Monday, August 22, 2011

The Herald Sun vs Andy Blume


First of all, wow. Yes, wow. I've been pretty quiet these past few days owing to the uproar surrounding one of my co-workers. Obviously the company radar will be dusted down and time, effort and money will be consumed either gather further evidence or looking for similar acts. No doubt this account will get glanced at and while they might not like the fact that I bypass the company propaganda mill and tell things straight up, they won't find much in the way of a smoking gun. 
I'm not about to come out representing the accused or to defend his actions. I've spent some time going over his blog and having a look around, and it's very much a case of "if it's not your cup of tea, don't boil the kettle". What this entire situation appears to be is more an orchestrated attempt at character assassination. I noticed that numerous times the individual has been critical of the Herald Sun, which provides them with a certain motivation. But before we get too involved, let's look at the timeline.

On August 18th, the story was posted revealing:

"The 33-year-old faced a disciplinary hearing last month for using his phone to take pictures while at the controls of his tram and posting them online. He was not stood down"

Reading that implies that not only is he guilty, but the company was reluctant to punish him. If it was written "he faced a disciplinary hearing last month for XXXX and there was insufficient evidence for XXXX/the accused admitted guilt and agreed to cease", it would at least have the air of due process. It's also a rather strange situation, as I would have thought that one's record of employment with a private company would fall under the Privacy Act, or at least be without relevance as there appears to be no punishment. How did the Herald Sun get such information? And given the recent issue of phone hacking, if I were running a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, I'd want to be a little clearer about how I obtained such personal information.

Looking at the writing of the articles, I can't help but see that unless you visited the blog and other sites, you wouldn't know that the paper is cherry picking the most sensational aspects of this person's internet identity and "reporting" it in such a way as to paint him in the worst light possible. "Pornographic images"? I saw some rather unattractive naked women, but apart from that, I get worse stuff in my spam box. As for taking photos of sleeping passengers and making fun of them, I think if you fall asleep on a tram in Melbourne and that's the worst thing that happens to you, you're bloody lucky. Yes, it's unprofessional, but hardly dismissable offences as the person has fallen asleep in a public place and what the accused uploads to his website in terms of naked ladies is hardly an issue for the company (unless he's doing it on the company's time/bandwidth or under their name, but it appears that the truth here might be interfering with the story). 

The comments and the pictures regarding crashes are somewhat disturbing, but if this person truly took such joy out of accidents, he wouldn't have lasted ten years, let alone get voted for an OH&S role. It's clearly a coping strategy or at the very least a way of sharing what is always a traumatic event. I'd be curious to see if the company has or will offer him counselling, as it might be needed. The Herald Sun has neglected exploring this avenue for some reason. I've had accidents in the past (as have the vast majority of drivers) and the expectation is that unless you're injured physically or the tram damaged seriously, you continue your trip and the rest of your shift. You might get someone asking you how you are, but it never comes across as being company policy. 

It seems as though much of the things he writes are designed to offend and shock. It might be designed to get your attention (sounds like something a newspaper might do) and leave little space for middle ground or differing points of view as it hits extreme from the first words. 

On the same day, there was a small editorial that summarised the article and called for the accused's dismissal. The editorial expands a little, claiming that he "boasts of causing accidents with his tram". Interesting, as this is a pretty serious development. Once again, to last in the job ten years while taking such joy in causing accidents doesn't quite add up. If he was that keen on causing accidents, there would be ample evidence of this on his record as it's not as though we're starved of opportunity (I have roughly 4-5 near misses per half, all cars and pedestrians).

As far as the accusations of sexist and racist comments being posted online go, it appears that the news writers for the Herald Sun don't spend much time talking to the moderators of the online comments section. I find what the accused says about the gender of accident drivers a little unsavory, and in my experience there's pretty much a gender balance when it comes to bumping into the large beasts.

In an article on Yahoo7, Yarra Trams says that in light of the pornography and racist comments, it will take quick and decisive action. Unless the porn relates to his activities at work, they will probably find that what an employee does in his or her spare time that isn't related to work is their own business. The link here is rather weak and I'd be interested to see if it even gets a mention at his "meeting". As for racism, I doubt this will be the real issue either, as his views are being expressed outside of his workplace.

Phil Altieri also chimed in here in the article. Instead of keeping quiet as it appears that an investigation is either occurring or beginning, he talks about how the rest of us workers get tainted with the same brush. Wow. Someone who's effectively your own industrial lawyer when it comes to issues of discipline has publicly come out and said you're the bad paint on that brush, before you've had a chance to defend yourself or even face a formal inquiry at work regarding the "new" evidence.

