The Man Behind mUmbrella: Tim Burrowes – A Digital Perspective

Tim Burrowes - mUmbrella

Tim Burrowes – the founder of mUmbrella – was kind enough to offer his digital perspective this week.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the digital media industry over the past 12 months?

Funnily enough, it’s the apparent collapse of the traditional models, particularly for newspapers and TV. Faced with the combination of the economic roadcrash and the shifting that comes when a new medium arrives, they are finally beginning to face the realities that they are going to have to engage with digital media, not hope it goes away like it conveniently did last time round after the dotcom crash.

But  I’m not, by the way in the camp that thinks all papers are going to die. But just like the radio players eventually got their heads round TV 50 years ago, we’ll see the big media players really join the digital battleground.

What was the catalyst for mUmbrella?

I’d been editor of B&T for a couple of years, and was planning as my next venture (with a couple of partners – our company is called Focal Attractions) something within the media and marketing world. While I was waiting out my non-compete, I started Mumbrella to keep myself amused. It kind of took off and we put the other thing on the back burner. Mumbrella’s got nearly 7000 subscribers to the email and if things go as they have been, we’ll do a couple of million page views this year. With a following wind, that should be enough pay the rent.

After more scathing anonymous comments, this time, regarding Gary Hayes — what’s your current position on anonymous comments?

For those that haven’t been following, I wrote an opinion piece a week or so back ruminating on what Mumbrella’s comment policy should be. I think most of us agree that in an ideal world everyone would feel confident enough in themselves and secure enough in their positions to speak their mind openly. But equally, people sometimes have reason to be anonymous, and can add to the quality of the debate. Up to now I’d never in my own mind had a formal policy, although I’d tended to proceed on the basis that if something was clearly libellous or abusive I’d remove it.

But that doesn’t mean not allowing negative comment – this is an industry where the rules are changing and there’s a lot that’s open for debate.

Where someone questions another person’s motives is going to have to be a case-by-case judgement call. For instance, now that I’m clearer in my own mind on what our comment policy should be, I would not have allowed the anonymous person’s comment who questioned your concerns about Social Media Club Sydney and suggested bias. Although I put my own comment saying that I didn’t agree with them, given the same circumstance again I’d just remove it.

But in the Gary Hayes case, where he posted a couple of detailed comments in praise of Laurel Papworth, it was legitimate for another commenter (anonymously, sadly) to draw attention to public domain information that demonstrated they were an item, which Gary hadn’t (as was his right) mentioned. When it was first posted as a simple statement of fact, I removed it, because I wasn’t aware of it myself, and if it was untrue it would have been unfair. But once links were provided, it was clearly relevant and he’d already put the info in the public domain himself elsewhere. It was clearly useful to any reader who was weighing up where Gary was coming from in his point of view and didn’t already know that.

What do you think is the most important lesson for the digital media industry to learn this year?

Always use the bathroom before leaving the pub.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an editor?

I’ve always felt I’d make an excellent prime minister. Or semi-benevolent dictator.

Jye Smith is currently Senior Vice President, Head of Strategy & Operations, Asia Pacific at Weber Shandwick. Ranked in B&Ts 30 Under 30, Jye a regular keynote speaker and workshop facilitator who specialises in digital and social media strategist.

There are 13 comments for this article
  1. Tim Burrowes at 10:15 am

    Hi Jye,

    Thanks for being kind enough to ask me to do this.

    By the way, I think anyone who sees that respectable looking photograph above may feel a bit cheated when they meet the shambolic, bearded, T-shirted person I am today…


    Tim – Mumbrella

  2. Gary Hayes at 12:24 pm

    Quick clarification.

    The post and thread on Mumbrella being referred to here was not about anonymous comments (that was a parallel discussion on another item) but about a post that Tim had put up called ‘Naked Boss Rubbishes Laurel Papworth’ – about a simple ‘unfollow’ on Twitter.

    My initial comments were about trust & reputation looking at the motives behind publishing such a story. Then it turned into me having to justify the validity of my comments to anonymous individuals who were allowed to freely post personal (not negative) comments.

    The motives of all those involved again come into question as the original threads are both avoiding the multi-faceted discussion and focusing on some ‘targeted’ individuals. It is bizarre that is appears from reading your interview here Tim, that it is more valid for an anonymous commenter to post negativity than someone who identifies themselves, to post thoughtfully, connected to the subject and with decades of experience in the area?

    To clarify:
    1 – scathing, poorly constructed, anonymous comments (still on the site) = OK
    2 – thought provoking, insights into the deeper areas of the subject by a connected (personal or business colleague) = NOT OK, DUBIOUS

    Well we know which one will draw more traffic Tim, lots of anonymous negative, gas-bagging, enough to create the ‘…following wind, that should be enough pay the rent.’ … old media methodology invade Social Media.

  3. Laurel Papworth at 2:24 pm

    Yeah what he* said!

    Jye, be careful. Mumbles is establishing a “snark” blog – a negative groundswell or anti-PR site. By that I mean, he copy and pastes press releases and tacks on a negative comment or puts a negative spin. If he’s really pissy, he takes a tweet to 30 people, out of context and spins it into ‘anti -news’. This can be amusing, outraging, provoking, engaging, and I’m not suggesting that there is no place for such a blog, but that we need to recognise it for what it is – no surprises, there is a long history of linkbaiting in media. And no, I don’t include serious media blogs such as Alan Mutter’s in that group.

