Plain Jane 231015: The power of reviewers

Plain Jane 231015Intriguing news from giant online seller Amazon, who are planning to sue 1,100 “fake” reviewers in a bid to claim damages for their “manipulation and deception” of customers.

While I am all for paid-for feedback being clamped down on, I am more stunned that a few fictitious paragraphs of praise can have such a wide-reaching effect. In an undercover investigation by the Sunday Times, a book was propelled into the Amazon bestseller lists via £56 worth of bought-in approbation.

Are we all such sheep and where on earth were the trolls when we needed them? Reviews can be interesting – particularly when by journalists or “experts” we respect – but surely we need to remember that now everyone’s a critic it is best to take all views, both favourable and otherwise, with a pinch of salt and a mind on possible agendas.

If 453 members of Trip Advisor say the Hotel De-Spotless had cockroaches and faced an open sewer, it is probably prudent to stay elsewhere, but my heart goes out to the small family-run bistro that gets slated by a rival establishment or some resentful ignoramus whose wife’s just left him, and sees its bookings plummet as a result.

Yes, anybody with a product to sell, a song to sing or a book to write, is well advised to develop a skin of rhino thickness as part of the territory but as a buying public should we not remove the power of those warped or nasty enough to attempt manipulation by vowing to “Take As We Find”?

I rarely heed either extravagant praise or bitter criticism unless it comes in shedloads, but know to my cost how powerful even a small amount of toxic opinion can be.

I once had six negative reviews in as many days – all clearly written by the same person and all declaring I had been reviewing myself. A strange accusation (and one which Amazon took down as defamatory), as I have my fair share of detractors as well as fans. Particularly across the pond on amazon.com where they don’t hold back on the forthright appraisals. A habit, when it’s honest, that I rather applaud.

Yes, I winced at “this is the worst book I have ever read” (although there is a certain cache in topping any sort of list) but I remain cheered by the kind reader who praised my novel One Glass Is Never Enough (set in Thanet) for being “well written” with characters that were “engaging”, and summarising her response with the glowing and unbeatable accolade that my tale was “exactly the type of mindless fluff I like…”

I’m sorry to smirk further, but it is quite entertaining, is it not. We all suspected the shiny new Kipper council might not be quite the answer the short-sighted voters who elected them might have been hoping for – not least because only a handful of them had any sort of experience of local government – but even I expected Chris Wells to keep control a little longer.

Yet a mere five months after the slightly chilling raised armed cheering and flag-waving that heralded the Ukip crew taking office, we once again have a hung council in Thanet, thanks to the five defectors who have set up the Democratic Independent Group, DIG (a hole maybe?). In my idealistic, happy-clappy over-simplistic way I now have a small dream whereby DIG makes friends with the 18 Conservatives, four Labour members and the lone Independent, to form what is basically an alliance (however informal) to keep the Kippers proper at bay (they can get Manston up and running again with my blessing but I don’t trust them let loose on much else).

I was all for the Want Action Not Kippers agreement, but I was vetoed. Not in a family newspaper, said the lovely Ed sternly. So I had to think again. “Want Inspiration Not Kippers” perhaps?

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Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-power-reviewers/story-28034113-detail/story.html
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The one that enraged a Kipper….

This was my Isle of Thanet Gazette column, published 8/05/2015 that gave rise to the following on this week’s letter page. As I said on twitter – thanks for all the amusing response! – I love the idea that I should pay for my sins by attending a council meeting…. Punishment indeed!!! 🙂

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The offending piece:

“They are homophobes; they are sexist.”

 “They are self-opinionated and won’t take criticism.”

 “They’ve shown  how incompetent and secretive they are.”

 “They play games.”

By the time you are reading this, we will know which party’s representatives have landed in Thanet, and whichever one it is, the chances are it will have been described as one of  the above.  The most enjoyable part of interviewing the various candidates for the seats of South and North Thanet in the lead-up to the general elections, was hearing the rants that I wasn’t allowed to print. Above is the short version. I have acres of tape on what is fundamentally wrong with Labour, the Conservatives, the dreaded UKIP, the Lib Dems (actually nobody took them seriously enough to be rude) and the Greens (ditto).

When we got down to analysing individuals, most of my interviewees were keen to protest that they weren’t in the business of knocking their rivals, but did manage to shyly reveal:

“He’s not going to do anything for the area.”

“He’s not going to trot around dealing with people’s problems.”

“He’s a bit like the temple in Cambodia with four faces”

“I’m a different breed of politician from him. I’m not here to tell lies.”

“He’s just using it as a stepping stone up his own vanity ladder.”

“You can’t trust him.”

So welcome whoever made it through. You sound thoroughly delightful and I’m sure we’ll get on like a house on fire. One thing is for sure – it will indeed be  a HE in South Thanet. Our current incumbent at the time of writing, Laura Sandys, is sadly not standing for re-election. I can honestly say I have never heard her say a bad word about anyone.

