Christian Payne aka Documentally is a photographer and journalist now making a bit of a name for himself as a social media guru. When I first met Christian at the Tuttle Club a few weeks ago, everyone told me he was the one person I had to talk to.
We’ve arranged to meet at Tuttle again today…only, Christian’s dog walker can’t make it and he has to stay home to look after his Border Collie, so we’re talking long distance (London – Boondocks) over Skype.
Six years ago Christian ‘downsized’, leaving full-time employment at a newspaper London to live and work in a small village in Northamptonshire.
“The corporate world is designed to make money at the end of the day, not to make people happy. Authenticity and ethical trading doesn’t exist enough. Corporations still believe in the ‘acquisition of more’ when they should be developing the capacity to enjoy ‘less’.”
Christian urges me to read Fritz Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful to get the full take on the way he sees things. Twenty-five years on, it seems a kind of apt title for the niche-obsessed world of social media where, suddenly, the little things matter again.
So what finally drove Christian to follow his values and opt out of the London rat race?
“I spent years working within newspapers and the way we report news nowadays is really very lazy. As a photographer, I always had to go and visit the people behind the stories. Sit with them, chat to them. Find out how they were really feeling. You always get something deeper by sitting there talking to people face to face. I quickly lost faith in the newspaper industry. Journalists never go out to stories any more. They get all the information online, maybe make the odd phonecall. Everything you see in the newspaper is based around advertising. The story will be cut to fit with the ads. A fantastically touching product to begin with can be turned into pulp.”
And Christian has little praise for his old bosses:
“The leadership [in newspapers] is terrible. People sit there shouting like something out of a Spiderman movie. You’ve seen Spiderman, right? Well, the relationship Peter Parker has with his editors, who are always shouting at him – that’s a completely accurate representation. There’s no end of bullying.
“As a result you end up having no respect for either these people or the organisation that employs you. You just want to get back at them in whatever way you can. For example, when it came to expenses at the newspaper, people would calculate expenses to and from the office for every story, even though they would go direct from job to job. They could probably earn another £4K on top of their earnings annually through that. Most people did it, and the newspaper was completely unaware.
“In organisations like [the newspaper where I used to work] you simply don’t have that ‘let’s sit down and talk about this’ attitude that you should have. This is where social media has the chance to make a difference.”
Of course, not all places are bad. Christian tells me that the Open University (one of his clients) has a very progressive attitude. From the sound of it, Ian Roddis, the OU’s Head of Online Services, is more like a favourite, trendy uncle than a boss. Twitter is used as a type of intranet, while Roddis sends short video clips to his staff using Qik.
“The other day Ian sent a Tweet at lunchtime: ‘I’m working from home and having a beer, does that constitute drinking at work?’. The thing is, he’s not just talking to his employees but also to his clients and his sponsors. He’s communicable and being honest. That’s what’s so likeable.”
If an organisation uses Twitter in this way, feels Christian, it’s inevitable that workplace relationships will become more open (and that’s a good thing):
“Twitter is like a massive corporate meeting taking place 24/7 at all levels of management. But it’s a useful meeting. People can see directly what I’m doing at any point – for example, they can see if something’s my idea. That’s good, it gives me ownership. This is the kind of communication we need between people now. It’s almost too much communication. But YOU control your data. You control how much you want to share.
“You can lie, but then you have to make sure you tell the same lie everywhere. You can only really throw truth into that stream.”
Transparency, openness and – ultimately – efficiency. Who can argue with the benefits of that? And, the great thing is, it’s really difficult to SHOUT on the Internet.