About a week ago, I was made aware of an incident on a site in Nottingham here in the UK. No-one was hurt; but reporting on incidents, accidents and fatalities is the biggest single downside of my chosen profession.
However, a week on, and having received numerous photos of the incident in question (14 – I have checked) I still hadn’t written about it. And I am about to explain why.
First and foremost, you need to understand how the journalistic profession (the professional part of it at least) works. Stories need to be checked, verified and corroborated, ideally by at least two people. To give you an example, I am aware of a UK demolition contractor that has gone into liquidation but I am unable to report upon it because – despite overwhelming proof – I have been unable to corroborate the story.
It is also important that you understand just how bad news is generally delivered to my door. I don’t have a team of roving reporters in the traditional sense. I don’t need them. Rivals, competitors and disgruntled former employees do that job for me. If there’s an accident or a wrongdoing, there is always someone willing to call me, text me or email me with all the gory details.
Sure enough, I received a photo showing an excavator sitting at a somewhat strange angle. From the first photo, I could make out the name of the company concerned. And so, like any good journalist, I picked up the phone to speak to the managing director of the company concerned.
Here’s where I need to give you a bit more explanation. I have made these calls countless times over the years. On some occasions, I have nothing but word of mouth to go on. At other times, I have had photographic and even video evidence. Despite this, I am generally met with ducked calls and outright denial. I vividly remember sitting here with a series of photos that showed a machine that had fallen through several floors of a tower block while speaking to a company director who swore that no such incident had ever happened; as if a local rival had mastered Photoshop just to incriminate him!
Back to my story. So I phoned the company and asked to speak to the MD. The response was as unexpected as it was refreshing. The MD said that he was aware of the incident in which an excavator had tracked over and partially into a concealed void; that he had already started a full investigation; that he was analysing CCTV footage to see if the circumstances had been captured; and that he intended to publish and share the findings of his investigation to help educate the wider industry and to hopefully avoid a similar incident befalling a fellow demolition company.
Knowing him to be an honest and honourable man, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. True to his word, that MD as called me several times in the days that followed that initial conversation.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I have reported similar incidents in the past within hours of them happening. Yes, I have a duty to be even-handed; to treat all demolition companies equally; and to hold all demolition professionals to the same standard. And yes, I probably could have racked up tens or even hundreds of thousands of social media views, clicks and likes if I had posted the images sent to me.
But I have a duty. I have a duty not to lambast and criticise but to inform and (hopefully) help educate. And besides, the MD in question has a track record of transparency and honesty that is to his credit, even if that transparency was previously seized upon and corrupted by rival companies seeking to gain a commercial advantage.
And so, even though it went against every fibre of my journalistic being, I sat on my hands. I did so not because I was asked or told to but because I chose to. I did so because – like the MD in question – I believe there is more to be gained from the sharing of near-misses than there is from social media fame and notoriety. Above all, I did so because I decided that the education of the entire industry was more important than the castigation of a single contractor that had suffered the type of incident that could (and that has) befallen just about every demolition contractor in the business (and if they tell you otherwise, they’re probably lying).
It turns out I was right to place my faith in that MD. Good to his word, he has produced a report on the incident and has made it publicly available so that others might learn from it. You can find that report here.
BONUS: Technology-allowing, a full video interview with that MD will follow later today.