I have had various conversations with Laura over the last five years: as a journalist seeking her views, at local gatherings various, and as a constituent to her MP. Ms Sandys was unfailingly smiley, concerned, committed and above all, moderate. Even my most left-wing friends had little negative to say apart from the obvious – that she was a Tory. In traditionally right-wing circles, hallowed was her name. When she first came on the scene, the criticism levelled at her most frequently was a puzzled: “She seems a bit too nice.”  Eventually we realised she actually was nice. Very! She also worked like a Trojan, was passionate about her causes, would turn out to the opening of an envelope even when it was cold, dreary and pouring with rain – make-up-less, hair wet and still managing to look as if she were privileged to attend  – and always seemed to be one of those rare creatures:  the politician who is in it to try to make the world a better place, not for their own self-glory. I know I am not the only one who would have voted her back in, in a heartbeat, whichever party she was standing for. (Except UKIP, obviously. But the good lady is  far too intelligent for that!). Good luck with whatever you do next, Laura! I doubt Thanet will see your like again.

ALSO BY THE TIME you are reading this, I will be propping my eyes open with matchsticks, having flown back from  a week working in France (see www.chez-castillon.com) in time to cast my vote and pitch up at the Winter Gardens for the count. It’s a long sleepless night, filled with politicians and council officials, news bulletins and anxiety, and not even an open bar. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ll have seen who we’ve got and be suitably relieved or disappointed or in deep despair .

Whichever of the three, my message for the new chap is this: I hope you’ll do a bit more for Thanet than they said you would…

Plain Jane. Isle of Thanet Gazette. Friday December 21st 2012

This might not make entire sense to those not blessed with living on the Isle of Thanet but perhaps you would would wish for similar for your town too…

Happy Christmas anyway!

jxxx

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What would make a perfect gift for Isle?

THE GAZETTE’s regular columnists Jane Wenham-Jones and Mike Pearce have been set a Christmas challenge by editor Rebecca Smith.

It’s better to give than receive, we are told, so what could glass-half-full Jane and glass-half-empty Mike come up with as the perfect gifts for Thanet?

Jane & Mike Xmas 2012 photo by Bill Harris
WHO’S BEEN GOOD? A bumper parcel for Jane and socks again for Mike (photo by Bill Harris)
​JANE: What would I give Thanet this Christmas? Some positive vibes! Thanet has its problems but it’s got a whole heap of potential too. So I’d like to see less negativity from the disaffected quarters and no scaremongering. I wish the Isle further art galleries and creative ventures (to quote Ms Emin: where art comes, regeneration follows); a few more restaurants you can sit outside; and bars that face the sun.

I want the new micro pubs to do well, the older pubs to survive, the High Streets to hang in there and huge success for Manston Airport, (yes, yes, during the day! Don’t start that again).

I’d like to see certain councillors stepping down and others stepping up. I’d like derelict properties restored and landlords held to account and bad housing sorted.

Had I a magic Christmas wand, I would of course bring more employment and prosperity, fewer punch-ups and help for smaller shops and businesses. I’d say no to superstores and give a fat grant to anyone opening up an empty retail space and making jobs.

I’d have an open police station in each town, no more ridiculous “traffic-calming” and put Richborough Towers back where it was. I’d see the theatres full, the churches unvandalised and the loos unlocked. But in the sad absence of my fairy wings, I’ll just send a group hug. Have a good one!

And for my dear colleague Mike? I would give him a season ticket to Turner Contemporary events, a hot night out with Iris Johnston (his favourite!), a night flight from Manston and a signed, life-size photograph of Tracey Emin. Happy Christmas mate!

MIKE: AS A child, I would plead for expensive toys and receive a gift-wrapped box containing a battery and a message saying “Toy not included”. I offer my presents for Thanet, but remember – Santa is an anagram of Satan.

For Margate: A new road behind Dreamland, allowing a pedestrianised seafront paradise with a cafe culture in its true sense. Not just a few late-night boozers, but coffee bars, eateries and a tip of the hat to the glory days, with ice cream parlours, candy floss and family-friendly amusement arcades.

For Broadstairs: A large field, miles from anywhere, where morris men can beat each other with sticks, and lank-haired minstrels of indeterminate sex can whine about Strawberry Fair, Widdecombe Fair and Betfair for all I care, without providing an excuse for every yob this side of Tilbury to converge on the town centre and cause mayhem.

For Ramsgate: A fairy godmother to sprinkle stardust on the precious Ramsgate Sands site, shoo off would-be developers and turn back the clock to when it was a tourist magnet – or at least a car park.

For Thanet: A spaceship to descend and take away this hapless council. And then (oh Santa, if only) for 56 good men strong and true to come forward – people who will spend more time discussing agendas and less time discussing genders; people with intelligence and enthusiasm; people less concerned with causes and more concerned with the common good.

For the High Streets: An end to hand-wringing, silver-tongued soothsayers offering false dawns.

For the Turner Centre: A ticket machine, so they can finally admit there’s no such thing as a free Munch.

And following Margate’s inclusion in the Rough Travel Guide as the world’s seventh best tourist destination, an early copy of next year’s, showing Cliftonville has the world’s best forests, Manston the most successful airport and Westwood Cross the most efficient traffic system.

For Plain Jane?: A film company to buy up one of her novels. And an address book with the page for D torn out, so she avoids the duckies and divas and darlings who turn her pretty little head!

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