The Sun: how not to win friends or influence bloggers

EDIT: Since posting this last night, The Sun have since dropped the World Cup blogger sweepstake after Who Ate All The Pies and other blogs complained.

The Sun's World Cup Sweepstake page

Look at the screenshot of The Sun’s World Cup Blogger Sweepstake above. If you were a PR who’s been pitching football bloggers recently you might skim the blogs and think “Wow, that is a pretty impressive line up of bloggers. They’ve even managed to get some notoriously hard-to-reach, popular and high-class well respected blogs on board. I wonder how they managed that?”

Short answer: They didn’t.

Sure, they spoke to some bloggers. And some bloggers said no, and left it at that. And then saw their blog in the pages and on the website of The Sun.

Chris Taylor from It’ll Be Off was one of those bloggers. He’s not best pleased:

“I ignored this email, hoping that if I didn’t respond, I wouldn’t be involved in all this savage wankery. But sadly I am. My blog is now apparently Chile, and The Sun have publicised this site in a YouTube clip and on their website. I received another email from them yesterday asking for a little coverage of all this on my blog. So here you go:

I want to make it abundantly clear to everyone: I have nothing to do with this. I want nothing to do with this. And I am furious that the good(ish) name of my little blog, that ceased to be a concern some six months ago, is being used by the worst of all tabloids as some fucking publicity machine for their horrendous sweepstake generating iPhone app, and their even more horrendous newspaper.”

Tom Dunmore at Pitch Invasion picked up on Chris’ post and it quickly became apparent in the comments that several other blogs, namely Unprofessional Foul, Run Of Play, Sport Is A TV Show, The Onion Bag, and Two Hundred Per Cent were all included without permission as well. And none of them are particularly happy about it.

The Ball Is Round and twofootedtackle (the latter of whom I write and podcast for) agreed to enter into a prediction league but not the sweepstake and didn’t give their permission to be included or to use their logos.

There may well be more.

So what, you may say. Surely the bloggers should be happy that The Sun’s giving them free publicity. Surely they’ll gain readers and make more money and the like from this?

Possibly in same cases, but that isn’t really the point.

I’ve got no problem with the blogs that were happy to take part and are publicising it on their blogs. It’s their choice and they’re happy to take part. That’s fine.

But for those who declined or didn’t respond there’s several reasons why they’re well within their rights to be unhappy.

First off, The Sun has used their logo and blogs without permission. There’s a huge irony here given their owner, Rupert Murdoch’s, criticism of Google for stealing content on their news aggregation pages. So it’s not ok for Google but it’s fine for News International.

[EDIT: Sian asks in the comments what the legality of this is. I'm not entirely sure. It may be that The Sun haven't done anything wrong, legally, in using the names of logos. I'd be fascinated to hear from anybody who is a little more clued in than me on this]

Also, it’s then incredibly cheeky to use these logos when permission hasn’t been given and then email said blogger and mind if they’ll give it a bit of publicity on their blogs.

Secondly, the sweepstake isn’t just a bit of fun. It’s being used to promote an iPhone app. The implication here is that these bloggers, by taking part in the feature, endorse the application.

This leads to the third point. Several of the blogs The Sun’s included have built their reputation on independent, thoughtful analysis and have positioned themselves very much as an alternative viewpoint to the tabloid football frenzy, often criticising these writers. They are a world away from The Sun and often don’t take advertising and will very rarely, if ever, accept PR pitches, especially for something like an iPhone application.

In short, it affects their reputation. Especially if, in Chris Taylor’s case, they have serious ideological differences with The Sun and are critical of their coverage.

Finally, aside from the above, the whole thing is massively patronising to the blogs involved, especially those whose analysis and writing regularly outdoes the national press.

The “aren’t you lucky to be taking part” attitude sticks in the craw, the taking logos without permission then expecting an uncritical link back is sheer chutzpah and the prize for winning this sweepstake – an interview with The Sun’s chief sports writer – is a piece of condescending bone-tossing from old media to new media, to remind bloggers of their place in the hierarchy.

