Taking Stock - Monday, October 15, 2012

IF there’s one thing I’ve noticed, working in journalism over the past decade it’s the rise of the press officer.

Everyone’s got one now and many a friend and former colleague has crossed over to ‘the dark side’ – taking the corporate shilling, even if it does mean, as in the case of one ex-newsroom ally, they have to spend their days extolling the virtues of bricks to anyone who might listen.

It’s hardly the curse-a-minute, Malcolm Tucker world anyone who watches The Thick Of It might expect.

There are two jobs involved in being ‘on-message’.

The first job, which sees my inbox clogged on a daily basis, is promoting whatever product or initiative your organisation might want to get in the papers this week.

The second, well, that’s all about making sure the bad news, when it happens, doesn’t.

There have been some shocking examples of this over the years – who can forget the ‘good day to bury bad news’ which followed the horrific September 11 attacks.

And sometimes it can lead to what can only be described as a sense of humour failure – as demonstrated this week by the British Transport Police.

The London Underground, marvellous as it is, isn’t the most fun of places, unless you happen to be a nine-year-old boy on a first trip to the capital.

So, the appearance of some rather amusing stickers, in place of official Transport for London signs, would, I’m sure, have raised a giggle or two. On one station Shepherd’s Bush became Shepherd’s Pie. Another notice encouraged passengers not to make eye contact with one another – a light hearted way to poke fun at Underground etiquette.

There’s a serious point being made too. We’re bombarded every minute of every day with signs warning us of the blatantly obvious. On the train over to York last week I noticed warnings posted every metre or so above the seats warning that the luggage rack was for ‘small items only’ – as if I needed telling that anything bigger than my laptop wasn’t going to fit.

But the antics of our Underground humorists haven’t tickled the officers as the British Transport Police, who issued a press release describing the signs as graffiti.

To be honest, I suspect 99 per cent of passengers, suffering information overload, haven’t even noticed they’re there.

The rest, well they probably chuckled to themselves – a bright moment amid the gloom of the working week.

Surely press officers’ time could be better spent.

Perhaps a new warning sign is needed... ‘do not 
attempt any humour here’.