One of the first, fundamental lessons of journalism I learnt - or rather, was taught, which is not necessarily the same as absorbed - was this: avoid the use of the word "I". And do not venture or proffer your opinion unless the piece is specifically an editorial or column.
Not surprisingly, when writing press releases that law applies tenfold, but I am shamelessly breaking it by flavouring this missive with a highly opinionated, slightly self-pitying anecdote to do with the defunct SA issue of Maxim, a publication which internationally bills itself as "The World's Biggest Men's Magazine."
Anyway, after contributing to about half-a-dozen or so issues, and only receiving payment for my very first contribution, and then being fobbed off with many excuses along the lines of "the cheque is in the mail," I was told that, oops, sorry, the magazine's SA publishers had gone into liquidation. Which the cynic in me interpreted as meaning "we owe lots of money and aren't making much, so we're shafting everyone - including you, James, who we owe approximately the equivalent of six years your first salary on a provincial newspaper."
Bitter and outraged scarcely covered it. And when I learnt that, even with usurious, time-consuming litigation, I would be highly unlikely to receive or recover any payment, it was difficult not to wish the very worst, most vivid parts of the books of Job, Exodus and Revelation on the perpetrators.
I am not alone.
"People who liquidate their companies, especially on a serial basis, and especially to avoid paying creditors, are guilty of the most appalling lack of business ethics," says Greville Howard, founder of the Durban-based IRS (Industrial Relations Specialists).
Meanwhile, Margaret Kruger, of Marisk Management, confirms that the old maxim "my word is my bond" belongs to a long-gone era.
"In today's business world we cannot afford to trust too much. Do not allow sympathies, old friendships or the hope that if further credit is extended more business may come through, to stand in the way of a continuous rational assessment of how the account is being conducted," says Kruger.
"Too many broken promises and an increasing amount outstanding are telltale signs that things are not what they should be and the time to act is immediately. Meet with the debtor and listen to what he is saying to you - assurances that everything is in order, while an application for liquidation looms, may amount to fraud."
Greville adds: "It's difficult to think of something more base, especially when the affected parties are small companies or independent contractors, to whom a major, unpaid debt can mean the difference between closing themselves, and laying off workers, or relative success."
The moral then, confirms Greville, is that, as obvious as it might sound, be wary of who you do business with - and he cites the case of a developer of residential estates, who has repeatedly gone into liquidation, resulting in contractors, large and small, losing tens of millions of rands.
James Siddall is a freelance writer and media consultant, contributing to a variety of outlets from The Sunday Independent to The Saturday Star to Car magazine's website. He can be reached at and wants to get his very own website, but is incandescent that someone else was quicker and cleverer than him and has already taken jamessiddall.com.
What exactly was your point because as much as I thought you want to tell us about the danger of not checking the balance sheet of companies you network with your introduction was about the dos and donts of journalism.
I can see from a distance if a company is capable of remunerating me or not.If I`M IN THAT COMPANY THERE WILL BE signs shown by the boss which can be pleasant,friendly and cordial and curteous or attitudinal to demonstrate how the company was doing and if I get the gist of his or her attitude that the company is going for broke i don`t waste my time there. Posted on 5 Apr 2007 11:18
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