In mid-June, a blog post I wrote here caught the attention of the local and national media. In a matter of a few days, the story had caught fire and hit every paper, channel and station. And it didn’t stop there – the media were keen for the next story and after a couple of weeks of me and PDMTB talking with the BBC producer, the channel ran hugely sympathetic coverage talking on improving access after we’d advised that was the key story, and the world of advocacy came to support.
TL:DR I wrote a blog post; it ended up being a massive media storm; we turned it into a huge sympathetic story for mountain bikers in mainstream media.
Got time? Grab a cup of tea and a bourbon and read on…
Before I start, I want to make it clear that I’m not expecting sympathy or concern, praise or otherwise. As I do in every one of my activities in the world of advocacy, I am simply stating the facts of what happened with no judgement, criticism or agenda. We are generally a good bunch and so reassuringly, the facts always play in our favour. Though I had absolutely no indication or intent that the story would go as big as it did, it went national and my week was turned on its head as I fronted it up.
I’ve summarised the week here to help others understand how it worked out, and to correct some misunderstandings about the whole process.
Hopefully we, as a mountain biking community will be able to learn from it.
So where did it start?
A few weeks back I wrote a blog calling out a local magazine for suggesting riders should be garrotted with razor wire. It was a grotesque article, inciting hatred and violence and needed to be called out. I suggested advertisers should boycott the publication. This gained great support locally with many companies pulling their slots.
It attracted the attention of the local newspaper – The Sheffield Star – who ran an online feature on it with a response later that week. They pretty much quoted the blog with a counter comment from the editor of the magazine
Soon after, the story was picked up by the Guardian. Their north of England correspondent – a follower – called me and we had a good chat about the success of the blog post.
That, as far as I was concerned, was the end of it.
Fast forward a week.
Thursday 4 July
The Sheffield Star called for a follow up on the sentence in the original blog about recent trail obstacles placed on rights of way in the Peak District. I talked to them about recent examples – a head height branch, rocks and the tacks in Bamford. I also talked at length about rider responsibility, #BeNiceSayHi, advocacy and brilliant collaboration. It’s worth noting that this was my script for every single call I subsequently took related to the story. I wrote down all my key points, references, proof and positives. At no point at all in any of this have I called anything ‘booby traps’. At no point have I said who is doing this. At no point have I said we are to blame in anyway.
Friday 5 July
The Star asked for a photo on Friday 5 and I nipped to the park to meet a snapper. I forgot my maxle and my helmet, incidentally. It was a quick 15 minute run out during the working day.
Saturday 6 July
Next day it got silly. The story went front page “Sick Yobs set Booby traps for cyclists”. I’d never used the word yobs. I’d never used the words ‘booby traps’. To give them credit, it was a sympathetic piece and referenced advocacy work, advocacy groups and gave sensible advice around where to go if people saw an issue.
The story was syndicated across the regional papers so appeared in the Matlock Mercury, Derbyshire Times and others and was also picked up by a couple of obscure online news feed channels.
I referenced this as a good opportunity to promote advocacy in tweets and flagged to PDMTB to expect traffic.
Sunday 7 July
This is where it stepped up a gear. A call from a northern press agency wanted to double check the quotes and details. Again, I reinforced it being isolated and rare. I reiterated the work of advocacy groups and #BeNiceSayHi. I didn’t mention booby traps, blame anyone or doing anything which could have been twisted into a divisive headline.
I flagged to Open MTB that the nationals were sniffing for awareness and commented that it would be interesting to see how it worked out.
Monday 8 July
The story appeared in Metro nationally and as a sidebar in the Mirror. Both used similar headlines to the Star.
Tuesday 9, Wednesday 10, Thursday 11 July
This is where is got very, very silly. The story ran in a number of papers – with varying levels of accuracy and detail – but all carried the core message of responsible riding, linked to advocacy groups and were broadly sympathetic. Errors included conflating images with location, job titles, names and timings. The Times called for a clarification –again I was consistent with my script. They got my job wrong.
Throughout this period, my phone was pretty much non-stop ringing with others calling for clarification or chasing me on email/twitter/text. It was relentless – the phone chasing itself around the table. The story was going to run whether mountain bikers had a voice in them or not. What would you do in this situation? Ignore it? Put across the consistent responsible message. Represent?
I was also invited to talk on Radio Sheffield during this period. A pre tea-time conversation, once again sympathetic and I stuck to script.
I’ve retained the contacts for all of these organisations.
Friday 12 July
The Times story ran. Soon after I received a call from the Jeremy Vine show to appear at lunchtime. They didn’t know who I would be ‘up against’ but it was clear the discussion was going to happen with our voice or not. Between working my day job and doing things like the school run, as well as chasing away more media requests (Sky, BBC, Independent) I prepped further for the call.
At lunch I was pitched against a Daily Mail writer and anti-biker. An audience of seven million. A goading and challenging debate whipped up by the presenter ahead of the call.
