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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bid shopping and peddling -- stories beneath the story

An image from the "about" page of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada. The association's history says: "In 1952, an assistant to the Secretary Manager was hired and an increasing number of issues were addressed such as bid-peddling, public relations and contract forms, and in 1956 the Association participated in a Royal Commission on Canada's Economic Program. A Bid Depository was established in Toronto in 1956 which subsequently led to similar depositories being adopted across the country."
Because I own the publishing business, I can break some of the conventional rules of journalism. One of these rules is "never show the story to the people you interview before publication". This is supposed to protect the independence of the writer from outside influences. It also creates challenges for accuracy and completeness because, I find, writing is best as a collaboration -- and the people who know the most what is really happening are, rightfully, part of the story.

I felt ready (and realized the deadline required it) to write a first draft of my feature about bid shopping and peddling yesterday morning. Then I sent it to a group of people -- some named in the story; others reflecting key associations and groups who might have an opinion and perspective on the topic.

By the end of the day, I had a very different story, or should I say, stories. Much of what I learned will never get to print -- it is always risky and rarely wise to publish negative stories about individuals or corporations unless you want to spend a lot of money on lawyers. I certainly can appreciate the complexity of the issue, more than ever.

An intriguing issue, relevant to this blog, is the observation that it take two to tango -- and where "bid peddling" fits into the marketing picture. One of my sources described the reality of the sub trade or supplier, desperate for work, needing the sale, and going back to the GC after the bid close, to find if there is some way to sharpen pencils and get the job. When does downright unethical behaviour become a valid business necessity -- or is there never an excuse for this sort of thing?

2 comments:

Duane Craig said...

To your point regarding showing the article I also think some collaboration is definitely a good thing. How easy is it to get the turn of a phrase wrong during a conversation where you can't see non-verbals for example? There's nothing wrong with presenting someone's viewpoint according to them. I have never shown the entire article around but certainly those parts germain to particular people with enough text around them so the context is clear can help to catch a lot of mis-quotes and help people understand your efforts are to report, not distort. There is already too much passing as reporting today that is really entertainment and editorial.

Mark Buckshon said...

Duane, you are right -- and the involvement of the person in the article in reviewing it ensures accuracy. Showing the entire story, I realize, breaches journalistic conventions but I find the interraction draws out other themes, corrects errors, and invites 'rebuttal' comments on contentious quotes (the people participating in this process never dispute that they do not 'own' any quote other their own.)But I don't have to worry about someone calling my editor to complain about the story in progress!