Barrick’s dilemma: Yellow Journalism or Crisis Management ?

In its article ‘Barrick target of yellow journalism’ the Canadian Mining Journal (CMJ) dissects the evolution of a  story about one of Barrick Gold’s projects, which started with the eye catching headline: "Deadly toxin invades Barrick's Dominican gold mine, Thousands hospitalized."

Apparently, the Winnipeg Free Press finally got the story right: "Hundreds of Barrick workers fall ill from food poisoning in Dominican Republic." Although the CMJ rises some good points about ‘Yellow Journalism,’ it seems to fail to address a more fundamental problem. Majors like Barrick (and, in this case, also Goldcorp) know by now how these incidents and stories play out, no?

Leaving an information vacuum during such events creates fertile grounds for spreading misinformation – whatever the innocent or devious motives. Just checking Barrick’s website a few minutes ago, I still could not find any factual press release about that incidence. Not sure if leaving the Canadian Mining Journal to go to bat on Barrick’s behalf is the most effective approach to crisis and reputational management for such an event.

There are also broader lesson here for the mining sector in terms of CSR and sustainability reporting. Not publishing sustainability reports leaves the media-driven public opinion platform (increasingly shaped by the internet and Google) to those who post ‘things’ on-line, regardless of accuracy and quality. ‘Warts and all’ media releases and sustainability reporting more generally do not stop devious articles. However, they can – if done in a credible manner – provide a context and reality check for the reasonable audience which does not enjoy being taken for a ride by ‘Yellow Journalism.’