Another aspect of note was that the comments section, under the articles relating to Mr Blume, while present on the page, have no comments posted. I've read on twitter that it appears to be disabled as people have complained about not being able to post. While this might simply be a case of software failure, it seems a little odd that an article skewering someone about online comments being posted would have their own comments not working (deliberate or otherwise). The argument that perhaps nobody’s commented is null and void, as regardless of the issue, there’s always some sad sack linking any current news to the glory of the Howard years or how much they hate Julia Gillard.

Another rather curious issue here is the complete lack of any comments what so ever in the letters to the editor section of the paper on any day since the original article. Not one. Either Melbourne has stopped caring about public transport altogether, or the Herald Sun is not posting comments. Once again, it seems rather one-sided and impossible to believe that not one single Herald Sun reader has used this incident as a platform to complain about the latest football coach sacking.

One aspect I cannot let pass is the use of a mobile phone while operating a vehicle, and it should be known that this practice is dangerous and the company does have strict rules relating to the use of electrical equipment while driving the tram (ie don't do it). Seeing as this offence was dealt with a month and the punishment was not to stand the driver down, it would be easy to arrive at the conclusion that there was not enough evidence for dismissal. In order for there to be enough evidence, you would have to have a reliable witness (yes, we get plenty of dobbers complaining) or proof that those pictures were in fact taken by the driver. Just because I put a picture on my website doesn't mean I actually took it - it merely means I have sourced it. The article clearly implies, without proof, that these photographs were taken by the accused in contradiction to the Road Safety Act as well as the company rules. To use images to imply someone's guilt as opposed to establishing or prove it is not exactly the height of journalism.

Let's have a look at the sequence of events through a different light:

The accused is somehow caught using his camera while at the controls of his tram (note the absence of the word "moving" or even "occupied"). He fronts up to a panel, agrees not to do it again and, as per the instructions, doesn't do that again. If this was such a serious matter, why was this not referred to Victoria Police?
Someone at the Herald Sun catches wind of this and as they know he hates the paper via his blog, sets out to bring down this "rogue tram driver". They manage to "discover" photographs and blog entries that are, in some cases, many years old. There is no reference to any "new" blog entries or photographs submitted after the panel a month ago. Is he continuing to offend? Or has the Herald Sun simply dug a little deeper than Yarra Trams did? 
He's on leave for a week, which means the media cycle will have enough time to chew him up and spit him out before he's back at work. Thousands of people will have made up their mind before the investigation has started and given the Herald Sun has made Yarra Trams look ignorant, I'm thinking they already have the result of the panel arranged as well.
He can't comment or defend himself online as these are serious charges that may have legal implications. Not only that, but what if, as part of his work punishment, he had to assure them he wasn't to post anything else work-related? That would make his situation impossible. 
And all of this stems from a panel a month ago which did result in the accused not being stood down. Why wasn't the evidence, that's been online for years, brought up then? 

In order for a bit of balance, it would be interesting to find out who was actually responsible for the "best collision I ever had". This happened in Collins St several years ago (I remember as it was on the news). The context, while initially abhorrent, can be up for interpretation. Without the benefit of facts, we can only assume by the Herald Sun that Mr Blume's a horrible person. As the twitter feed is now private and I can't find the photo anywhere else, so readers have no idea if Mr Blume's best accident is because he enjoyed hitting a car breaking the law in a tram-only lane or, perhaps, Mr Blume's best accident was because there so much damage and nobody got killed. It's this sort of "journalism" that, without context or some line of proof, that is simply there to help paint the worst picture. It's this sort of "reasonable doubt" that exists in court and while as I said earlier I'm not out to defend Mr Blume, I am merely trying to illustrate that this article is poor journalism at best.

I will repeat what I said earlier so it's clear to my followers and anyone from Yarra Trams: While I don't agree with many of the posts and find them distasteful, I find the sequence of events in this situation far more disturbing than the offences, proven or otherwise. I find the fact that the company appears to be taking it's employee discipline cues from a tabloid newspaper very concerning, especially considering the amount of information they're managed to get in reference to his panel, his OH&S position, his place of work, etc. Employee history, let alone a copy of an expired work travel pass, is hardly public domain and I'd like to know where that ID card photo came from. While I can't possibly believe it's a conspiracy, it certainly seems like a very cosy group of people circling around one employee who just so happens to be on leave during the week the story "breaks" and a month after the panel. Herald Sun readers might be this easily fooled, but there are plenty of sceptics out there like me who look past the pictures and look for the sorts of things that aren't written, instead of simply lapping up this second-rate garbage as "journalism".

Oh, and finally I'd like to congratulate the Herald Sun, Yarra Trams, Transport Minister Terry Mulder and the Rail Tram and Bus Union for not letting an issue such as the 594 accidents between cars and trams this year get in the way of dealing with a single disgruntled tram driver. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, injuries, interruptions to the service, costs in fines, stress to staff, etc. That statistic of 594 collisions was posted in the company's staff newsletter "The Wire" on August 16th.  Two days before Mr Blume made page three.

