It was all going so well

And then the BBC went and did a piece on their website with the title ‘Great-Granddad was a killer’. Oh, and there was a rave review on Radio 4 at the weekend (on Saturday Review; it’s on Listen Again).*

clunk… grind… thud…

Tuesday update

It turns out that yesterday we got over 3 million hits, and as far as we can tell, nearly all of that was the direct result of just the one BBC piece; nothing else was coming up in Google News (though there was some extra traffic on Sunday after the radio feature). It was genuinely popular, judging by its appearance in ‘top viewed’ and ‘top emailed’ lists on the BBC site.

By way of comparison, last week when we’d hit the publicity machine really hard and got pieces into all sorts of newspapers and media sites, we got a little over 2 million hits on our busiest day.

Last week’s publicity was largely an ‘official’ line: we supplied a press release, a few interesting cases and quotes from people who’d used the site, and journalists used that information to compile mostly pretty generic reports, often focussed on the famous cases – Wilde, Crippen, the Pankhursts. The message: here is a historical website with lots of stuff about notorious criminals and horrible punishments in the past. (Oh, and your ancestors might be mentioned in it.)

Yesterday’s piece was framed very differently. It tapped straight into the huge popularity of family history (which the BBC has done a lot for in recent years, after all): the personal and family angle, the potential for notoriety and scandal, or simply pathos and tragedy, much closer to home. The ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ approach. Publicity gold.

Result for us, unfortunately: website falling over again. But the simple lesson is that just one story that presses the right buttons with readers, that they can respond to personally and emotionally, can do more (for good or bad) than a massive publicity machine churning out stories-by-numbers and formulaic soundbites.


*I’ve finally got around to listening to it. Rave is an understatement. It gave me a nice warm fuzzy glow anyway.

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12 Responses to It was all going so well

  1. steve says:

    I can tell you’re mortified by this. “Great-Granddad was a killer.” ‘Scuse me…

  2. Chris Williams says:

    Not all bad if you read the comments, though – someone’s made the blindingly obvious point that beating someone to death got you 6 months in the early part of the C20th. The Hitchens of this world like to claim that we’ve gone soft by referring to the old harsh penalties for property crime. What they miss (or suppress) is that violent crime is now punished far more harshly than it ever was.

    Score one for Norbert Elias.

  3. sharon says:

    7665376fd0ad47431a2245d553fa3f60—I’m not embarrassed by it, except in the sense that it nearly made the website fall over again (and that’s especially embarrassing after telling everyone it’s fine now).

    Those comments are good. Although, Chris, I don’t think that a woman being burned to death for killing her husband/parent/master back in the 18th century would agree that violent crime is now punished more harshly than it ever was…

  4. Chris Williams says:

    Hey, she probably got strangled beforehand, come on – it’s the price paid for the doctrine of femme couvert, which led to many women escaping punishment.

    OK, fair point. I suppose I think that the main ‘Good Old Days’ narrative always seems to be the Dickensian Victorian era, by which time the worst overt cruelties of the English CJ system had already been eliminated.

  5. steve says:

    Sharon, I know you’re not really embarrassed about it, I was just attempting to be humourous. Far from mortification, I would even dare to suggest you’ve emitted the odd chuckle or two at “interior design artists and mothers-of-three from Berkhamsted” worrying over what the neighbours might say about her family’s depraved, murderous past.

    As for the harshness/leniency deabte over sentencing, I guess it’s just like Mr Hansen says on Match of the Day when discussing the offside law – there’s just no consistency, is there?

  6. sharon says:

    Yep, Steve, I think there’s going to be a lot of that. Not an issue when we finished in 1834, but now we’re getting into the range of recent family memory (possibly even personal acquaintance). Is that the sound of skellingtons rattling in respectable closets? It’s just a toss up between whether they’ll be worrying about it or hoping for something really juicy to brag about at dinner parties.

  7. Lou says:

    Rob Liddle was obviously on a bit of a roll with the Old Bailey online here’s the first article he did Monday 28th April

  8. Lou says:

    But you already have it in your very useful round up of the news

  9. Chris Williams says:

    Hang on, though, you (we kindasorta, but mainly you) got the paper press with the first pass, but only a small % of that paper press is read online. So the 2 million hits need to be analysed as a percentage not of the actual reach of the print, but of the actual reach of the web versions of the papers. BBC online, OTOH, is online.

    As for Saturday Review . . . someone said “I really loved the statistics.” Well, I really love _her_. Is there an easy way of saving this Listen Again stuff?

  10. Sharon says:

    Looking at it in iPlayer, the show doesn’t appear to have a mpg download option (some do – In Our Time, for example), so there isn’t an easy easy way. You can get software to do it, but you usually have to pay for it. However, VLC player (free video/audio software, well worth downloading in any case) claims to be able to record streams to a file. I think it’s fairly straightforward but give me an hour or two to test it out and I’ll get back to you.

    Yes, I think I over-simplified things; I’ve been pondering how much the blanket coverage at the launch (which included a piece in BBC online by the same journalist – clearly we have a lot to thank/blame Rob Liddle for) primed people for Monday’s follow-up. But I still think it was remarkable to see how just one piece could make such an impact.

  11. Sharon says:

    It looks easy, should be easy, but I can’t get VLC to play or record more than the first two minutes of a stream. Could be a bug, or something really simple that needs changing in the settings… Oh well.

  12. Steve says:

    Sounds like BBC player’s fault. Their players have always been prone to freezing and the new IPlayer’s not much different. I Player downloads can be saved simply by renaming once downloaded. As for streams, Real Player offers a download facility, but of course you’d have to allow Real player software onto your machine – and who wants that?

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