Hyperlocal news about Melbourne's first suburb: Fitzroy 3065

Stencil cafe, Fitzroyalty, libel, fraud, bribery and the ethics of hyperlocal journalism


If this is some kind of performance art, I’m starting to tire of it. I got home from work today and read my emails. A reader had emailed me this photo. I’m speechless. Whoever created it is, I allege, guilty of fraud and libel. I published no such statement, and anyone who has been following the Stencil cafe PR debacle would know this.

Courtesy of a reader / copyright: used under the fair dealings provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 / c2012

Fitzroyalty receives thousands of pageviews a day, whereas a poster will be seen by far fewer people. If viewers of the poster are not familiar with Fitzroyalty, this poster is meaningless and, if they are, few are likely to believe it or care much about it even if they do.

Fitzroyalty has no business model and earns no income, so hypothesising about suing for defamation is pointless as I cannot demonstrate tangible losses. If any loss of reputation or esteem comes from this poster, it will be miniscule and intangible.

Furthermore, while it’s highly likely the poster was created by the proprietors of the cafe, I cannot easily prove this to be true. So I wouldn’t know, with the necessary conviction, who to sue.

Suing for defamation because of trivial offences tends to backfire badly for the belligerently litigious, as Melinda Tankard Reist has recently discovered. I see no point in responding to it, but I will write about. It’s fundamentally dishonest. Creating it is a malicious and unethical act that is potentially also a criminal act.

Another email in my inbox was from the Stencil people. It is published below intact:

Hi Brian,

I have just looked at the site.

I think we both agree that this thing has gotten out of hand, and you being a local and us being a local business about to open our doors we need to sort it out for the benefit of everyone involved before it’s too late.

It’s important for both of us to keep our good names in the eyes of the community.

In hindsight I would’ve perhaps done things differently and am happy to admit that, and I’m sure you probably regret things as well. So, I apologise and I believe it would be in the interest of both parties to come up with a solution.

My suggestion is telling readers that the whole thing was a gag to get everyone talking about Fitzroyalty and just for readers to enjoy as a bit of different content on the site. We could then say that Stencil was kind enough to get in on the fun. If we say it was a viral type ad for Stencil and not content for you is people could still look on not only us but you badly as well, and that’s the last thing we’d want.

So in basic terms it would be like ‘Gotcha! Was just a fun idea me and the guys at Stencil cooked up for something different on the blog’.

This is a win win situation for all parties involved as it will make us both look good.

IMPORTANT! Obviously we would be willing to help you out financially for making a statement like this and are happy for you to discuss a rate, much like it would be as advertising on your site. Now I know you don’t accept free coffee!  etc for a review but perhaps we could bend the money rules for this situation as it is very different. We’d of course make sure the money would be worth your while.

The only other solution is for both of us to blame a third party- whether it’s a gallery [few down Smith St] or another food place like Grilled Burgers etc or just someone anonymous and say that they pretended to be Stencil on your blog to make us look bad as they were a competitior. Personally I don’t think this is a great option, but it’s on the table if you’re happy with it.

I trust this will interest you and look forward to sorting it all out and if you have any ideas happy to hear them.

As I said, this is not a PR statement. It’s for you.

Kind regards
Phil and Christine
Stencil cafe team

I’m speechless again. Another bribe? An offensive suggestion that I ‘regret’ what has happened? I don’t – I’ve been amused thus far by this and I am now very angry, while remaining proud of the transparent ethical methodology I choose to abide by. Don’t tell me to deceive my readers, and don’t ask me to say things that make you look good.

Don’t claim to have a good name in the eyes of the community – you don’t. These people have behaved appallingly and it is entirely their own fault that they are in this predicament. They should take responsibility for their behaviour, apologise and tell the truth, which is that they are stupid.

But they don’t mention telling the truth as an option. Suggesting that they are willing to defame a business like Grill’d is a serious escalation of their stupidity. Is this really how some people think, and how they do business? I wonder what Grill’d’s lawyers think of this?

When will the Stencil people learn that I don’t want or need their money, and that my preferred response to morons is to encourage them to publicly humiliate themselves?



    Beyond the ridiculous now

  2. Holy dodginess, Batman!

  3. I no longer believe that these are real people. It’s too amazing.

  4. oh Brian… this deserves more than the abbreviated version: WHAT THE FUCK?!?
    genuinely, I can do nothing but shake my head …

  5. Isn’t that just a direct quote from their statement on the site? So it’s kind of true.

    • The poster claims to quote Fitzroyalty so it is dishonest and untrue. I quoted them saying something like but I did not say it. These are not my words.

