to be cancelled.

Within six hours of the announcement, Jonathan Ross had gotten so much negative feedback over this on Twitter that he bowed out.

Now, if I were a con committee member and Jonathan Ross volunteered to host because, as became apparent, Neil Gaiman recommended that he do so, I would be reluctant to say no.  As should you, if you’re sane.  Jonathan Ross has 3.6 million followers on Twitter, most of whom probably don’t tune in to the Hugos, and his audience could be a huge boost to promoting the authors we love. As I said to Mari Ness, even if one in a thousand of his followers tunes in, that’s almost 4,000 new people watching the Hugos.

That kind of influx of fans could be a good thing.  If Jonathan Ross doesn’t turn it into a “mock the nerds” punching bag.  So while Charlie Stross has some valid concerns about the media attention Jonathan would draw, as a con chair, you’d have to think: “Can I keep him from making off-color jokes?  Is there a way to have him hold a respectful ceremony?  Because if he can, then we can really enlarge the audience of good science fiction.”

Now, I don’t know the answer to that question.  I suspect not.  There’s a uniquely British style of comedian who seems to get off on public controversy, and in fact delight in tweaking the rules – Jeremy Geary, Ricky Gervais – and so I suspect telling him, “Okay, keep it respectful, toe the line” would just lead to him shrieking fuck at the first available opportunity.  Even if you can excuse his past history, I’d be leery of the future.

But maybe not.  Maybe Jeremy was genuinely excited to meet the science fiction authors he claims he loves, and would show an unparalleled respect for the medium, thus bringing in fans.  Maybe.  I’m not here to argue that, I don’t know the dude.

What I do know is that just randomly announcing this on Twitter to a group of authors still reeling from the last SFWA battle is complete incompetency.

Look.  Anyone in the crowd should have known that this would be a gigantic controversy.  And by dumbly just going, “Whoo, guess who’s hosting?” without more than a perfunctory public statement, they fucked over both Jonathan Ross and the Hugos.

(If you can’t tell, I don’t mind swearing.)

What should have happened is that they planned this for a Monday morning, and they had a nice press announcement from Jonathan Ross saying, “Oh, wow, I grew up reading science fiction books and I love this medium, and let’s namedrop my love of several books, and I’m really glad to be given this honor to host.”  He has a great love of science fiction, I’m told, so use your initial press push to say Hey, I’m one of you.  And hopefully assure people he won’t make sexist quips at the ceremony.

And then, since he said on Twitter that Neil Gaiman recommended him for the job, have Neil say, “I think Jonathan will be a fine host, and I couldn’t be gladder he’s got the opportunity.”  And whoever else in the zone thinks he’s a good guy.

That would not make your controversy disappear.  You’d still have the issue of, I dunno, one of your committee members resigning.  And you’d still get a lot of people leaving.  But if you’d given us reassurance that he’s not just coming in to mock the nerds, that he loves the medium, that he understands that this isn’t a place to make a quip about unfashionable dresses, maybe you could have gotten science-fiction to go, “I dunno, I think it’s gonna be a train wreck, but let’s give it a shot.”

Now, none of this is to say that Jonathan Ross should be the Hugo host.  That’s a discussion for others to have.

What I am saying is that it is literally unconscionable for Lon Con 3 to just drop Jonathan Ross onto us, and us onto him, without actually doing the barest amount of PR work.

And I don’t know that they could have done all this, honestly.  Maybe Jonathan Ross wasn’t willing to sit down and do the reassurance thing – after all, he’s a big star, and probably thinks he was doing the con a favor.  Maybe they couldn’t get anyone to vouch for him.

But if you can’t get that bare minimum done to calm the waters, then you don’t choose the guy.  Because what will happen is exactly what happened.

Now, some think this was a purposeful shot – Lon Con 3 was angry at the SFWA scandals, and chose to haul in a guy who was guaranteed to be controversial so they could watch us tear him to shreds, thus “proving” that science fiction fans are just niggling idiots who’ll tear down anyone.  Which I doubt.  I don’t attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence, and this smacks to me of “Oh, we’ve got a real person interested in us, someone who’s a star, this is all gonna be so good!”  And they were so blind that they allowed this to happen.

