NUJ is wrong

I’m still ferverish and grumpy so if this turns into a rant you’ll know why!

The Guardian columnist and former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade is leaving the National Union of Journalists because he disagrees with its stance on Web 2.0*.

His reasons for doing so, outlined in his blog, are interesting and I have to say that, on the whole, I agree with him.

Greenslade basically takes the NUJ to task for trying to protect traditional newspaper jobs in a world that is rapidly moving online.

I cannot, in conscience, go on supporting this crucial plank of NUJ policy when it is so obvious that online media outlets will require fewer staff. We are surely moving towards a situation in which relatively small “core” staffs will process material from freelances and/or citizen journalists, bloggers, whatever (and there are many who think this business of “processing” will itself gradually disappear too in an era of what we might call an unmediated media).

But that’s only part of the problem. It is also clear that media outlets will never generate the kind of income enjoyed by printed newspapers: circulation revenue will vanish and advertising revenue will be much smaller than today. There just won’t be the money to afford a large staff.

The NUJ argues that it sees Web 2.0 as an opportunity, but that it does not want large corporate media groups to use this as a cost-saving opportunity to cut jobs, thereby lowering journalistic standards.

But frankly most large corporations in any industry will seize upon an opportunity to save money.

If you’re a chief executive it’s all about the shareholder value: look at Heinz, Peugeot and Lil-lets moving out of the West Midlands. Protests by unions made little difference to their decisions to close factories in the region and cut jobs.

Until journalistic standards start to directly effect revenue (which comes mainly from advertising), then what economic reason is there to retain journalists? Especially if you are finding it increasingly hard to attract advertising.

So yes, I imagine Web 2.0 will  change the face of journalism within large media organisations. I think small teams aggregating and checking the facts of blog posts and forums may well be something we see in the future.

But does that signal the death of a trade?

I don’t think so. I suspect that journalism will diversify and take on new forms, rather than follow the old structures of the past.

The established brands will remain in this cut down form, but advertising is a devious and capricious bedfellow. Some of it will follow its target audience online to specialist news sites run by smaller, leaner, news teams. Some journalism will probably move into the third-sector and operate not-for-profit.

I think there will be an increase in mercenary journalism, where interested parties pay to have a story written and published. I also imagine we will lose some of our best talent to the comfort and security of PR – but this was already happening prior to Web 2.0.

As for other possible models for journalism of the future, I do not have the foresight nor the intelligence to dream them up. This is where I think the NUJ should really be picking up the mantle.

I have had only one exprience of an NUJ debate on new media, at a breakfast meeting during the annual conference in Birmingham. The general theme was regressive and fearful – a lot of old hacks worried about how it may effect their jobs.

I do sympathise to some extent, but only, I think, as far as any person with no prospect of a final salary pension can. Mostly I found it alienating.

For me Web 2.0 is an exciting prospect for journalists to intermingle with readers in a way never seen before. It’s an opportunity to use our collective knowledge to produce more in-depth and searching articles.

All this blabbing on about current journalism being a skill that must be preserved and pickled in aspic is annoying and a waste of time.

I want to be excited by the future of my industry, not fearful and I want my union to help shape it, not bury its head in the sand and hope it never comes.

*thanks bounder

9 thoughts on “NUJ is wrong

  1. Can’t disagree with anything you say, great analysis, but find it hard to be optimistic about the whole business. So we’ll have a whole business checking and analysising blog coverage – where are the stories coming from?

    We’ve already got millions of blogs and bloggers, apparently the future of journalism, we should see some stories coming out of this by now. But it’s not happening. Dan Rather in the US, and legally dubious political tittle tattle on Guido Fawkes, what are the three best stories recently that came from a blog? Compare them to the best exclusive stories in today’s newspapers…

    If newspapers are dying out through lack of readers then I can’t see who’s going to do the important coverage of events that we need.

    Just as a thought experiment – think about guardian unlimited, it’s a fantastic operation, the best news website in the free market – what’s the best story they’ve broke recently?

    I love websites, blogs, they provide a fantastic source of interesting opinions and new views on things I hadn’t thought about before, but when you talk about “citizen journalism” taking over from professional journalists, I don’t think it’s snobbish to think that it’s sad that such an important part of the public sphere is losing professionals whose job it is to investigate and report on what’s going on in favour of private citizens who have an axe to grind.

    And as for Greenslade, it’s very easy for him to say “web 2.0” is making journalists unnecessary. As the number of people actually working in the media decreases, the number of “media commentators” seems to go up. Seems there’s still a lucrative career to be had in writing about the downfall of journalism, but not in writing about things that are actually happening any more.

    This whole business might be inevitable – to be honest I think it is. Like carriage-drivers, blacksmiths and British coal miners, maybe being a full time, independent, self-driven journalist is something that there’s no longer a call for. But unlike those, I don’t see that there’s an acceptable alternative. I’m not going to be like Cnut and try to turn the tide of bloggers and personal websites taking over from news organisations, but I can’t see where a decent replacement is going to come from. Thoughts?

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  4. “Can’t disagree with anything you say, great analysis, but find it hard to be optimistic about the whole business. So we’ll have a whole business checking and analysising blog coverage – where are the stories coming from?”

    I think news teams will be smaller, but maybe one person one that team has the responsibility to help local groups and organisations set up blog driven sites via Blogger or WordPress that then provide an RSS feed for the other members to follow.

    This would allow a publication to draw in some of the standard news they should be covering – village reports, sports scores, what’s on – in a very simple format, freeing up time to get back out on their patch.

    Using the tools that are already out there will save both time and resources.

    All the best, Craig

  5. Thanks Craig!

    I think what you say is interesting – so I am right in thinking you can envisage someone having a sepcific role within a professional news organisation to nuture and instruct citizen journalists?

  6. Hi Joanna

    I think it would be great for someone within a newspaper to have responsibility for helping and nurture groups within the local community.

    It would be even better if a newspaper group were to back the idea across their titles, as I think it would ultimately make it easier to draw in local news and info.

    On another level, you wouldn’t have the IT support or legal issues you might cross if these blogs were hosted under your own domain.

    But you would be involved with both helping groups keep in touch with members and receive information in a standard format that could be easily re-purposed in a variety of ways.

    All the best

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  8. As for other possible models for journalism of the future, I do not have the foresight nor the intelligence to dream them up. This is where I think the NUJ should really be picking up the mantle.

    Yes, exactly right. That’s what’s so very disappointing about the whole business – the NUJ is showing no signs of doing that.

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