This week I contemplated the role of traditional print media in the face of the growing social media and citizen reporting phenomenon. Don’t worry – this is not another doomsday report on the death of print media. It is, however, the rant of a professional trained journalist about communication channels, writes Daleen Fouche.
Steers offered an unbelievable Wacky Wednesday deal on Wednesday 13 June and only charged R10 for a rib burger.
But Steers was not prepared for the frenzy this deal would spark and branches all over the country were flooded with customers and orders of up to 100 burgers from a single client. Most branches ran out of stock and customers were unhappy, to say the least.
As a community journalist, I was curious about our local Steers branch and off I went to talk to the manager. The manager, a friendly local, was more than happy to share information about their exhausting day and their incredible feat to produce a supernatural amount of burgers in one day.
After the interview, however, she realised that the people at the top of the corporate ladder would not be too happy about her sharing the inner workings of their franchise with a journalist. She phoned them up and it was confirmed that she is not allowed to speak to the media.
This did not surprise me in the least. Journalists around the world can tell you that some of the most interesting and insightful stories are blocked by spokespeople and PR bullshit, because “the corporate image must be maintained”. This, however, is in most cases ironic, because the policy is actually working against their own image.
Many journalists would ignore a phone call to the top dogs at Steers and go ahead with publishing comment from the manager. I, however, could not bear the thought of someone losing their job. We agreed to a compromise, which will not be discussed here.
Later the day, I went online to hear what the masses had to say on the social media sites and I was horrified to see that the Steers official Facebook site had posted a link to one of their manager’s account of the Wacky Wednesday madness.
This is clearly a contradiction of policy. The comment I received from the local Steers manager was not negative towards the franchise (unlike the online account which labelled the Wacky Wednesday fiasco as “the most humiliating day of her life”), but rather insightful and inspired awe for the hardworking employees.
City dwellers, corporates and office workers have this misconception that everyone is online and taking part in social media conversations. This, however, is not the case. Although a large section of our population does have Facebook accounts, many people only use these sporadically, and for the purpose of contacting friends. I do not want to generalise and say that this is the case in the rural areas of the country, but the fact is that only a marginal group goes online to discuss issues like the Wacky Wednesday incident.
Therefor their apology is only reached by this particular group of people. By not allowing the manager to speak to me, Steers missed another golden opportunity for some free publicity, because I am not going to contact the head office on my deadline day (otherwise occupied with stories of protests and crime) for generic comment with a PR twist, without the interesting bits and human factor in it!
The irony of Steers allowing all their Facebook friends to read a particular manager’s social media rant is that it is a one-sided commentary on an event which has not been placed in context. If I were to publish an article, based on comment from my local Steers manager, it would have been the work of a professional who knows and abides by ethical standards of the media and strives to tell a story within the context of the event.
When I have conversations with older journalists, they always reminisce about the “good old days” of journalism, when people could speak for themselves and not be bullied by corporate bosses who take away their employees’ voice.
As a community journalist, I strive to give a platform to those without a voice. Today I failed in that task, because corporate dictatorship has prevented a woman from telling an interesting story.
A truly sad day for a community journalist.
Daleen Fouche is a journalist with Media24.