  6. Are you sure you’re not making this stuff up? I can’t believe anyone would be so stupid as to write that email, knowing that you’ve freely published other emails sent to you

  7. i”m now thinking this is a troll brian – it must be … someone is heartily laughing i think. it can’t be real

  8. but I guess if they’re on the blog then it’s kind of right? I’m with Michael too

  9. These guys must be breaking some kind of law. Seriously how can they get away this kind of slander. Associating your blog with their rubbish cafe can not be good for you.
    This is actually making my blood.

  10. *boil :)

  11. Picked this up in uk via twitter.

    I’m not sure the café’s being that stupid. More people will now remember their name; but many will probably remember the name longer than they remember why they knew it.

  12. The plot gets weirder,
    The hole gets deeper
    Surely they can’t be as unintelligent as they now appear.


  13. Oh my gosh. It just keeps getting worse. How do you put up with these people?!

    • By not taking it too seriously. Not sure if this is real. Doesn’t matter to me if it is. This site is a hobby for me, so as long as I’m amused I’m motivated to continue!

  14. So someone has created another blog with an identical name but different URL… this just gets stranger and stranger!

  15. Perhaps the Stencil people believe the addage “any publicity is good publicity”? In which case, they’re about to find out that it’s not necessarily true.

  16. Soooo they are saying they would like as many stencils as can be crammed on their front window, door, sign and associated structures??? That’s what I read at any rate .~
    This wouldn’t be a certain sweaty individual would

    • I don’t know if it’s Sweaty, who I thought was long gone. They hated street art so would not likely pretend to embrace it… who knows?

      • They are rather taking the piss out of stencils and sweaty was quite… Disturbed. So it would not floor me if it was. A similar childish :P tone to it all too??
        Time will tell

  17. The plot thickens.

    Who’s Sweaty? I’m intrigued.

  18. Stay classy.
    Coming next, the “Ha ha, I was only kidding. Can’t you take a joke?” defence.

  19. Brian, you fight for right and wrong, but I see clearly here, and you may have overlooked it, is the fact that for someone to go to such extremes to do this, they must think your blog is Royal. What a compliment, even if it comes from the undesirables!

  20. Stirring up material for some kind of ‘Messing with the Bloggers’ Fringe/Comedy Festival sideshow? As others have already pointed out, it’s difficult to fathom a reality-based excuse for the breathtaking stupidity Stencil’s representatives have consistently displayed here.

  21. Hey Brian

    Firstly – are people still using the phrase “…and make $$$’? That is so 1990’s.

    Secondly – These guys need to grab hold of the closest PR Agency and put their funds into their much needed cause. I cannot believe some of the statements thay make in their email to you. I cannot wait for them to eventually open so that I can actually see the people who would make these stupid decisions in real life.

    Keep up the good fight.

  22. if I wanted to have coffee and see stencil art, I’d grab a coffee from one of the already many coffee shops and take a walk around Fitzroy. Real stencil art, not manufactured to help sell coffee.

  23. This Stencil cafe sounds lamo, it does not sound like it will have much integrity at all, just another passe attempt to exploit street art in the name of cafe culture capitalism ala fitzroy. Glad you are sticking by your guns and telling it like it is.

  24. Wowza. I am amazed. Is this for real?

    As someone who works in online marketing and PR this is indescribably funny.
    If I was the investor/bank backing this “business” venture I’d be worried. Anyone who is this clearly BAT SHIT CRAZY cannot possibly be able to run a successful business.
    I love people who think, “social media, it’s free. Yay! We’ll become overnight success stories without spending a cent” and then clearly put no thought or research into how a business should use social media and subsequently fail or encounter serious negative backlash. Think before you create a profile or post something this ridiculous. You’re complete “moron-ness” will permanently be available for the entire world to see.

    On the flip side. In my line of work I constantly have bloggers asking for “freebies” to write reviews about the organisation’s products and services. I will always say no. Blogs are opinions; how can any opinion be unbiased if a freebie was given? I would rather see completely objective reviews, good or bad, about whatever business I worked for. Good ethics, Brian. This is exactly what a good blog should be about. I had never read your blog before, but I think you’ve just found yourself a new follower.

    If this continues please update it – it is my shits and giggles for the day/week/month.


    • I agree that many bloggers are unethical in asking for freebies. They are just as bad as the PR agencies that offer them. I want audiences to understand that bloggers are behaving more and more like the ‘professional’ journalists who often review restaurants and products in newspapers if they get them for free. Hence why I got banned from the food bloggers Facebook group. They couldn’t stand the scrutiny of their unethical behaviour.

  25. This is unbelievable! When will they stop? They are digging themselves deeper and deeper every email…

  26. Just a thought. Do the street artists that were mentioned in the original mail, Reka, Perks etc. Know that they are being associated with this shambles. Surely they would not want that? Would that be considered libelous?