9 comments:

  1. Is there anyone in the Union, or at Yarra Trams making a complaint to the Vic Police to investigate where this info. came from? A copy of an expired pass is pretty disturbing. What is the protocol about those things? Are they handed back by the employer in exchange for a new one?

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  2. Regarding the lack of comments on the Herald Sun articles, here's a brief exchange between @bobearth and @brookemcg13 from last week:

    @bobearth, 18 Aug:
    "Not a single comment has been published by the @heraldsun on any three of the @andyblume stories. I've submitted many, all polite. Who else?"

    @brookemcg13 in reply, 21 Aug:
    "@bobearth Yes, I also submitted comments to the @heraldsun on the @andyblume articles and noticed the same thing. Cowards."

    The Herald Sun rightly moderates comments on their site, requiring approval before publication. It's certainly possible that it's a strange software bug on the Herald Sun site, only affecting Andy Blume-related articles, but people are certainly submitting comments that aren't being published.

    (Links to the relevant tweets are: http://twitter.com/#!/bobearth/status/104137897569026048 and http://twitter.com/#!/brookemcg13/status/105102197787869184)

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  3. As an internet troll and someone with a dark sense of humour myself, I find the whole thing a bit retarded.

    Our 'kind' for lack of a better word easily misunderstood by the general public, we generally find horrible things funny. That doesn't however mean we actually do the horrible things, nor does it mean we condone them - regardless we can twist things to find humour in them, sometimes it's our way of dealing with things.

    Primary example is of course 9/11 and AIDS jokes - Southpark has covered both these topics, neither in themselves are funny, we don't wish them on anyone but they are both things people have made taboo jokes about it over the years.

    I knew Andy a long long time ago and while he can certainly be a cock, he was absoloutely passionate about his job.
    I specifically note his comment about 'the best crash he's ever had' in his tram. I would have said EXACTLY THE SAME THING myself, I mean you don't deliberately have a fucking crash but it's hilarious to take the piss out of it.

    Australia is becoming the nanny, politically correct country - the Herald Sun fucked up pushing this one, of course it'll be little surprise to anyone that this backlash won't get covered.

    Also, since his photo has been posted by the Herald Sun, he's really fucked for work as it is now.
    Well Good luck Andy (Mole)

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  4. Stephen, I doubt it. It appears that Yarra and the RTBU both made the decision that Mr Blume was to go. However, a complaint to the Australian Press council (presscouncil.org.au) might be worth trying. I thoroughly suggest it.

    Anonymous 1, they eventually posted some messages on the final article where his sacking was announced, as you probably read. "His an idiot" was easily the best. The fact they didn't allow comments on the other articles and editorial deserves an explanation though.

    Anonymous 2 I know what you mean and understand the graveyard humor all too well. Many drivers make fun of bad situations regularly and it's a way of coping with the stress. As for Mr Blume, I too wish him all the best. While I may not have agreed with everything he said, it was a shit way to deal with someone.

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  5. I came to this page with an open mind and got about 4 pars in before I couldn't read any more. I think you're being a little more than fair on this guy and you should look at your own bias. A company employee taking photos of customers and posting them online? Pretty creepy. If I was a patron at a company posting photos of me online - without my consent - I would never shop/use the service again. It's a breach of trust and surely against any sort of ICT policy the company has? (If they have one)
    Making fun of accidents online? Sure it might be his "coping method" but I think you're cutting him too much slack there. If he was traumatised by these accidents and needed to joke around in order to cope he should have done it in a private place. (And I don't think you can deny that point).
    It doesn't help that many found him offensive and that he tore apart the Herald Sun. And yes perhaps the Herald Sun were biased as well.
    But the fact is that he took photos of customers without their knowledge or contest and posted them online with sometimes defamatory content. He took photos of accidents that customers would also have experienced (on the tram), including company trademarks and logos, and posted them online making light of everyone's traumatic experiences.
    He wrote of his careless treatment of customers in the cold weather (yes the company has policies on Customer Service).
    10 years or not - this guy is a "Victim" of his own stupidity.
    Here's some advice Andy - keep your "sense of humour" between you and your friends OR do BETTER to be anonymous!
    LOL

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  6. P.S. Even if his blog was love and sunshine and he only posted a handful of these things, that's stuff enough to breach company and customer trust.

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  7. Anonymous, you raise some interesting points regarding Mr Blume's case and I agree with you on several of them. Yes, I have been overly fair but only in a way that presents reasonable doubt as to the proof provided by the HS and the accuracy of their reporting. Mr Blume was punished, and given that he has been panelled prior, it isn't a shock that he was sacked. However, my issue was with the means, not so much the end. Yes, he did some foolish things, and yes, he may have deserved sacking, but the method in which it was carried out was not what I would label "journalism" in any way.

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  8. I would like melbourne tram driver to get in touch with me

    marcw660@gmail.com

    thanks

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