And now, for the next 60 years … maybe
t's our 60th anniversary and for the last two weeks I've moonlighted as historical researcher in the guise of a magazine editor. It is fascinating to pour over old issues written and assembled many ye...
t’s our 60th anniversary and for the last two weeks I’ve moonlighted as historical researcher in the guise of a magazine editor. It is fascinating to pour over old issues written and assembled many years ago by reporters and editors I never knew. These professionals shared the same idealized objective: to report the news, demystify the technology and analyze the market and business trends affecting this industry.
I say “idealized” because, as a scholar once said, to know even one thing thoroughly can take a lifetime. As I often tell our readers when I meet them, we only know what they tell us.
And this, it is obvious, is the biggest way in which the industry has changed. There is much less participation. I would estimate fewer than 10% of companies and people in the Canadian plastics industry are willing to participate in the articles and news we research and write. Our industry, that is the people within it, have by and large become closed-mouthed and invisible.
Forty years ago executives and engineers actually contributed articles analyzing markets or processing methods, or wrote columns expressing an opinion. By contrast, our attempt to simply start a new monthly in-print interview with a prominent person in the Canadian plastics industry has been waylaid due to indifference or unwillingness to participate. Effective this issue, “Time Out”, as the short-lived department was known, is no longer.
A quick poll of our staff reveals only one person who remembers, dimly, the days of the three martini lunch. All of us are acquainted with the constraints of time imposed by lean-running organizations, personal commitments, etc. We certainly don’t expect anyone to do our bidding (or our writing) for us. We’re simply asking this question of our industry: Why can’t we talk? And it is here where the automatic “not enough time”, rings hollow. There is something more systematic, more deliberate, more… paranoid to this reluctance to share news, speak out or take public stands on issues affecting our lives and businesses.
A trade group’s science guy I frequently consulted used to begin each sentence with the phrase, “don’t quote me.” He’d been misquoted once and had effectively barred the public from ever knowing what he knew on many important environmental, health and safety issues. Who lost here from this bitter and diminished attitude toward the media and society? I would argue everyone — the public, the media and the expert whose knowledge never had the influence it might have had had he been willing to share it.
And so it goes.
Why should this be? Certainly the reputation of the media has taken a fall. But we also live in an era of unprecedented spin. As private individuals or corporate executives we’ve become paralyzed in fear at the mere thought of challenging the politically-correct spin meisters. Business-wise, we automatically underestimate the intelligence of the public, thereby unnecessarily concealing information. Is there any person today who would be shocked that Black & Decker, for example, subcontracts its manufacturing functions?
Oh sure there are groups who want to work with the media but only when they can stay “on message”. Nothing for the reader really, just government or corporate gobbledygook. I might as well publish a photocopied page from the company brochure.
How important is it that you, our readers, become involved, take stands, participate in the industry, and contribute to the stories, news and articles we publish? Consider this: In the U.S. more than two million manufacturing jobs have disappeared in the past 30 months. The implications to Canada are huge.
Only in China is silence golden.
Michael LeGault, editor e-mail: email@example.com