I live less than half an hour away from some truly astounding and almost incredible construction-industry stories, involving, among others, the mob, politicians, a public inquiry where some witnesses have truly faulty memory and others have brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash as evidence, police, and an incredible and growing list of corrupt (or allegedly corrupt) politicians.
Meanwhile, virtually the entire industry is now shut down by a strike over, it seems the main issue of a potentially significant overtime pay claw-back.
Yet, even though my business is about publishing construction news, I’ve virtually ignored the stories, which included (yesterday) Montreal’s mayor being arrested on several corruption counts.
I’ve rationalized the reasons for avoiding these stories:
- While we have some readers in Quebec, our Canadian English-language publications are primarily focused on the Ontario market and we don’t have connections, contacts or a large readership base on the Quebec side;
- Other media, including the daily press and broadcasters, are covering the issues effectively. Without significant contacts and resources, we would not be adding much if anything new to the story.
- If I wanted to dig deep into the story and add something new, would I end up wearing a pair of cement shoes? This story includes organized crime, murder, and other mayhem — and at least a few journalists have experienced intimidating threats.
- Do I have the money and time for the legal resources, verifications, and other stuff that would be necessary to properly investigate these matters? Not really.
Accordingly, from a cost-benefit perspective, the obvious answer here is: “No go. Leave the story to other media.” and I have.
But what if the scandals touched closer to home, to our core markets, and (because of insider connections, knowledge and understanding) we were the only media service to truly understand and appreciate the issues involved.
Here, the story becomes more complex and ethically challenging. How would we deal with issues that are right in our own home?
I cannot answer that question with any ease. Many times civilians and otherwise-uninvolved people have been in environments where things aren’t quite right, and the tendency is to go along with, or even participate, in the ill-deeds. (There are some scary social science experiments which prove that point.)
I also realize that more than 30 years ago I decided to trade perceived risk-taking adventures for a stable family life — and wouldn’t want to blow that all away in a frenzy of bankrupting investigative journalism.
We can tell ethical stories, explain values, assert and respect our conscience, but in the end often make decisions based on fear, moral rationalizations and laziness.
And yes, even though the issues may not be as critical as taking a choice to play along (or at least ignore) corruption in immediate view, these concepts infuse virtually every business development and marketing decision we make.
It is fine to say we know right from wrong and will stand up for our values and integrity. However, what happens when we really are put to the ethical test. Which way would we really go?
In the U.S., the Construction Industry Ethics and Compliance Initiative appears to be be tackling some of the issues and moral challenges outlined here.