Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Trolley Problem

As it applies to watch journalism.
Courtesy of Wikipedia
It would seem that the words watch and journalist are becoming more and more incompatible in the same sentence.  Brands work feverishly to sanitize who will receive their release and then monitor closely to watch the "Barium Meal" that is the press release that they sent out to see which "news" outlets will clap and bark like seals, and which ones will experience gastro-intestinal distress.  For the watch journos out there who are members of the "clean plate" club and can swallow it all down and reveal the picture of Mickey Mouse etched across the top of their dish?  They get a gold star, guaranteed access, paid travel and gifts of various description and best of all?  Advertising revenue!  For those that spend the time after disseminating a particularly foul smelling press missive with a visit from "Cardinal Chunder"?  
Courtesy of the BBC
Well, let's just say they will not find themselves on this year's Christmas list.

But let's get back to the topic at hand - the Trolley Problem.  The trolley problem is (at this point) an age old conundrum conceived to help inform and instruct on moral and/or ethical behavior.  If Wikipedia is anything to go by, it might have first been utilized by Frank Chapman Sharp at the University of Wisconsin to help instruct on moral or ethical thought.  Essentially, imagine that there is a runaway trolley (or streetcar, or tram if you are more familiar, or even a train).  Further down the line there are five people, very much alive, but immobilized and unable to move, and are directly in the path of the trolley, streetcar, tram, or what the hell, even a train... well you get the idea.  BUT WAIT!  Hallelujah!  There is a switch lever, and you are standing right by it!  Hooray!  You can save the day!  

But wait -

If you choose to divert the trolley, tram, street car, train (you get the idea) to this other line, it will then head down the track and run right over your infant son who you left in his stroller on what you believed to be a disused stretch of track while you went to grab a six pack at the off-license.  Yes, this is why your partner does not trust you alone with the kids ; )

So now you have a real dilemma - do you act, and by acting sacrifice your son for the greater good of the 5 strangers?  Or do you do nothing?  I mean, it's not like you put those five people there on the tracks in the first place, you just wanted to get some beers.

In the "normal" world, and I use the word normal cautiously because we are living in very abnormal times, but in the normal world, if you report on fact, or offer opinion (not slander, defamation, or falsehoods) but fair and balanced opinion, you should not be afraid to do so.  But we are not living in normal times.  And curious to relate?  The watch and luxury business has been trying to run a somewhat authoritarian press bureau for some time.  Step out of line, you are left in the cold.  And in all fairness, there are a fair number of people out there trying to make a living, and not necessarily willing to throw that switch lever and watch their child (or in this case, their media outlet) get mowed down.

Recently there was a real opportunity for several owners of large press outlets to do the right thing and actually speak up.  These are outlets with deep staffs, and a fairly secure revenue stream (at least by comparison to others), with truly large readerships.  They all chose to remain silent publicly.  And this is a shame.  Because in trying to stay on the "good list", they collectively took a shit on a very deserving, very sincere brand that has struggled nobly forward for many years, and frankly?  Deserved a hell of a lot better than what they got.  And what I find so frustrating in all of this is that I KNOW these media outlet owners.  They were once in the very same spot as the brand owner.  They were not always so "mighty", and I have shared more than one dreadful lunch at BaselWorld with several of them over plates of over-aged open faced liverwurst sandwiches and tap water trying to conceive of an alliance of our then much smaller blogs and outlets to come together so that we all might make some money.  
Editors note - the alliance never really fully materialized.  2 of the outlets became big time, one of the bloggers now runs a magazine, I chose to remain a solo act.
And on one level I get it - we all have to eat, we all have bills to pay, and fortunately for me, I am not dependent upon Tempus Fugit, and therefore not dependent on brands writing me checks.

But on the other hand, whether we all admit it or not, nobody needs watches.  More particularly?  Nobody really needs watch magazines or blogs.  We like them, we enjoy them.  But the outlets should also all be willing to offer honest opinions without fear of losing advertising revenue.
Because ultimately?  The watch press should be much more than simply an extension of a brand's pr and marketing office.  Because when the line is as blurred as it currently is?  It is no longer actual reporting.  It is just candy floss.

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