Firstly, apologies for the lengthiness of this post!
In the interests of transparency though (and to save me typing this out several times), I thought I should write this post to clear up exactly what happened yesterday with regards to the St David’s/John Lewis claim made in an earlier post – feel free to leave a comment with any questions if anything is unclear though.
On Sunday, I photographed and chatted with Harriet, owner of the New York Deli as part of my Cardiff Arcades Photography Project. It’s worth noting at this point, that the point of this blog is to get to know the people behind the arcades, raise awareness and to take some great photographs. It has never been about sticking one to the man, or slagging off St David’s (nor do I hope it will be – I want to be positive, not negative.)
Here’s a timeline of events:
Sunday morning: Photoshoot with Harriet who claims that St David’s 2 had given John Lewis a 20 year rent free lease on their store, with no commitment to stay once this initial period had lapsed. She claimed this was because St David’s had promised John Lewis that 75% of the retail units in St David’s would be filled by the date of its opening, and when it looked likely that this would not happen, to keep John Lewis there they offered them this deal.
Sunday evening: The post goes up online.
Monday morning: The post is getting a fair amount of hits when the Twittersphere starts to latch on to the “20 year” claim, and I start getting lots of hits, retweets and questions.
Monday mid-morning: Hannah Waldram from The Guardian Cardiff says she will be looking into the claims made with the St David’s partnership, John Lewis and the council.
Monday afternoon: I receive an email from a representative of St David’s saying that comments in the article are inaccurate and asking me to amend the piece. Initially I worry that I’m going to face a lot of hassle, or legal action, so announce on Twitter that I’m going to take the post down. After receiving messages of support I decide to keep the post up but to include parts of the email in the post explaining the position of St David’s. I keep Harriet’s original claims there as I feel it’s important that she’s allowed to have her opinion voiced (she had mentioned that she finds it hard to get press about this in the local media).
Monday afternoon: Moments after posting extracts from the email, I receive a second email from the PR firm demanding that I remove the extracts as it should have been considered confidential. Again, worried by the tone of the email, I start to panic and immediately take out the email, despite being confused that nothing that was said in it appeared to be particularly revelatory, and, to my mind, showed them in a better light than asking me to remove it outright and change to “vehemently deny these claims.”
Monday evening: Lucy, a trainee journalist at CJS tells me that John Lewis will be issuing a press statement in reference to the comments made.
Monday evening: Lucy forwards on the press statement to me, which reads as follows:
John Lewis made a major commitment to Cardiff when we opened our first shop in Wales, investing £35m in fitting out the shop and creating 780 jobs. While we are unable to disclose the financial details of the lease, we can confirm that we took the shop on normal commercial terms, but with a 250 year lease.
Tuesday morning: I receive an email from John Lewis PR telling me that the publicity that the article has generated can only be a good thing for the arcades project, and they’d love to disclose more information but due to legal binding between them and St David’s, they are unable to reveal any of the lease details. This approach I find to be much more friendly, and explanatory, and leaves me feeling satisfied that John Lewis, at least, is happy with the position in the blogpost.
Tuesday afternoon: Hannah Waldram posts a great article on The Guardian Cardiff explaining the positions of arcade owners, St David’s, John Lewis and Cardiff Council. Oddly, I find a quote very similar to the email I was asked to retract.
Tuesday afternoon: I reveal on Twitter to a couple of people that I felt the tone of the St David’s email was aggressive and had scared me. Shortly after I miss a phone call from the PR suggesting that we had got off on the wrong foot and suggesting we meet for coffee to discuss potentially helping out with the project.
In the end, I honestly believe something positive has come out of it. Yes, I was scared by the original and subsequent email that I received yesterday. I’ve heard horror stories in the past about bloggers being smashed by corporations, so I was wary. I’m a journalist, I work in the media, so I’m used to PRs asking me to amend stories and so on, but in relation to my blog, it is just me, there are no lawyers to back me up if something goes wrong.
It’s important to consider that the tone of an email, as is the tone of a blog, hard to judge, and I think in this instance, some rushed emails and panicky phone calls led to me interpreting the tone as aggressive, whether that was meant or otherwise.
It’ll be incredibly interesting to find out what happens next, I’ll be sure to keep you informed!