The NUJ fuss – now I’m spitting

I’ve held back from commenting on the NUJ’s initial remarks on multimedia working but a call for reaction to Donnacha DeLong’s accompanying piece on the NUJ New Media mailing list – and some of the comments in response – have finally got me typing in frustration. In particular, one person’s remark that “The biggest problem is that on the web everyone thinks they are equal (and capable)” got me spitting.

On the web everyone thinks they are equal and capable? Do they really? Most bloggers don’t see themselves as journalists (64% if you want to put a figure on it); and most appreciate the work that journalist do (which is why they link to it).

I’d argue it’s more the case that on the web everyone thinks they deserve to have a voice.

That’s the democratisation that Donnacha Delong’s piece on web 2.0 mistakenly referred to.

It doesn’t mean they want to write for a paper, any more than wanting to vote means you want to be a politician.

But if the NUJ continues to appear to be arguing that people on the web don’t deserve to be heard (and I don’t believe this was Donnacha’s argument), then it will continue to alienate potential and existing supporters. Publishing those initial remarks online would be a good start to engaging in the conversation.

The NUJ appears to be framing its debate in the same terms as employers – posing user generated content against professional journalism, as if it’s an either-or situation. It’s clear why: owners are likely to see UGC as free content, and use it as an excuse to shed jobs. What they will discover – and what the NUJ should be demonstrating – is that UGC will not always remain free, and that managing it requires staff and investment. So:

  • How about an NUJ training course on community management?
  • How about recognising some of the best citizen journalism (i.e. ongoing reporting that justifies a press card, not ‘witness contributions‘) with membership of the NUJ?
  • How about negotiating on behalf of citizen journalists for remuneration? (meaning employers are more likely to hire their own staff)

There’s a longer term problem here too: as startups beat newspapers at their own game, journalists will be increasingly working for small companies that are not unionised. Because the NUJ’s recruitment system is based on being ‘nominated’ by an existing member, startup and non-MSM outfits are unlikely to have an NUJ member on staff to nominate you. The NUJ already have a form of this problem in the magazine sector.

Roy Greenslade is right to highlight that the issue is about journalism vs journalists (although his decision to resign strikes me as an overreaction, or at least premature). If the NUJ concentrates wholly on traditional journalists – working for traditional news organisations – the NUJ will suffer the same decline as those large news organisations. If they concentrate on quality journalism and how that is to survive, then they need to be more adaptable and inclusive.

5 thoughts on “The NUJ fuss – now I’m spitting

  1. Pingback: Does the NUJ understand the internet? «

  2. Donnacha DeLong

    Hi Paul,
    Thanks for pointing out what my argument wasn’t. In fact, in my article I wrote:
    “The Internet has always contained the potential to change the media. The ability to challenge authority, to provide an alternative narrative and to present a variety of points of view is what the Internet provides. But the idea that, instead of posting comments below a journalistic article, we get rid of the article altogether and just have the comments is truly dangerous.”

    All the critics have focussed on the last line and ignored the first two and has also forgotten the way the union supported Indymedia in the past.

    One critique though, your two bullet points. You seem to critique the “witness contributors” document (so named so as NOT to be seen as referring to all citizen journalists, but we acknowledged that we didn’t communicate that very well and lessons were learned), yet then call on the union to do exactly what the document was trying to do! The whole document was as much about protecting the rights of those who submit content to the media as it was about protecting our members and I’d like to point out point 4:

    “Such organisations accept that appropriate and agreed payments will be made to witness contributors for all uses of their material and that the terms of licensing will be easily available and clear;”

    Sometimes we can’t win 🙂

    Oh, and the NUJ doesn’t control the press card, it’s just a gatekeeper. You’d need to talk to the Met about extending it to others –

    PS. Could you post this to the list, please, so that people can engage with it there, where the discussion was happening?

  3. paulbradshaw Post author

    Thanks – perhaps I’m calling on the union to do it again, then – but communicate it better.
    And I did post it to the list – I’m not sure why it didn’t go through. Have tried again. If that doesn’t work, please feel free to post on my behalf.

  4. Pingback: An open letter to Roy Greenslade: Why I’m not leaving the NUJ « Online Journalism Blog

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