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Insight responds to Optometry Australia: the facts

17/05/2019
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On 14 May Insight received correspondence from Mr Darrell Baker, president of Optometry Australia (OA), regarding an article detailing Woolworths Group’s plans to close Big W Optical.

The article – entitled Lessons behind the demise of Big W Optical – was published online on 2 May, and was a follow-up to a story published one month earlier on 1 April, entitled: Big W exits optometry; will close 41 stores, 175 jobs affected.

Insight’s publisher, Mr Coleby Nicholson, responded to Mr Baker’s concerns on the same day, however OA went on to publish its correspondence on its blog the next day without Insight’s response.

The OA webpage confirms this fact by stating: “Mr Coleby Nicholson, Insight’s publisher has responded to our letter, noting our comments and seeking additional clarification on the issues we raised.”

We find it unusual for OA to publish only one side of the story; if the topic was sufficiently important to raise on behalf of members in the first instance, then surely Insight’s explanation is equally important.

Therefore, in the best interests of fairness and accuracy we have published OA’s letter in full, as well as a detailed response to Mr Baker’s criticism.

 


 

INSIGHT RESPONDS



As a professional media organisation Insight sought information and comment directly from Woolworths Group about Big W Optical, and put a number of questions to the company.

Throughout our correspondence a Woolworths Group spokesperson answered some questions, and not others, and we accurately reported what we could at the time. We also undertook background research, and began to get a picture of a business model that, as suggested by a number of people, was deeply flawed.

We spoke to a range of people, including several within the profession.

We also spoke to Mr Peter Ryan, a leading expert on Australia’s retail industry. He is well-credentialed to comment on the larger issues surrounding Big W’s financial predicament, and often features on the ABC. Mr Ryan also has experience in the optical industry as outlined in the article.

Insight’s report included comments from the Woolworths Group spokesperson as well as Mr Ryan.

Mr Baker’s correspondence suggested that perhaps Mr Ryan should have interviewed “some of the optometrists affected” by the announcement to close Big W Optical.

Mr Ryan is not a journalist. He is an independent business commentator specialising in the retail sector and it is not Mr Ryan’s role to interview people for news stories.

Mr Baker disagrees with Mr Ryan’s comments about “high-level optometrists” and “add-on sales”. Insight believes that any fair-minded person would understand that Mr Ryan was commenting on the business model and consumer perception of Big W’s wider operation, and would not read his statements as discrediting optometrists or the profession.

His commentary was clearly critical of the business model, not the individual eyecare professionals.

It should be noted that Mr Baker’s correspondence overlooks some of Mr Ryan’s positive comments about “trust”, “efficacy” and the “faith” consumers have in Australian optometrists.

Of greater concern was Mr Baker’s advice that Insight journalists “should have taken the time to interview some of the optometrists affected” by the impending closure of Big W Optical.

There can be no doubt that many staff across the wider Woolworths Group – not only its optical division – are affected, however; it would be unusual and inappropriate to publish staff criticism and/or comments about the failings of their current employer before the imminent closure of the business.

It should be noted that Woolworths Group was offered an opportunity to explain why Big W Optical had been unsuccessful, and the company chose not to comment.

Throughout the investigation Woolworths Group gave every indication that its first priority was its staff, and that the company was assisting people find new jobs within the Woolworths Group or help place them elsewhere in the optometry profession.

It should also be noted that Insight has not received any complaint or feedback from Woolworths Group. We are aware that a number of optometry practices have contacted Woolworths Group to help their staff find new jobs, while others have contacted the company to acquire some of its equipment and assets.

It is most regrettable that Optometry Australia chose to publish only one of side of the story even though a detailed response and clarification had subsequently been provided to Mr Baker.

Insight stands by our reporting and will continue to provide the ophthalmic profession with an independent perspective and investigate matters without fear or favour as evidenced by our recent coverage of the Brien Holden Vision Institute, the BHVI Foundation and Oscar Wylee.


 

More reading:

Lessons behind the demise of Big W Optical
Big W exits optometry; will close 41 stores, 175 jobs affected
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