  27. Unreal banana peel.

    It’s just gone national in Crikey today:

    Phil & Christine from Stencil Cafe are clearly just idiots, so we shouldn’t expect too much of them.

  28. I think all of Fitzroy have your back on this one, Brian. Unbelievable!

    • All of Fitzroy has your back – apart from me. They wanted to start something new, which might have been good… and you have shown them no compassion.

      • No compassion? I gave them a free promotion in 2011 and when it appeared they had disappeared I wrote about what I thought was bad PR. That is all. They are responsible for everything that has happened since.

        • Brian you are responsible for this: you are the passive aggressor here. You have vilified them at a vulnerable moment and poignantly exposed your readers’ cultural elitism and tacit zenophobia. Most of your respondants are beligerent fools who have come here to cackle like hyenas and revel in others’ misfortune. For me at least the words “Indolent Dandy” transliterate as “Beligerent Fool” and describe the old Fitzroy mentality perfectly. I say “old Fitzroy” because -thankfully- you are a dying breed.. your precious suburb has been taken over by meat-axes and thugs, so here you are just fighting over the last little shreds of coolness.

          • Are these people friends of yours? You are wrong. I have not vilified them, and your accusation is insulting as well as incorrect. Yes we intellectual elitists enjoy a bit of schadenfreude, but that’s natural.

            How amusing that you suggest that I am cool. I am so not cool. I’m not a hipster. I’d argue that Fitzroy is being taken over by middle class professionals like myself, not thugs. They just come to visit on Friday and Saturday night.

          • Passive Aggressive? what? That would be appearing to agree and support someone whilst undermining them without their knowledge? That is not what this is about at all. Surely you can see that Anna? There is exposure here, and facts.

            Laying out the facts without tarting them up is not being passive aggressive.


  29. I suggest Stencil may want to google the term “Paul Christoforo avenger” and have a look at how the internet can turn around some people’s lives in a 180 degree when they expect social media to pander to them.

    It will also give them some insight on how an overdose of arrogance gets you smacked down by the larger population of the internet.

    This stuff is already getting passed around of Facebook and twitter (I’m in NSW and had never even heard of this site). Stencil’s best bet is to, at this point, keep their head down and offer a REALLY big apology, without some sort of sneaky underhanded bribe. Make it a real apology Stencil, not just an apology because things “got out of hand”

    PS – I also giggled at the term “cueing up” in Stencil’s previous email. Lots.

  30. A certain approach to hospitality is required in Melbourne, honest, hard working and dedicated. Gimmicks and one liners don’t work. I feel sorry for people believing that this is going to deliver. Open your cafe, work you arse off and get the runs on the board! I’m a little sick of the “social media” frenzy to be honest. Everyones a fucking expert!

  31. Hmm, has been suspended by

    Why would that be?

  32. I’m pretty sure that you’re not being defamed, but they are guilty of “passing off”.

    I’d send them a “cease and desist” letter (from a solicitor) where you require them to remove every one of those leaflets PLUS replace them with a leaflet that admits what they’ve done and apologises unreservedly for it.

    I bet Melbourne Times would love this story.

  33. Oh for fucks sake enough said about it!

  34. I’ve been following this drama and it’s been amazing… the twist and turns! The cafe might’ve had the potential to be an interesting addition to Fitzroy, but they’re really digging a hole for themselves here. It just makes you wonder how they would treat their customers.

  35. If this isn’t a prank I’ll be shocked

  36. Phil seems to have gone quiet for a while now. I wonder if he has finally realised the error of his ways.

    Bout time.

  37. This is breathtakingly stupid. After creating a PR disaster, Phil H from Stencil doubled down and tried to bribe Brian to lie to his readers, and possibly blame some innocent third party. Stencil would make the money “worth your while”.

    We already know from previous posts that Brian’s ethics prevented him from accepting even a free coffee to write about Stencil. Although those ethics don’t extend to not posting personal email on a blog, Stencil must have been aware of the previous time this happened. To subsequently send an email blatantly suggesting that Brian fabricate an explanation for this farce, and offering him money to do so, shows an appalling lack of good judgement. Did it ever cross Phil or Christine’s mind that maybe, just maybe, Brian would post _that_ email too?

    If you want to bribe somebody ethical, Stencil, a half-hearted effort won’t do. To read “we’d of course make sure the money would be worth your while” is fucking insulting. Offer him a specific large sum. $100,000 ? $1 mil ? If you can’t exceed his price, you are likely to find yourself publically shamed … as just happened.

