Often, industry and the media are at odds.
It’s a tenuous relationship, that which exists between watchdog reporters and company and government executives. Companies typically only make headlines when their bottom line is thriving or when something goes awry in the workplace.
“By nature, watchdog media and industry leaders will often find themselves in opposition. When something goes wrong at work sites, good journalists try to hold the appropriate people accountable. Journalists are trying to access information that industry leaders — and sometimes industry regulators — would rather keep secret,” said Jim Malewitz, a reporter for the Texas Tribune, in his keynote address at the 2015 Safety Leadership Conference in Greenville, SC.
While it is responsible reporting to investigate workplace injuries and fatalities, it’s not enough. That type of media coverage leaves other stories untold and severs what could be beneficial relationships with knowledgeable industry sources, he said.
The stories not told are often those from behind the scenes that create the robust economic successes: what is happening in the workplace.
“We in the media do fail to tell these stories. Sometimes we fail to investigate unsafe work practices before it’s too late,” Malewitz said. “Our readers don’t hear enough about the human toll of these problems.”
But overcoming that disconnect from workplace safety will take a mutual effort by journalists and industry representatives, who are, as Malewitz intimated, really after the same end goal.
“At the most basic level — at the human level — why do industries hire safety experts? Why do government regulators exist? Why do journalists write stories about workplace safety?” asked Malewitz. “The answer is simple: Because we want to prevent workers from getting hurt or killed.”
Malewitz was part of a team of journalists at the Texas Tribune and Houston Chronicle who worked together to delve into the Texas City refinery explosion of 2005 and analyze how the industry has changed – for better or worse – in the decade since the disaster that killed 15 people.
“Journalists can only report what we know. We cannot physically peer inside work sites day after day. So we rely on information from regulators and industry management. Sometimes we get information from on-the-ground workers. But they can reluctant to speak, for fear of losing their jobs. As a result, it can be very hard to get all the information we need,” Malewitz said.
The solution, he said, is for both sides – industry and media – to try harder, to work together to get stories about workplace safety and ways to prevent workplace disasters from occurring out there. In this way, the message of safety might be heard louder and might lend to creating the change needed to keep workers from being killed on the job.