Publishers and publishing

There’s these three middle managers on a train…

No, it’s not a joke. Not really. About 1pm today, these three geezers are on my train, on their way to a management meeting. The figures and charts strewn over the table don’t look that healthy. There’s an edge to their conversation–three pints of banter with insecurity chasers.

The nature of their business is very obvious: local newspapers. Well, that explains a few things straightaway.

The operating costs of the business are on their minds. And on their lips. One of them (let’s call him Mr Porky, for no other reason than he was an enormous, dishevelled, sweaty bloater of a human being) has the print-out of staff and salaries.

“Look here”, Porky says to his compadres, stabbing the paper with a greasy chipolata, “Charlie Cheese is on 32K and he’s only an associate reporter”.

“Gaw, associate reporter, terrible terrible that is,” comes the intoned response.

“And Fred Snapper, Chief Photographer. 30k!”

“30k?! Daylight bleeding robbery that is.”

“Strewth, Steve Hack, 43k–and what is ‘e? What is ‘e? Senior sub. SENIOR SUB.” Mr P is positively frothing now.

“Length of service, innit. Heh heh heh.”

They all fall about laughing.

I don’t.

The names aren’t real, but the line of conversation is. It went on for twenty minutes. A great long list of real names and salaries. A name would be volunteered by one of them and Mr Porky would look him up and read out his salary–generally to another burst of piss-taking.

Of course, being online I could fill in a lot of the blanks as I sat there. Who these three worked for. Which papers their group published. Contact details for the named-and-mocked reporters.


And that’s the hard bit. Regular readers will know I dabble here in matters of the public and private–on the new conventions evolving almost daily about what we mean by “publishing” and “public space”. About harm, impact and intent. About role, and judging.

A while back I wrote about a train guard on the very same route. And that time I went ahead and published what he said (with some thoughts on the issues raised).

This time I won’t. After some hard thinking, I won’t name their company in this post, or call them out on any of the specific things they said.

Why not? It’s a judgement call, really. Was harm actually done? I was probably the only person listening who took any note at all of what was said. Does the fact that I was online and have a bit of a thing about matters of privacy and disclosure justify a public escalation?

A private note to the company about the wisdom of behaving like this–yes, I’ll do that [I’ve done that now]. That seems proportionate. But to drag an issue of privacy violation even further into the public gaze? Isn’t that just salacious? Whose needs are being met? (to use one of my favourite phrases).

And who am I to judge here? What have we become when we spy on each other for harm-free transgressions? Or perhaps worse, for potential transgressions. To bring down some sort of corporate, judicial or regulatory hammer on them for something they did that could have led to a bad thing? Who gave me the horsehair wig and breeches?

They were gits, for sure. But would I be joining them by being Mr Smartypantsblogger and parroting everything back for the world to see?

I’m not quite sure why they don’t deserve the full transcription (and even photo?) treatment. I just don’t think they do.

There may not be a “public” and “private” in any sense that might have been recognised fifty years ago.

But there is still discretion.


  1. I mean, I’d say it’s common sense not to talk about confidential stuff loudly in public… but it happens, a lot. 🙁 Peter Shankman wrote this post a while back:

    It should be common sense. That said, I think back to times where I work or get a phone call on the train. Whilst I’m more aware than most of what can be done with the info I give over the phone, or what might be available for others to see from my screen. It’s hard.

    It’s hard to keep the presence of mind that Sweaty Suit man might start looking over my shoulder, or eavesdropping in despite trying to whisper and make it clear I’m on a train.

    I don’t know the right answer. But these dudes were certainly way out of line. A lesser spotted blogger would have outed them. Big respect PC.

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