18 June 2010
It's perhaps the first corporate "sex" scandal in a very long time. There's plenty of articles about what it means for the corporate world, investors and society - so your business correspondent would like you to consider another observation - namely the difference between its coverage by both business and "general" news journalists.
For those who missed the facts: Mark McInnes has stepped down in humiliating circumstances after a highly successful seven year run as David Jones CEO, after a sexual harassment complaint by a female co worker. In a statement (he's since left the country with his partner, leaving the board and surprise new CEO Paul Zahra to face today's media conference), Mark McInnes has profusely apologised for and admitted to inappropriate behaviour towards the young woman at two company events in the last 10 days, and resigned effective immediately. That's pretty much all we know so far - the actual deeds are still a mystery.
Although as we're already learning, that's not necessarily a barrier to some journalists. Many at the media conference who probably had never heard of him until about 9AM this morning were talking about McInnes as if he was the corporate world's Hugh Hefner, while many of the business journalists (who had interviewed and followed his career for years) were subdued.
As one of the latter types of reporter (and once one of the former), I've watched coverage of recent political, sporting and entertainment scandals with fascination. It sometimes almost seems irrelevant whether or not the "perp" has confessed. The public blowtorch is also fickle. David Campbell was treated as a martyr, yet John Della Bosca and Colin Barnett were picked to pieces, with the "public interest" argument applied arbitrarily.
For business journalists, for better or worse, we're beholden to the real impact on investor decisions because we're dealing with people's money decisions. Sure, we try to write and report in an engaging way, but we tread more carefully (there's always slip ups!) around rumours than, say, tabloids.
Sure, it means we're less popular and exciting to read to some people - but the main motivation of the business news reader or viewer is not to be entertained or opinionated for its own sake, but to learn the truth - because money matters. That's why "rumourtrage" and spreading gossip are essentially legal under most corporate regimes (where would the tabloids be if they had to follow such standards?)In a world where the survival of journalism itself is under question, prompting some to take off on a race to the bottom, it is a blessing that business journalists face far less of that temptation.
Our social priorities puzzle me. What does it say about us when people don't want to mess around with their news sources when deciding the fate of their money - yet when it comes to the decisions and leaders of our country's executive and legislative arms - and occasionally the judicial - it can become a soapy free-for-all?
There is no doubt that Mark McInnes' alleged conduct deserves media coverage beyond what his departure means for investors (for the record, the market loved him - he was seen as instrumental in David Jones' recovery over the last few years, and its resilience throughout the GFC). Our business world is the real world - specifically, the office world in which so many live for many hours of the day. While the incident is sad for all concerned, hopefully it will raise the issue of the appropriate treatment of staff by management - and in this case, a junior female staff member by the highest decision maker in the organisation.
That said, I hope that the ongoing coverage of this unfortunate incident is covered with the same integrity, balance and restraint that we would apply to our other business stories where we would be shredded for any irresponsible journalism. While we may lose a few viewers and readers to the more tabloid minded, we hopefully can offer a genuine alternative, high credibility viewpoint on this important, and unavoidable story.
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