    Why be careful? Because part of managing your own comments and authority, is not to be tarred with the same brush. Flame wars have a habit of jumping across into social spaces where the discussion has carried on. You would have to be pretty damn sure you wanted to continue a Mumbrella conversation on your own blog. Save engaging in flammable discussions for important conversations, that provoke your ethics and values – and I doubt this is one of those. If you have something to say, a flame war on your own blog might just kill off an intelligent readership/discussion.

    Alternately, you could join the small vitriolic echo chamber and have that quality of discussion on here too. But I hope you don’t. I like your positive, uncynical outlook. :P

    (*Disclaimer: Gary is my man. The guy I get to have sunset walks along the beach, holding hands and being all girly with)
    (Another Disclaimer: I teach social media classes on how to manage negative groundswell, anti community branding and trolling comments and have done for years).

  4. Stephen Collins at 3:14 pm

    I haven’t picked a side in this little battle yet. But if Tim chooses to drift in the direction of an “Australian Valleywag”, he’ll be popular only for being noisy and unpleasant.

    I think he’s drifting that way.

    He knows and can be much better than that. Strong, non-partisan critical analysis is where it’s at, Tim. I hope you choose to live there.

  5. Jye Author at 4:08 pm

    @Tim: Thanks for the input. Always appreciated. I really enjoy getting the differing opinions here. Makes me learn a little more.

    @Gary: hey gary, long time reader first time commenter? :)

    Thanks for your clarification. I think it was that anon person who spoke up about it that troubled me most (not your comment etc).

    @Laurel: What up Silks? ;)

    Thanks for the caution: I try to be careful. And am avoiding really drawing a line in the sand at any cost. Just postin’ the thoughts from Mumbles himself. Just like my own, they mightn’t agree with everyone, but that’s ok.

    I created the category/tag to harness this particular content as the perspectives of others.

    I was very sure of it, mainly cause someone tried to ‘out’ me themselves ( – comment 9 – but obviously didn’t get their shit straight, cause I haven’t worked for AIMIA since before CBS. Hehe. But take your points.

    And very glad you like my outlook :)

    @Trib: Neither have I.

  6. Cheryl Gledhill at 7:09 pm

    Thanks for the advice about using the bathroom before leaving the pub… learnt that lesson the hard way.

    FWIW, I love the Mumbrella site. It offers a good mix of news and opinion. Sure, the opinion criticises some campaigns, creative or media but I don’t find it particularly snarky.

    Keep it up, even with the anonymous commenters it’s still a great blog. It’s pretty easy to ignore the trolls and fuckwads – it’s hard to find a site that doesn’t have the “anonymous” commenters making pointless or malicious comments.

    And Jye, don’t worry too much about being “outed”, it happens to me on a weekly basis!

  7. Laurel Papworth at 7:58 pm

    Cheryl, I don’t have “fuckwads” on my blog and have probably had 3 negative comments in the last 4 years. A client of mine, an ex journalist turned author with a huge following has had 6k of comments on her new blog since Jan and we haven’t had to remove or even question any of them. Hot topics too!

    It is entirely possible to manage behaviours in your audience/community and it would be remiss of me to allow the misconception to stand that flame wars come out of nowhere. NAB staff trolling your blog Cheryl, notwithstanding.

  8. Cheryl Gledhill at 11:55 am

    Laurel – that’s great for you, and you’re obviously doing a fantastic job at managing your community. If I could edit my previous comment, I’d change it to say “there are a few sites out there that don’t have anonymous commenters”.

    I think that the anonymous commenters can occasionally add brilliance to a debate. Unfortunately it seems to be down but some of the comments on added lots of value to a good debate, and I can understand why people wouldn’t put their names to it. Our industry is too small, and has too many hierarchies to be able to speak plainly and bluntly at times.

    Just because comments are anonymous doesn’t mean it always leads to flame wars (unless we have different definitions of “flame wars”).

    Interesting closing comment from you, given the complaints above about people “getting personal”.

  9. Tim Burrowes at 1:47 pm

    Hi Gary,

    I don’t think I’d characterise your contribution to Mumbrella as “not ok, dubious”. Indeed, I think I went out of the way to stress that you were entitled to share that view, and I also made the point that you’d put your name to it, rather than simply been an anonymous supporter.

    You appear to be confusing other people’s comments on the article with my views – I don’t delete stuff if I don’t agree with it, only if it is offensive.

    But as you bring it up, let’s assume that social media is the ultimate pub conversation.

    Imagine you were chatting to someone over a beer and they spend the evening telling you how great someone is at their job and that you should hire them.

    The next day you find out this person is their girlfriend. They may have been entirely correct in their observations, but wouldn’t you feel it was a bit discourteous of them not to have mentioned it?


    Tim – Mumbrella

  10. Gary Hayes at 8:41 pm

    Hi Tim,

    “Imagine you were chatting to someone over a beer and they spend the evening telling you how great someone is at their job and that you should hire them. The next day you find out this person is their girlfriend.”

    To be honest I wouldn’t normally frequent bars where childish ‘folk’ openly, firstly went around saying “Jack has fallen out with Jill and look here is the little note about it…tee hee”. Remember this was your original post ‘Look Mr Agency person has stopped following Ms Network’ – little more than kindergarten playground behaviour.

    and no Social Media IS NOT the ultimate pub conversation, it is humanity in a process of evolution (where everyone can contribute without fear of being shot down). Sadly it is those who don’t understand it’s real potential, and are perpetuating the worst aspects of our past, closed media – corrupting/abusing it for self gain.

    Still we are at the start of a long journey and really Australian Social media (all 32 of us) should do better than continual in-fighting and get on with the job in hand :)

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