Training programme launched to persuade journos to drop the 'dirty and dangerous' tag often linked to chemicals stories.

The CEO of a UK chemicals company, tired of bad press about the industry, has initiated a training programme to persuade journalists to drop the ’dirty and dangerous’ tag often linked to chemicals stories.

Julian Driver, CEO of Leeds-based firm Vickers, has invited trainee journalists from the centre for journalism at Leeds Trinity and All Saints’ (an independent college affiliated to the University of Leeds) into Vickers’ laboratories to meet with company managers. The journalists will be briefed to report on the contract that Vickers’ landed last year to provide the chocolate river for the film Charlie and the Chocolate factory

During the exercise, to be staged today, a fake emergency was planned, forcing the trainees to react to the breaking news. ’It will confront them with something that requires them to think quickly,’ said Driver. It will also help the managers learn to respond to questions in difficult situations, he said. The worst time for managers to learn to deal with media attention is when faced with the press pack, he added.

The fake incident will test the trainees ’to the absolute limit,’ said  Richard Horsman, the lecturer in charge of the vocational postgraduate course involved in the scheme. ’They need to react in real time in terms of asking the appropriate questions,’ Horsman said.

Driver was prompted to set up the scheme because he thinks the significance of chemistry in everyday life is not recognised. He hopes that providing journalists with broader insights into the industry will help address the problem. ’All that we could hope to do as an industry and as scientists is allow people to judge from a position of knowledge rather than a position of ignorance,’ he said.

Horsman welcomes the chance to expose the trainee journalists to the workings of a major industry. ’There is generally an ignorance of science among journalists,’ Horsman told Chemistry World, ’there is a lack of comprehension among journalists about what the chemicals industry is.’ The object of the exercise at Vickers is to give the journalists a broader knowledge, he said. 

Both Driver and Horsman hope to see the scheme repeated. Yorkshire Chemical Focus, an organisation that aims to support and promote Yorkshire’s chemical sector, is also involved. Driver hopes that leverage from YCF will encourage other companies to join the initiative. ’Everyone gets something out of it,’ he said.

Katharine Sanderson