Sometimes award winning journalists can be taken for a ride and Frank Flak reckons that is what happened with Sushi Das and her serious on problems at Transurban. But further down you’ll see a former Transurban spindoctor attacking Fred’s analysis.

It’s basically a product of tunnel vision – the story looks good; as it develops you get better coverage and more bylines; all sorts of angles can be used to get another day’s run; and, it after a while the story pursuit becomes monomaniacal..

A classic case of this phenomena re-surfaced recently when The Age inside -a bimonthly publication about the paper inserted for readers – carried a front page feature on Victorian news editor and former transport scribe, Sushi Das.

Das made her reputation in 1999 with a series of stories about problems at a call centre, Data Connection, a sub contractor servicing Melbourne’s CityLink project.

Das got the story after receiving a bundle of papers which suggested that Data Connection was losing account details, overcharging customers and generally stuffing thing up. She followed her story with a monomaniacal glee which blinded her to the fact that her story wasn’t probably the real story and left her a sucker for a very slick operation by a team of Melbourne flaks.

The documents Das got apparently came from a druggie backpacker – call centres employ a lot of them – dismissed for taking one joint break too many. Even call centres have their principles after all.

It was true that Data Connections had serious problems but what wasn’t known is that most of these were linked to the massive failure to deliver the CityLink electronic tolling software. Interestingly the company involved in the software contract was the same company involved in the long-running Collins Class submarines software debacle.

Das missed these stories and instead worked tirelessly on the Data Connection angle. Even more strangely the CityLink flaks, Buchan Communications, appear to have helped her pursue the Data Connection campaign. Perhaps Buchan thought Data Connection would be a convenient scapegoat to distract attention from the much more fundamental CityLink problem. If they did, they succeeded brilliantly and Das came in hook line and sinker.

Meanwhile someone at the Herald Sun finally stumbled across the software story and the Collins class subs link and ran that story while Das was still chasing disgruntled, dismissed druggies.

Das even won a Weber Shandwick Club media ( sorry Melbourne Press Club Quill) Award for her efforts.

Meanwhile, Buchan is still pleased about its coup; CityLink has moved on to other problems; and, Das has been promoted, hyped and praised all for missing the real story under her nose and allowing herself to be conned by a mob of flaks.

Transurban spindoctor puts own spin on spin analysis

Stephen hello,

I was the Communications Manager for Transurban CityLink and was there during the time of the Data Connection Call Centre fiasco. My friend and business partner (and former colleague of yours), Andrew Scannell, was also at Transurban at this most interesting time

We read with interest the article about spin, Sushi and CityLink. Together we felt compelled to set the record straight about Buchan Communications so called ‘coup’ and self-proclaimed spin mastering of the highest order.

On more than one occasion, we have witnessed and heard the recounting of extraordinary feats of spin doctoring displayed in the battle fields, which were Western Link, the tunnels and the Bolte Bridge.

For the record, during our time at Transurban, Buchan Communication was not involved in media liaison or, in fact, any direct liaison with stakeholders. Indeed, there were three in-house managers dedicated to Government, community and media relations, respectively, which each personally managed.

Buchan Communication’s involvement and what it was they actually did at Transurban remained limited and focused more on providing extra staff on the ground for launches, events etc. than tactical response or strategy.

Buchan Communication simply were not involved in liaising with media, representing Transurban to the media or determining and implementing strategy. It’s worth pointing out at this stage also, that as to the Data Connections and tolling system stories cited in Fred’s article, they were treated with equal importance.

Rarely was any story missed by any journalist, least of all Das, there was just simply too many to choose from.

It is for these reasons that ‘Fred Flak’ must have the wrong end of the stick about the overall situation involving Buchan Communications, Das and the idea that that there was strategy behind the ‘who got what’ story. It sounds as though Fred was at the same function I was at, and might have overheard the same filibustering and boasting of a ‘coup’.

It’s bad enough when PR people start believing their own PR, but when journalists like Fred begin to believe it too, then things must be dire! Do they think the people who were really in the trenches at the time just go away and die I don’t think so!

Das made us earn our keep at CityLink more than any other journalist. She never printed anything that wasn’t true and Buchan’s certainly didn’t dupe her.

Looking forward to our Monday morning Crikey fix.

Cheers, Sarah Baston

Peter Fray

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