Maybe William Sitwell shouldn't have had to resign. But most people don’t delude themselves that they can be as rude as they like at work without facing any reprisalby Stephanie Boland / November 1, 2018 / Leave a comment
“‘Killing vegans’ foodie gets chop,” ran the Evening Standard headline on William Sitwell’s resignation from Waitrose Food magazine. The former editor stepped down this week after he sent a rude e-mail to a freelance journalist who pitched a column of vegan recipes. (You can read the exchange here.) In response, various writers and editors have expressed outrage. Should he really have to lose his job over a private e-mail? Wasn’t it just a joke? Can’t we make those anymore?
Whether or not you believe that Sitwell’s e-mail should constitute a resigning offence—and I’m inclined to think it shouldn’t, although there is, of course, the awkward fact that Waitrose’s brand relies on pleasing customers his comments will be highly displeasing to—it seems bizarre to argue it was not an offence at all.
Journalists, always keen to analyse the habits of our own, seem particularly distressed by Sitwell’s resignation. On Twitter, the profession’s hideous public water cooler, various established writers have bemoaned what they see as an unwillingness on the part of their younger peers to understand the time-honoured rhythms of the industry.
These apparently include the right to make crude jokes, to be rude to all and sundry, and to send snippy remarks to relieve the frustration of responding to e-mails pitching the type of work your publication specifically requires. Journalists must have a thick skin and roll-with-the-punches attitude to make it in the dirty business they call the press.
It is true that journalism requires a thick skin. But even leaving aside the fact that Waitrose magazine is far more an outpost of a corporate brand than it is a bastion of hard-hitting reportage, this is a gross misreading of why. Journalists need to be robust to go into the field, to report on difficult subjects, and to empathise with the people whose stories they tell—not to accept infinite rudeness from their editors.
If our work is important—and the idea it’s necessarily more important than anyone else’s is as amusingly narcissistic as it is common—there is still an obvious difference between speaking truth to power and speaking rudely to the people you have power over. No-one should defend so insistently their right to punch that they lose the ability to distinguish between doing so up or down.