    Also, “perhaps we could bend the money rules for this situation” does not compute. We already know _you_ are ethically bankrupt. Brian said multiple times that he would not accept free coffee for writing about your cafe (or in any other situation) and you consistently misrepresented him as being somehow desirous of that enticement. You are asking _him_ to bend _his_ money rules.

    “This is a win win situation for all parties involved as it will make us both look good.” Brian looks good already. Stencil looks like a pair of nincompoops. There is no upside for Brian to invent a “ha ha fooled you all” explanation for his readers. So don’t lie – this suggestion is only for Stencil’s benefit. Like everything else that Stencil has done online, your suggestion has backfired and made you look like complete imbeciles.

    Let me give you a clue, Stencil. If you come on the internet full of hype (for a cafe that does not yet exist) without substance, start public slagging matches with your potential customers, make offers then withdraw them, pre-emptively ban people, misrepresent what people are saying about you, and then suggest they lie to repair your tattered reputation, that is a bad way to start a business. Your only honourable response is to commit seppuku immediately, but if you haven’t got the strength to take yourself out for the good of humanity, the next best thing is to apologise abjectly for being complete arsehats and start again, with less hype and total honesty. The Internet punishes dishonesty, and if you don’t realise it now, you will soon.

    “We could then say that Stencil was kind enough to get in on the fun.” I think we won’t say that. I think we’ll say that Stencil displayed a complete lack of integrity and intelligence by trying to lie their way out of massively bad PR, all self-inflicted, and they failed spectacularly.

    At this point, Stencil is looking less like a “Fitzroy institution” and more like an experiment in driving customers away in disgust. If you want to repair this situation, you might have to offer free coffee to ordinary customers, not just bloggers, to counteract the total fail you’ve been so far.

  38. I can’t believe that you are all taking this seriously, it is clearly a joke.

    Do you honestly believe anybody would be doing this in a genuine attempt to make the issue go away. Your public persona and views on advertising, PR spin etc are well known.

    Whether it is some sort of performance art or an elaborate hoax to promote the cafe, you have played in to their hands with this one.

    I think you will find that Anna Gilmore is up to the same thing.

    I’m surprised you don’t see it.

    • Given that the initial email was sent over 6 months ago, and I only published it once I thought the cafe would never exist, it seems implausible to believe that it was a setup. There was no way of knowing on the part of its author(s) that I would ever publish it, particularly in the context I later gave it. Despite how bizarre the situation is, and the consistency in the tone of voice in the emails, the evidence suggests that they are all by the same person and they are real.

    • I’m starting to think the same, it’s gone too far for these people, or this cafe, to be real.

      Brian, remember that person(s) who started up a pisstake of fitzroyalty a while back? Someonewith an axe to grind.

      Maybe it’s the same culprit indulging in some elaborate hoax?

      How many posters have been spotted in Fitz?

      I’ve just searched the Consumer Affairs business name registry and there’s no ‘Stencil Cafe’. There’s a ‘Stencil’ registered in 2006 that trades in Richmond, but that’s it.

      I reckon it’s all a long-winded, pointless, but amusing hoax! Nobody would be that daft to send those emails, it’s a couple of people getting stoned and taking the piss and having a little giggle to themselves…probably students doing a thesis ;-)

      • Hi Davy, all these issues have been discussed in the comments and I’ve given my opinions on them. Given the length of time I think it’s plausible to believe the emails are genuine however bizarre. I doubt it’s the same hoaxer.

  39. Wow. Just wow.

    While the initial offer seemed reasonable, once you said no, they should’ve left it at that.

    They asked you to write something and said you could come have a coffee for free… if it were me, I’d go, try the coffee and if it was good, write and disclose. Or I’d pay for the coffee. But that fits in with my blog policy.

    The way these people are behaving just says to me that either they fundamentally misunderstand (or haven’t even read) your blog and the ethics that go along with it. Or they are deliberately trying to get a reaction just to draw it out forever, with an ‘any publicity is good publicity’ mindset.

    It also shows a massive amount of disrespect, like you should feel honoured to be invited for coffee and how dare you refuse!

  40. Jeeezus.

    Keep forgetting to drop by FR. Still not taking free coffees and still maintaining the rage? Well at least you can rely on some things.

  41. Does anyone know if Stencil Cafe has actually opened yet?

  42. Is it really not real? Confused. I want to go nowhere near this one if it’s the same place:

    • I don’t think it’s real. They don’t publish their address on their Twitter account, or link to any other profile. Even Urbanspoon doesn’t have their address, and there are no reviews from Broadsheet etc. If they are real, their marketing is either the worst ever or they’re being deliberately obscure.

  43. Does look real doesn’t it?!

    I have to confess I am curious and will have a look at the window

  44. No wasn’t joking but I am quite naive. Sorry about the wrong info

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