Birmingham Mail - News - Top Stories - Water graffiti gets Rep in hot water

The Birmingham Mail covered this exchange on Pete Ashton’s blog, which is good — it’s a story. To sum up, an advertising company working on behalf of the Rep Theatre were using reverse graffiti, they — mistakenly one would assume — used it on a monument (that it’s a monument isn’t immediately obvious, if you don’t know Brum), Pete pointed it out, they apologised.

What annoyed me was the way that the Mail’s report worked — it is so dumbed down as to be wildly wrong in a couple of places:

“A BIRMINGHAM theatre’s unique way of advertising with jet aqua sprays to create ‘reverse graffiti’ has left them in trouble.”

Unique? Let’s see what ‘unique’ means :”existing as the only one or as the sole example” — while reverse graffiti might be still thought of as fairly new, it’s not unique, not even for Brum – here’s an example from 2007 of BRMB using it:
brmb reverse graffiti

Later on in the article they tell us that Pete “writes a blog on Birmingham” — he doesn’t, he writes a blog on whatever stuff he wants to, including publishing pictures of himself dressed as a cloud. Maybe that’s why they don’t link to the blog, give the URL, or mention that the whole incident played out on the blog (instead they imply he’s talked to them – he hasn’t).

All media outlets have a style, but lowering the standard of discourse so far that it becomes factually inaccurate? Yes it happens all the time. Everything has to be “new” and “difficult to understand”, and “frightening” — so people never think that they should go off and find something out about things, never think that maybe there’s stuff they’ve missed, never think that they can go off an have their own thoughts.

Is it because they still blindly assume they’re the only place people get information from? Or do they really want to keep people stupid?

[EDIT: I’d just like to point out that this post isn’t about not linking or crediting internet sources (gwad knows we’ve all been over that one), but about the terrible tendency to simplifly things to the point of incorrect. Whatever the process, reverse graffiti isn’t unique, Pete doesn’t write a blog about Birmingham — leave these two bits out the story is better.]

[EDIT the 2th: My point is that I know what’s correct here, because I know of Pete’s blog, and have seen the development of the reverse graffitti thing and —  while neither are important in themselves — it begs the question, what else do the media get wrong that I don’t know about? Maybe some really important big things. I worry.]

16 Responses

  1. Looks to me like the journalist just doesn't know who Pete is, hence scrabbling around to find some kind of reference point – if not to herself then to the readers. And hence neither knowing what Pete's blog is about, nor linking to it.

    I'm sure that once the readers of the Post have found out that not only is Pete from Moseley, but that his grandfather owned The Ashton and Moore factory in the Jewellery Quarter, then he will surely become a valid commentator in their eyes …. Ummm yeah … 😉

  2. You've got to remember that a journalist for The Birmingham Mail can not assume a reader knows who Pete is or even what a blogger is. She has to explain it in a way that makes sense to someone who knows nothing about new media. The Ashton and Moore factory will be more of a reference point to many a Mail reader than a blog.
    When a journalist quotes someone she does not imply she has spoken to that person We take quotes from press releases, websites etc all day every day.
    Yes. It would have been much better if the URL had been included.

  3. “Local blogger Pete Ashton (whose grandad, etc if you want) took a photo of the graffiti and wrote about it on his blog: etc” – it's easy.

    I'm afraid if people haven't grasped what a blog is by now then it's time to point them to an explanation (by way of a link to something online perhaps) rather than pretending it;s something new every time it comes up.

    Doesn't explain using the work “unique” for something that really isn't – novel, unusual, etc would have worked just as well and been correct.

  4. Interesting blog and perhaps another perspective.
    If Pete Aston is not an injured party in any way then his comment, whether given to a journalist on the street, shared with friends in a pub or discussed with strangers at a bus stop is no more valid than mine. It is simply an example of a member of the public upset with something. Therefore where the comment was pubished is somewhat irrelavant as long as it is an accurate reflection of one's thoughts. To label something “so dumbed down as to be wildly wrong in a couple of places” because of the incorrect use of the word unique is also wide of the mark. having now read both pieces, one was balanced and actively sought to get the offending parties views the other an angry rant expressing a point of view that required to the parties to find/ be told about it so they could respond. I'll leave readers to decide which one “lowered the standard of discourse”.

  5. But the whole thing played out on Pete's blog – hence why he was quoted – he never said he was an injured party, not have I.

