Citizen journalism in action, or not?

Today’s Guardian diary leads with a piece about me Twittering an indiscrete conversation I overheard on the train. It appeared to be an executive from French energy company Total talking about how Total could beat the unions at the Lindsey oil refinery.

In one respect it’s a great example of citizen journalists. Companies have to behave more responsibly because there are so many extra ‘citizen journalists’ watching what they do and ready to expose malpractice.

In reality the reason two national newspaper journalists called me for more information and the Guardian ran it as a diary story is probably because of the number of ministers, MPs, journalists and other PR people who follow me. The papers and unions would still have found out about this without social media. I’d have simply have phoned them to tip them off (waiting until I was somewhere more discrete!)

It would always have been a stupid thing to do to have such a conversation in a public environment like a train carriage (particularly in one that was almost empty and quiet). What social media means is that number of potential witnesses are far more and it is far easier for them to spread the word.

I’ve worked on issues management for client companies who are in the midst of industrial disputes, plant closures and redundancies. As a lifelong Labour Party and trade union member (Unite) I’ve found this isn’t as difficult as you would suspect and it is usually never at conflict with my beliefs. Closures and redundancies are often a necessary evil, but it’s up to the company doing it to decide if they want to do it in a moral and responsible way or an immoral and deceitful way. When I’m providing public relations consultancy it’s to help them do it right and to help ensure that corporate social responsibility is about the way they behave and not simply a publicity stunt.

Jaw jaw is always better than war war. A lesson that the management at Total would do well to learn. Total appears to have managed its relationship with employees, the unions and the media disastrously. It comes across as an arrogant, foreign owned company attacking and undermining the rights of British workers. I suspect Total isn’t as bad as it appears to be, but it’s doing a terrible job of explaining its case and indiscrete, (and one would therefore assume badly trained) executives like the two I heard don’t do anything to help its case.

Stuart Bruce Twitter Total Lindsey refinery


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.