It does a disservice: to the bloggers involved who said no to the original request, to the readers who will assume that these blogs endorse The Sun, and to any hardworking PR who has spent ages building relations with these blogs for a very tiny mention, especially PRs from other papers.

(Disclosure: I have, in the past, been one of those PRs. And I worked hard to ensure any pitches were respectful and non-condescending and were more than just “we’re a big company, write nice things about us”. And I know several PRs from other papers and similar companies and they also adhere to the above.)

The sad thing is, there are so many football blogs that with a bit of time and research they could have probably found 32 bloggers willing to take part AND promote it on their sites. And if their initial blogger outreach was better and there was a better incentive at the end of it, they may have even got more bloggers onside.

Hell, it could have actually been fun, if you were one of those who wanted to get involved. (I wouldn’t have been but it’s not my place to tell other bloggers who they can and can’t endorse).

Instead, we’ve got some very unhappy bloggers.

Not, you suspect, that The Sun care much. After all, they’ve got a World Cup Sweepstake app to promote.

UPDATE: Arseblog makes a pretty decent point in the comments of Tom’s post:

“I’m no huge fan of The Sun but it’s not like we’re being hugely exploited here. To be honest, I don’t think anyone who reads the paper gives the slightest shit about any of the blogs and they’re hardly using our logos to make money.”

Which is a fair point and it’s worth putting perspective on this. It isn’t the end of the world. But it’s also very bad practice, not to mention manners and it’s only by pointing this sort of thing out that you might (ha!) get a change of tune. It’s the principal of it all, innit.

He’s probably right that the majority of Sun readers probably don’t really care or read the blogs involved. I’d love to see them tackle one of Brian Phillips’ wonderfully cerebral pieces at The Run Of Play though.

UD 2: Brian’s pointed out that The Sun don’t even do them the courtesy of linking, so none of them have seen ay surge in traffic. It now appears that they do, through clickable images. Although I can’t find this, but I’ll take Brian’s word for it.

And, as Fredorraci points out in the comments below, despite this being billed as the UK’s top 32 blogs, several aren’t based in the UK. Brian’s site, for a start, is an American site.

It also seems that the total amount of traffic blogs have received through this has varied between nothing and not very much at all.

15 thoughts on “The Sun: how not to win friends or influence bloggers

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  2. There is another point to be made — minor, perhaps, but noteworthy: the email from the PR company describes this as “a bit of friendly competition between the 32 best football blogs in the UK”. Scanning through the blogs they’ve co-opted onto this, at least five (including my own) are not based in the UK. This isn’t necessarily going to cause a problem — I know that two of those blogs have plugged the sweepstake — but if the people behind this aren’t even going to be arsed to get something simple like that right (by, oh, let’s say, looking at the About page), I’m not going to be arsed to help them out. (Quite apart from my reservations about helping out that paper in the first place, of course.)

  3. I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think there’s an issue with using a company logo. I’m pretty sure that’s legal – you use it to be promoted and as it’s part of your commercial branding, it’s public domain. Like I say, I could have that entirely wrong. Implying that the bloggers endorsed the app and backing this up with their logos is one thing (and a pretty shite thing at that), but they’re not actually stealing content.

    I think what they’ve done is deplorable, but I’d be curious about the legal aspects of logo use in this case – Gary, do you have a more solid answer about that?

  4. That’s a really good question Sian, and I don’t actually know the answer. My knowledge of copyright – other than who owns any copy I write – is a little hazy. There’s a good possibility you could well be right (or not. I’m not sure about the public domain bit for company logos…)

    I think this situation may be complicated by the large number of blogs and a mish-mash of how they’ve designed their site. Some will have designed the logo themselves, some will have got a friend to do so, some will have paid a graphic designer or web designer to put it together, some won’t even have a proper logo.

    In addition, some will be commercial enterprises, some sit on a wider blogging network (Arseblog is part of Ole Ole), some will may a small amount of money from Google adwords and some don’t make any cash at all.

    My gut instinct, after reading your comments, would be there may be a few of them that it’s not legal for The Sun to use, but most others are within the law. But I don’t know. I suspect it’s a bit of a grey area.

