The joke William Sitwell made about Selene Nelson’s vegan recipe pitch was clearly inappropriate. Whether he deserved to be forced to resign for causing upset is open for debate and one that will no doubt rumble on. For the time being at least his conduct will be the focus of discussions.
My attention has turned to Nelson’s actions. Clearly upset, they decided to publish the initial query and the response that came back their way. That it was done so brazenly is, in my view, as unprofessional as Sitwell’s conduct.
This was not an exchange between private individuals. Nelson was acting in a professional capacity as a freelance writer. The reply was from someone acting in their capacity as editor for Waitrose Magazine.
For a business to publish a commercial email in this way is wholly unacceptable. Aside from breaking commercial confidence, questions must be asked about whether privacy laws have been violated.
The business may also suffer longer term harm. Anyone speaking to them in future must surely be wondering whether discussions will remain private. Could a perceived misstep or slight be exposed to public scrutiny again? Might a source decline to step forward for fear their emails could be shared?
I’m sure Nelson will secure further work for their business from this debacle, if only for a short time. The industry doesn’t forget though. Just as I occasionally hit hurdles because of my name (wrong Ross Hall!), I’m sure there will be times when they encounter an editor who remembers the time Sitwell fell and decides past conduct is not worth future risk.
As freelancers it is easy to blur the lines between private and business communication. The distinction is important though, and we must remember that when we act hastily to satisfy a short-term need we expose our business to longer term reputational harm.