A glimmer of hope in the dismal newspapers

Nov 23 2009 by Philip Whiteley Print This Article

There was a glimmer of hope in British media on 22 November in the reappearance of the Simon Caulkin byline in the Sunday newspaper The Observer. Simon's sacking as a columnist in June caused a wave of protest from academics and managers in many countries.

Simon has been one of the few commentators to pinpoint the cause of recent governance failures on prevailing fashions in management theory. His eloquent exposure of trendy nonsense, in which management is reduced to targets, incentives and bogus mechanistic metaphors, provided insightful and entertaining commentary for over a decade.

This summer, in an unparalleled display of editorial incompetence, The Observer ended his column just as his warnings were vindicated. He was just about the only journalist in the UK to have warned consistently of short-termism and high risk in the run-up to the banking failures.

Quite scandalously, the paper refused to publish the dozens of letters of protest, including one signed by nearly 100 authors, academics and managers, including Brazilian guru Ricardo Semler.

Following the collapse of a large part of the western banking system, coming shortly after the major accountancy scandals, governance ought to be seen as one of the priorities of our age. As neo-liberalism has been exposed as scarcely more practicable than Marxism (the two are actually very similar), surely the question of how we run our major private and public sector organisations should become a priority.

It is likely that governance and the environment will be the twin challenges of the coming decades. Newspapers seem to be oblivious to one of these, and simultaneously wondering why they are losing readers.