Again, I stuck to my script. Responsible riding. #BeNiceSayHi. Shared trails. Advocacy work. It affects everyone.
At the end of the call there was agreement from the anti- side and follow up texts, comments and calls to the show were – to quote the producer who I spoke to afterwards – overwhelmingly sympathetic and in our favour. We now have a contact at Radio 2.
Throughout the day, the calls continued and stories appeared on other obscure online newsfeeds. Nothing really had changed in the narrative.
Saturday 13 July
Contacted very early by Radio 5Live. Appeared on 5Live breakfast – again, reiterated the same message.
Daily Mail runs “Guerilla war on cyclists” story online. Ignore the comments.
Later in the morning Radio Nottingham contacted me – again, stuck to the script.
By a fag packet calculation of circulations/listeners in press and radio, the responsible riding message & #BeNiceSayHi had landed with ~24.4 million in the week.
It also became the #1 story trending on BBC news website. If monthly hits figures are anything to go by as reported by the BBC (5 billion p/m in 2017) the maths are mind boggling: a potential 166 million further that Saturday alone. Let’s be honest, not everyone will have read it, so a conservative 10% still gives 16.6million extra.
By this stage, it was getting wearing. For every recycled story or reposted bit of copy there was a flurry of debate and comment online – interestingly none calling me into the debate to actually find out what was going on.
At its height, I was being contacted constantly from early morning – 5.30am ish through to late in the evening in DMs, tweets, phone calls emails and texts. Apart from my own group, none in the advocacy world contacted me.
Much of the opinion shared was based on the headlines and nothing else. This was the case with commentaries that were written around the activity – some of which were as inaccurate as some of the news stories. Again, these were written based on the headlines rather than the facts.
By Tuesday 16 July. I was being contacted by TV to talk about this – both ITV and BBC. The Independent is interested in a follow up. I couldn’t make my mind up what to do – and really, I was obliterated by the last week so I have little time.
I talked to Peak District MTB about it and they offered support.
Fast forward again, this time a month.
So what happened next? Well first things first, this very blog was shared with Open MTB network to highlight the background to it all, (bar this bit).
And the calls kept coming – BBC, ITV and Sky all wanted to do further TV spots on the sabotage story – to find examples and feature those.
But for me – it was about moving it on and looking at the next chapter in the story. Reassuringly, the BBC were also keen to look at the next stage and so gave me time to think about what the next interesting chapter in the story would be. Working with Peak District MTB, it was clear – the inadequate rights of way network in the UK.
With a brand new baby due (and having had enough of the relentless media storm), PDMTB offered to pick up the baton and so Esther Hobson took on the conversations with the BBC producers – though they did still call me from time to time. Esther discussed the planned ‘angle’ and the BBC were happy to support, though trail conflict and sabotage would be the starting point. I was asked to feature but filming was going to be on due date +1 – a no go!
Bringing PDMTB members to the party, Esther put out a call for volunteers to join her for some filming on August 12, to appear on Wednesday 13.
Wednesday 13 July
BBC Breakfast features the story throughout the programme very sympathetically. The push to improve the Rights of Way network front and centre with overwhelmingly sympathetic interviewees and voices. With Esther’s piece central to the story throughout the programme, the BBC produced local variations all putting improved access and responsible riding at the centre. The springboard to this; an interview with Simon Jones – a rider paralysed by trail sabotage.
In prepping the core of the story with Esther, in parallel the producer had spoken to other advocacy groups – including Cycling UK – who all stepped up and provided spokespeople for the story; the call for improved access being broadcast to 1.5 million people on mainstream media. Brilliant stuff.
Make of that what you will. Regrets? Not really – certainly not for my own actions. Frustrations? Yes – mainly targeted at a sub-editor in Sheffield who made up a lively headline.
Lessons? We can get handed the baton by the mainstream press. We just need to know how to run with it. And we need to coordinate and support one another.
How did it land? Positively. Mountain bikers have been overwhelmingly sympathetically portrayed AND the positive message of rider responsibility is out there to a far greater number of people – riders or not. In the world of MTB , constructive suggestions on how to deal with trail sabotage are coming out and the police are showing a greater interest. And what about our partners? The people we work with to improve things for riders? Well, to quote a voice from the national park: “a very interesting situation, and one from which you should take a huge amount of credit for turning a cynical, ill informed and confrontational media frenzy into a an opportunity well-taken for the positive, bridge-building message of be nice”
So to summarise; one small article about a topical local issue + one photo. I didn’t pursue anything more than that. I didn’t actively promote anything other than writing the blog about the magazine. A whole media storm, tens of millions of reads and views on advocacy and rider responsibility from, effectively, a one line sentence written late on a Sunday night.
I’ll take that.
P.S. As a thought – I suppose I should really thank the editor of the magazine. He’s done more to support the call for an increase in access and the positive perception of mountain bikers than any of us! Thanks Ian and chum!