By Douglas K. Smith, author of On Value and Values: Thinking Differently About We In An Age Of Me
This past week, a frustrated Stephanie Strom (who covers business for The New York Times) took to Twitter to upbraid readers for hitting the send button too quickly:
Hey, readers. Please make sure you read an ENTIRE story before sending me an email to tell something is missing when it isn't.
— Stephanie Strom (@ssstrom) March 5, 2015
So, before you email her about what’s missing, please do read her ENTIRE story, “McDonald’s Seeks Its Fast Food Soul”:
As you make your way through, you’ll learn that Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s new CEO, faces a daunting set of challenges if he and McDonald’s are going to reverse serious decline. According to Stephanie’s, McDonald’s ‘soul’ lies in restoring ‘fast’ to ‘food’ – and doing so above some minimum threshold of quality of food. As many McDonald’s critics point out, ‘fast’ is inconsistent with the operational complexity arising from too much menu variation – and, yet, the innovation needed to respond to burgeoning and differentiated competition is too often the handmaiden of variation. On top of that trap, minimum threshold of quality means McDonald’s must avoid using ingredients that make customers sick and unhealthy. Which is why, in another recent tweet, Stephanie exclaimed:
— Stephanie Strom (@ssstrom) March 4, 2015
These are all tough business problems – well covered by Stephanie.
But, hey Stephanie, what about the workers?
Here’s just a partial list of what any one, including journalists, following McDonald’s knows about how McDonald’s treatment of workers:
• McDonald’s workers do not earn a living wage
• McDonald’s encourages workers to sign up for food stamps – meaning taxpayers subsidize the low wages at McDonald’s
• McDonald’s discriminates against workers and threatens them illegally (e.g. that health care coverage will be taken away)
• McDonald’s commits wage theft
• McDonald’s denies workers paid sick days
• McDonald’s employees are a lot older – and more dependent on wages and benefits – that the happy high schoolers flipping burgers image suggests
• McDonald’s does every thing possible to prevent workers from unionizing
• McDonald’s hides behind corporate laws to avoid responsibility for what it says it cannot control among abusive franchisees
Stepanie: All of that is missing. And I read your ENTIRE piece.
OOOPS! Actually, there is a hint – let’s call a McNugget – about workers in Stephanie’s article. In the 41st paragraph of Stephanie’s 44 paragraph piece, we find this quote from new CEO Easterbrook: “Change the conversation about McDonald’s: Counterattack brand disparagers with continuous positive news on food quality and employment image.”
There was the lede Stephanie not only buried but ignored. Having written an entire article about what it might take for McDonald’s to generate ‘continuous positive news on food quality’ – and, note, that’s on actual food quality, not just the image of food quality – the article ignored Mr. Easterbrook’s mandate about ‘news on … employment image’. It failed to cover the link between employment conditions and McDonald’s soul. And it failed to take Mr. Easterbrook to task for worrying more about ‘employment image’ than ‘employment reality’. That’s a lot to miss.