I doubt that Jonathan Ross would have done a good job of it, personally.  But maybe he could have.  And certainly it makes everyone look like idiots when someone presents what is guaranteed to be a controversial issue, so controversial it takes all of six hours to get the man to step down, and doesn’t actually seem to have prepared for the inevitable.

I’m saddened, because this was inevitable.  And yet nobody inside the decision-making levels of management seemed to realize that, despite every possible sign.

I understand why they wanted to make “fetch” happen.  But someone should have realized that you had to do a lot of groundwork for that.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/383164.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(26 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

Comments
 
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From:andrewducker
Date:March 1st, 2014 09:41 pm (UTC)
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Yup. The continued lack of comprehension from people organising things is boggling to me.
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From:sbisson
Date:March 1st, 2014 09:51 pm (UTC)
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And it's a PR101 fail of the kind that I teach when I do media training.

Which brings another question: with journalists and PR folk in the SF community, why aren't they part of the process?
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From:theferrett
Date:March 2nd, 2014 03:52 pm (UTC)
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Well, from the committee member's description, it sounds very much like whoever was in charge had made the decision and didn't think they needed to do any of that work.

Is sci-fi full of arrogant boneheads, or is that just life in general?
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From:sbisson
Date:March 2nd, 2014 03:58 pm (UTC)
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From my experience, life in general. One of the core elements in any media training is to educate the participant about confirmation bias, and how to recognize it in themselves and in the person interviewing them. You are telling a story, but you shouldn't be the story.
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From:cislyn
Date:March 1st, 2014 09:52 pm (UTC)
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I feel bad for him, honestly. It sounds like he was pretty excited about it, and then fandom went BOOM on his head with disappointment and anger both about and towards him. That's got to hurt. I'm no kind of celebrity, but I can imagine being in that position and man, I would be upset.

That's not to say I think he was a great choice either, but yeah, LonCon fumbled this one HARD, both for the fans and for Jonathan Ross.
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From:theferrett
Date:March 2nd, 2014 03:51 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, same here. I feel bad, because he may have said some stupid things, but he may also be a genuine fan. I don't know that one prevents him from being the other, or from being a good host for such an event.

I literally don't know.
From:simulated_knave
Date:March 2nd, 2014 09:58 pm (UTC)
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He is a fan. So very much.

From Wikipedia:
"Ross is a fan of science-fiction, including Star Trek and Doctor Who (he revealed in an interview with Christopher Eccleston that his favourite Doctor was Jon Pertwee). Ross is also a huge fan of comic books and he has even co-owned a comic shop in London with Paul Gambaccini and released Turf, his first comic book, in 2010, with American artist Tommy Lee Edwards.[12] He was also the visual inspiration for the main character in the comic book Saviour. Ross is also greatly interested in Japan, presenting a BBC-TV series on many different aspects of Japanese culture, Japanorama, for three series between 2002–07."

Also, personal friend of Neil Gaiman. Wife wrote the screenplays for Stardust and X-Men: First Class. <url="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgwif126if4#t=47">Presented at the Eisners - very well.. If you'd asked me to name a mainstream British celebrity who should host the Hugos, he would probably have been it.

That said, he is genuinely controversial (as opposed to British-press-controversial. Seriously, look up the details of some of Jeremy Clarkson's "scandals" sometime). On the other hand, he has apparently done award presentations in the past, and THOSE appear to have gone just fine. Most of his controversies seem to come from him saying stupid shit on his regular radio show, a medium which really does seem to offer the maximum possibility for saying stupid shit.

I think it speaks volumes that a lot of people criticizing him didn't seem to know that he was a fan. i.e. they know he's controversial because the Daily Mail told them so.
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From:theferrett
Date:March 2nd, 2014 10:06 pm (UTC)
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On the other hand, he has apparently done award presentations in the past, and THOSE appear to have gone just fine.

...well, except for the one I linked to, where the whole thing was yelled at to be called off the air. That was a concern.