  5. As someone who has both worked for a tabloid and written a blog, I really think that this is a bit insane. Surely by publishing a blog on the internet, you’re inviting people to read it? No matter where they come from. I mean, I disagree with Google’s policy on China but I’d not refuse to let them link to my site.

    Obviously The Sun hacks who put this together have been terrifically lazy – but you can point that out on your blog and feel content that you’ve scored a blow against Murdoch’s minions. I certainly don’t think that they’ve behaved deplorably. It certainly doesn’t live up to, you know, their lies about immigrants or anything like that.

  6. I did some digging, and er, found The Sun’s guidelines on THEIR logos, because that’s FUN :-)

    http://www.sun.com/policies/trademarks/

    And for those of you too lazy for clicking: “Third parties may not use any Sun logo for any purpose without a license to do so.”

    I’m pretty sure that it’s ‘accepted’ to use a public logo as long as you’re not writing something negative about someone, but if the Sun don’t like it, then they should really stick by their own rules.

  7. Jon, I think from a lot of bloggers perspectives, it’s more the association with The Sun that they object to (and I’ve seen there’s one Liverpool blog on there. I wonder if they said yes). That might be because of Hillsborough, or it might be because they just don’t want their blog to be associated with The Sun (or implied to be endorsing it). A lot of the blogs have worked very hard to present themselves as very independent from the likes of The Sun. It evokes quite strong reactions.

    (Also, I’m not really trying to point score against Murdoch here, other than a reference to his comment about Google, which is just something I disagree with in general. I’m under no illusions that any more than about half a dozen people read this blog and whatever I write on here will make a blind bit of difference. I just don’t think what they did was right – and as I’m involved in the footballing blogging community, I blogged about it. I’d have done the same had it been another tabloid or broadsheet).

    I guess it’s also the general principle of it as well – it’s kind of bad manners to ask “Do you want to get involved in this?” and then do it anyway regardless. As I said in the post, there’s better ways of doing this.

    I don’t want to speak on behalf of the other bloggers involved – I’m sure some don’t mind the extra traffic and some would rather stick to their principles.

    That said, a lot of football bloggers are generally quite accommodating, to a point, of the mainstream media. But they also have the right to say no to them. It was also a good opportunity for The Sun to build some links and enhance its reputation in the football blogging community and it would have been nice to see them at least try.

    In the whole grand scheme of things, you’re right. This really isn’t a particularly big issue and I doubt The Sun or their readers, or even some of the blogs’ own readers will care. But it still doesn’t mean that they were lazy and wrong.

  8. There are two issues regarding copyright. First is ownership. The Sun can claim fair usage in regards to using a copyright logo. Reproducing any of the blog content, however, could be seen as going beyond fair usage.

    The second are moral rights. These are a little less cut and dried, but the upshot is, if The Sun have asked permission for the involvement of an organisation in a project, and they have declined; or the organisation has not been contacted, they could be in breach of the blogs moral rights

    These means: “to object to derogatory treatment of the work or film which amounts to a distortion or mutilation or is otherwise prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author or director.”

    The blog that didn’t respond may have inadvertently agreed. An active NO is a stronger position to argue from than I didn’t reply and assumed that meant no.

    Either way, the paper has shown a disregard for the blogs involved and they aren’t behaving in a manner I would expect from a journalist.

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  10. The UK doesn’t have “fair use”, it has a different thing called “fair dealing”, which is a much narrower set of allowed uses (journalism/criticism/academia/etc), which I don’t think this falls under. So potentially there’s a copyright claim.

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  12. To add some more detail to all this, when The Sun approached us to tell us about the game, they didn’t ask us permission to use our logo on their website. In all honesty, I don’t mind, simply because they are using it alongside our name. If someone takes our logo, removes our website name to put his own and starts using it on his blog, that would be different, but for this particular issue, seriously, I don’t mind.

    I always like to give the benefit of the doubt when required and I want to believe The Sun did it in good faith, just like us when we used Arsenal’s logo in our header which we had to remove when DataCo asked us to do it on behalf of the club.

    From what I understand The Sun immediately removed the logos of the unhappy bloggers and besides I received an e-mail two days ago asking me whether I would still want to be part of the game.

    Chris,
    The Gunning Hawk

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