Lily Allen, the Ashes, Twitter and the big fight

agnewAmongst all the post-Ashes euphoria, it’s been easy to miss the feud that’s developed between Test Match Special commentator Jonathan Agnew and Observer sports writer Will Buckley. As it all revolves around Lily Allen it’s pretty interesting. What makes it very interesting is how important Twitter has been in fuelling it.

The spat started when Buckley wrote a comment piece about Agnew’s interview with Allen on Saturday. You can read the piece for yourself, but the long and short of it is that Buckley described Agnew’s interview technique as “firmly on the pervy side of things.”

Agnew took offence at being labelled a ‘pervert’ (though strictly speaking that’s not true), and demanded an apology from Buckley. With an apology unforthcoming, he then used Twitter to launch a viral campaign against his tormentor:

“I gave Will Buckley 24 hrs to apologise for calling me a pervert, and he has declined. If you feel moved by this….

“his boss is brian.oliver@observer.co.uk”

The background to the whole story is that Agnew has spent the summer delivering potted updates from the Ashes on Twitter. When Allen mentioned she was watching the cricket in one of her own Twitter posts, Agnew invited her to appear on A View from the boundary. Her upcoming appearance then became Twitter’s worst kept secret as she Tweeted about the attractiveness of Graham Onions, Stuart Broad and anyone else who owns a thigh-pad.

The interview itself featured Agnew playing up his love-struck schoolboy act and asking lots of questions that weren’t entirely about cricket. It was exactly what you’d expect of an interview between a middle-aged cricket correspondent, and a 24-year-old pop star who had only recently started watching the game.

I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of the interview or of Buckley’s article, but I will say that the interview was entirely harmless and that most people seemed to enjoy it. Buckley then wrote it up using language that was probably more inflammatory than was wise. However, I don’t see Buckley’s article as a personal attack – it was meant to be funny, and it only really exaggerated a persona that Agnew himself had adopted during the interview.

What has been astonishing though is the reaction of the Twitter community to Buckley’s piece. At the last count 235 people had left mostly negative comments on the Observer website, and Agnew’s Twitter feed has been inundated with messages of support.

But interestingly, the article itself isn’t the only thing Buckley has done to cause offence. The Twitter community seems to have taken umbrage with Buckley because he hadn’t bothered to find out the back-story of how Allen and Agnew had regularly sent each other Tweets before the show.

Agnew is on Twitter, and has won the hearts of the community by answering their questions and taking part. As Buckley isn’t on Twitter (as far as anyone knows), there seems to be a general feeling that he shouldn’t be attacking one of Twitter’s best beloved. Here are just a couple of posters on the first page of Buckley’s comments section:

“It’s terrible when a story like this is written when the author doesn’t know or understand the background. Everyone who regularly follows TMS and @aggerscricket would know how Aggers (and Tuffers and David Lloyd) has built up this interview for the last week.”

“As regards Buckley’s piece above, it is a nasty, jealous dig typical of journalists who are scared that Twitter and Web 2.0 will put them out of a job.”

Which just goes to show the power that Twitter has at the moment. If such a groundswell of opinion can be generated by some fairly harmless remarks, imagine what could happen if something serious was to occur. Not being on Twitter to take part in the conversation seems – in some Twitter users’ eyes – to be a serious offence, and one that renders non-participants unworthy of even expressing an opinion.

This is probably because everyone likes to feel part of something, and once they do they’ll angrily pounce on anyone who attacks one of their crew. This is clearly a massive over-reaction from the Twitterati, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

So watch out – Twitter is powerful, and it’s very easily offended.

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8 responses to “Lily Allen, the Ashes, Twitter and the big fight

  1. So that’s what all that palaver was about eh? Well summarised, and some interesting theories there.

    Twitter as a homogenous “Us” against the non-Tweeting “Them”. That’s a concept with legs.

    (PS – I voted 2/5 as I far prefer Malted Milks to Jaffa Cakes!)

  2. BREAKING NEWS – BUCKLEY APOLOGY SHOCK!

    As was always on the cards, Buckley has now added a fairly unrepentent apology to the comments section of his article. To save you finding it, it’s included in full below. I think he could probably have left it at the first sentence…

    “My, what a commotion. Before the tone becomes even more shrill I would like to apologise to Jonathan and his family for any offence caused by this article. It was intended to be a skit on Aggers and Tuffers and the cult of celebrity but has obviously not been received in this way. The joke missed. As they so often do in the blogosphere.

    “That said, it should perhaps be pointed out that at no stage did I describe Jonathan as a pervert. I am unlikely ever to be in a position to comment on Aggers’ sexual proclivities and even if I did find myself so placed I wouldn’t dream of doing so. The word I used was ‘pervy’ which to me is a Benny Hill style word rather than one to be taken too seriously.

    “There is also, it goes without saying, no foundation in my claim that Aggers is jealous of Tuffers. Who could be jealous of Tuffers? This was merely a piece of whimsy based on Jonathan being slightly pompous and huffy when Phil refused to become caught up in the excitement about Lily Allen coming to the TMS box and delivered his wonderful Denis Bergkamp line.

    “As I have written many times before, TMS is my favourite sports programme and I can’t wait for the team, tweets and all, to be broadcasting from South Africa.”

  3. “The joke missed. As they so often do in the blogosphere.”

    Aye, because you’d never see a Journalist miss a joke completely.

    Oh wait.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/22/advertising-racism-meerkats

    • The Guardian are having a great week. They are to judging the public mood, what Michael Fish was to hurricane forecasting.

  4. Aggers basically comes across as a bit of a
    pompous arse

  5. Another update, this time from Agnew’s Twitter account:

    “Just for record, am leaving it to the Obs Sports Ed to decide if that apology is sufficient. But what an eye-opener this has been for all…

    “..to the power of new media. It is here and will change the way news is responded to, in particular. This showed what twitter can do. Thanks”

    There’s also a great minute by minute account of events here: http://www.digital-notebook.com/2009/08/26/jonathan-agnew-the-observer-and-a-social-media-scrap/

  6. Pingback: Five Copywriting Clichés to Create Quick Blog Content - Unmemorable Title

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