The people criticizing him didn't necessarily have to know he was a fan, though. While I agree that there was a tragic lack of education all around - and again, Lon Con should have handled that - we have a lot of genuine fans who still say staggeringly offensive things. I'm told by people I trust that one of his go-tos is fat women jokes, and certainly his first reaction on Twitter was to call his dissenters stupid, so he can both be really a wonderful fan and completely wrong to do the presentation.
From:simulated_knave
Date:March 3rd, 2014 01:40 am (UTC)
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The only criticism of him personally that I noted in that was that he swore a lot. Plus, that's a British tabloid complaining about people on TV - i.e. manufacturing controversy. That's what they exist to do. Seriously. British tabloids are Evil, with the capitals markedly deserved. It is possible to trust them on objective fact on some occasions, but any word that could be interpreted ambiguously (such as "many") is shifty, and not to be trusted.

He's *definitely* a point for criticism and concern - there are many good reasons to not have Jonathan Ross host the Hugos. Personally, I think he's said some stupid shit and isn't particularly funny at the best of times. And it's not hard to guess at this reaction (to some extent), and LonCon should have seen it coming.

But his fannishness is fairly widely known, and not at all hard to discover. And I guess I just feel like of all communities, science fiction fandom should definitely be the one that tells people to shut the fuck up if they're negatively judging something based on what a hysterical media has told them without doing even a little bit of fact-checking for themselves.

Edited at 2014-03-03 01:41 am (UTC)
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From:theferrett
Date:March 3rd, 2014 03:06 pm (UTC)
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The only criticism of him personally that I noted in that was that he swore a lot.

Uhh, no. That's actually really deadly wrong.

The most widely-circulated complaint about him - the one from the committee member, linked in this post - had both the BAFTA shakeup and the Daily Mail's Top 10 Most Offensive Moments, many of which quoted him in his own words.

It wasn't swearing a lot. A lot of people do that.

Now, again, maybe he can tone it down and be good - I wish we'd had the opportunity to see! - but nobody disputed that he said these dumb-ass things that he said. Not a one. And those were the things that killed him.
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From:korvarthefox
Date:March 3rd, 2014 11:09 pm (UTC)
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Dear god the Daily Mail? That's Britain's answer to Fox News in pulped tree form.
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From:theferrett
Date:March 3rd, 2014 11:12 pm (UTC)
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As I'm aware. But even Fox News doesn't dare to make up quotes out of whole cloth, but again. Nobody's denied this.

Which is the bullshit way of saying, "Well, Fox News reported something accurately, and perhaps skewed a little, but... Fox News!" No. If he had ten bad moments, and I winced at about six of 'em, then that's a history.
From:simulated_knave
Date:March 4th, 2014 02:29 am (UTC)
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In the link you posted. Which is why I said "in that". Also why I talked about it being a British tabloid in the rest of the paragraph.

Context, man. Context.

Edited at 2014-03-04 02:41 am (UTC)
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From:enggirl
Date:March 1st, 2014 10:26 pm (UTC)
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Unfortunately, his own tweets in response to people being upset didn't help his cause. Rather than apologize for past mistakes and explain that he'd learned from them, to try to build bridges as it were, he decided to call people 'stupid'. It just fanned the flames and justified the initial shock and upset.
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From:theferrett
Date:March 2nd, 2014 03:50 pm (UTC)
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Definitely. But again, that's PR. As a PR guy, you have to prep the people for that reaction, and let them know that insulting people in your traditional style will go over poorly.

I don't know whether Ross could have been dissuaded, but from his reaction it's clear that he didn't realize that a) people would dislike him as a choice, and b) insulting the sci-fi community does not go over well.
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From:enggirl
Date:March 3rd, 2014 09:31 pm (UTC)
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If he isn't aware that 'insulting the sci-fi community does not go over well,' then I have to question his place in fandom. I live in the UK and know who he is, and I am aware of his celebrity and his gaffes. I was not, however, at all aware of him being a SF fan. His name and fandom have never been uttered in the same breath in my presence, so his being asked to host was a total surprise to me (I wasn't aware until Farah stepped down). But anyway, if he is such a big fan, it seemed that he would know about the issues surrounding harassment and inclusivity in fandom. Or, at the very least, like you say, he would have been *told* by his PR guy. What sucks is that now the Guardian has run a story about it, and the comments...oy! Stross tweeted a link and said not to read the comments, but I didn't listen. So now the issues in the SFF community have gone public-wide, and without any history or context attached to them. It's all such a mess, and a damn shame because so many people are putting so much time and energy into running the con and trying to make it a success.
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From:caudelac
Date:March 1st, 2014 10:52 pm (UTC)
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...It occurs to me that Neil Gaiman is kind of the Melanie Wilkes of Science Fiction/Fantasy... there's a certain patina of, "Don't you dare faint, Pitty Pat Hamilton; if Neil Gaiman says it's all right, it is all right."
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From:fatpie42
Date:March 2nd, 2014 02:28 am (UTC)
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I don't know that Jonathan Ross was really going to be that much of a liability. Sure, he can come across as a complete arsehole sometimes, but he's been able to run a successful talk show well enough that I would have thought announcing some awards would be a reasonable expectation.