    >”one was balanced and actively sought to get the offending parties views” – no, however balanced, it quoted the responses that were collected on Pete's blog in the comments.

    >””so dumbed down as to be wildly wrong in a couple of places”

    Is reverse graffiti “unique”, does Pete “write a blog about Birmingham”? No, sorry both incorrect.

  6. Jon, I don't suggest pete was an injured party but merely used the form of words to show his comments are no more valid than any other member of the public who may have been 'outraged' by the Rep's use of the novel approach.
    As for the use of the word unique, a quick look at an online dictionary suggets the informal definition is “Unusual; extraordinary”. I'd say this novel way of advertising fits that, therefore the usage of the word not wrong.
    If the line about Pete's blog not necessarily being about birmingham is wrong, it still see it a bit much to them lambast the whole article as dumb. hardly proportionate
    As there is no copyright on news, where the particular journalist got the story from is neither here nor there.
    So Pete, as far as we can see, was the first to write about it. Did he give permission for his quote to be used? If so then I can see no complaint. Other than that the rest looks like it has been gathered and written independently.
    I wouldn't complain about the story too much as it helped me, and presumeably others, find you guys online. If, however, it's all about a self-agrandising back-slapping between fellow bloggers then I'll bid farewell like I have with so many other blogs.

  7. I'm just worried that there are time when I don't know what's wrong — and journalistic attempts to keep everything ultra simple do cause inaccuracies.

    I could only comment, about this one because I did know the facts — much as Ben Goldacre does over on

    What else to we accept that simply isn't true?

  8. Oh and of course Pete's comments are no more vaild than anyone else's – better explaining where the story emerged (and so why Pete was quoted) would have made the clumsy bit trying to justify why his comments were sought easier to understand.

  9. Thanks for the link, I've had a quick gander. looks like some interesting reading when I have proper time to digest it.
    It comes down to trust and all media whether online or old fashioned print have to build that trust with an audience.
    The media, all media have a responsibility to be balanced and accurate or at least spell out their goals.
    If they want to be a comic rather than serious newspaper (I think of the daily star here) then they should say so in order for all readers to be in the know.
    If it is being suggested that the media are in some way complicit in a conspiracy to keep people ignorant then I don't buy it.
    We just have to find a source we feel we can have some trust in but that doesn't stop us from seeking more than one source to back it up (sorry, my history studies coming out there).
    i'll be interested to see where others take this discussion.

  10. No, I wouldn't say conspiracy, more a by-product of practises that have continued long after whatever reason there was for starting them. So much media – in print and elsewhere – is hung up on structures that are actually counter to understanding.

  11. Pete writes about stuff including Birmingham on his blog, so no inaccuracy there. Also, ditto the slightly pedantic point about the word unique (although unusual might be a better word). Actually, I can't see anything particularly misleading in the article, especially with regards to the substantive issues. It looks to me like one of those situations where those closest to an issue are left quibbling over nuances, and that can happen with any story, whether it's published online or off.

    I think the more interesting points are that 1) the issue had already been addressed by the time the Mail ran the story but they ran it anyway and 2) the role of Pete's blog – the issue was dealt with because someone contacted the Rep directly, not because they read it on some website. What role did the Pete's publication play?

  12. Yes I'm being pedantic, but you could say “the Birmingham Mail, a newspaper about Aston Villa” — would that be right?

    I was trying to make a more general point about how the conventions of msm (however technologically they publish) — things like writing that people have “said” stuff, whether it's copied from a press release, a blog, or watched on the TV (or feeling the need to explain everything from scratch every time an issue comes us) are actually making the facts more difficult to see.

  13. Perhaps newspapers use “unique” like they use “exclusive”? As for dictionaries, the OED (online) gives, for the former, “Of which there is only one; one and no other; single, sole, solitary… That is or forms the only one of its kind; having no like or equal…”

    When I was at school, we were taught to read between the lines, over thr medias use of such terms. Does that happen today? Or have such considerations been swept aside by the National Curriculum?

  14. The relevant sections from Citizenship Studies (
    “The study of citizenship should include: how information is used in public debate and policy formation, including information from the media and from pressure and interest groups.”

    “The curriculum should provide opportunities for students to use and interpret different media and ICT both as sources of information and as a means of communicating ideas.”

    It's debates like this about discourse, truth, impartiality etc. that schoolkids are probably studying as we speak.

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