To be frank, Russell Brand is more of the sort of comedian I'd expect to thrive on controversy and shout swear words because he thinks it's cool. I'm not blaming the phone call prank entirely on Brand of course. I still think Ross was a damn fool to be involved in that and was just as much to blame. I'm just saying that I think you could trust Ross more than you could trust Brand (and I'd actually say more than you could trust Gervais too actually) to deliver a sensible awards show.

Jonathan Ross is just as much a geek as anyone. On an episode of QI he did very well because he had properly geeked up on comic book history. He also presented the main BBC Film show. He should fit right in at that awards show to be quite frank - so I absolutely agree. The problem here is deplorably incompetent PR.
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From:asim
Date:March 3rd, 2014 12:06 am (UTC)
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Given Brand's recent writings on addiction, I'd say he has far more self-reflection and far less hubris than Ross. But that's from a very perfunctory view of both.
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From:fengi
Date:March 2nd, 2014 05:20 am (UTC)
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Given that London is full of big names involved in literature and/or science fiction, is this really the only option they had? At the very least, they could have announced him as "science fiction comic book author and media presenter Ross". Instead they detailed his wife's Hugo but made passing mention of his comic writing, not explaining he had a graphic novel published by Image. It's like asking Rashida Jones to host the Eisners and not mentioning Frenemy of the State.

Edited at 2014-03-02 06:03 am (UTC)
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From:theferrett
Date:March 2nd, 2014 03:48 pm (UTC)
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For free? Almost certainly, yes.

Yeah, that announcement was not good in all the way it could not be a not good way.
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From:jcfiala
Date:March 2nd, 2014 05:45 am (UTC)
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Well, I'm not familiar with his work, but apparently he's hosted both the Eisner awards and the National Comics Awards.

But that basically underlines your point - this was handled poorly.
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From:theferrett
Date:March 2nd, 2014 03:46 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I didn't know that. And again, that could have been handled with decent PR. A link to the Eisners and the National Comic Awards (assuming there's any kind of broadcast/podcast) would have reassured a lto of people that he could have done it properly.
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From:f4f3
Date:March 2nd, 2014 02:58 pm (UTC)
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Ross is a pro. He's presented the BAFTAs, and just about every other award gig in the UK.
He's a geek - his "In Search OF Steve Dikto" is the finest documentary on comics I've seen on the UK media - and completely respectful to a legendarily difficult subject.
He's a geek who's presented the Eisners and the National Comics Awards with no controversy at all.

He was hounded out of a gig he wasn't charging for (and I lost a little respect for him because of that - as Grandmaster Flash said, "We'll Work Cheap, But We Won't Work For Free") and I think that reflects badly not on the WorldCon committee (as you say, there's was a PR SNAFU of boggling proportions) but on a fandom that thinks it's ok to demonise, insult and bully an approved target.

Fandom's becoming a cold place. I don't want to live there anymore.
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From:theferrett
Date:March 2nd, 2014 03:45 pm (UTC)
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If the man hadn't fired back initially by insulting his critics, things probably would have gone over better. Literally the first thing I saw was him calling his critics idiots.

Part of that I also blame on Lon Con, as they should have prepped him that he'd be a controversial choice. But as far as "a fandom that thinks it's okay to demonise, insult, and bully an approved target," that goes in both directions. And while I'd like to see less personal fury from fandom, one cannot claim bad behavior on the part of fans while overlooking bad behavior on the part of Ross.
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From:the_xtina
Date:March 5th, 2014 11:49 pm (UTC)
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"one cannot claim bad behavior on the part of fans while overlooking bad behavior on the part of Ross"

Agreed forever.
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