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They say hindsight is a glorious thing. When looking back, everyone can be an expert. Should have done this, shouldn’t have done that.
If you could go back in time, let’s say five years, and set out a new strategy for a failing newspaper, what would you do?
Paywall? More blogs? Less blogs? Fewer editions?
Here’s a market where you can put the benefit of hindsight into real action: New Zealand.
As Jim Tucker writes, the Kiwi press has thus far dodged the slaughter of the ever-changing media world, keeping sales generally intact.
But that’s beginning to change. Jim’s figures — from the NZ ABCs — suggest all is not well:
While the downward trend shown in Audit Bureau of Circulation figures (about 4% over the past 18 months) is steady compared to the slaughter overseas, some of the bigger players are taking heavy hits.
The biggest, the NZ Herald, has dropped 7.1% (13,622) to 177,391 in the period mid-year 2007 to December, 2008.
The other major national player, the Wellington-based Dominion Post, has also taken a hit, down 6.2% to 90,279.
But these are ’safe’ figures, rather than the industry-defining declines we’ve had to deal with in the UK. So there’s still time.
Knowing what we know now, what would you do about it?
I’ve been doing some thinking about this whole NUJ thing. My post the other night reads very ranty — indeed, I guess it is very ranty — but I’m pleased to see that many readers of this blog agree with what I’m getting at.
And, from the defence, I received some rather predictable responses against my argument.
I’ll start with this point, from Joanna Geary (formerly Birmingham Post, now The Times):
I have much sympathy with your argument, although £13 a month for legal protection may be worth it and it is for that reason I am still an NUJ member.
Of everything I received (and blimey, there was a LOT) this was perhaps the most useful. £13 a month, as Joanna says, is very good to get legal protection.I can’t argue with that.
But it’s comments like this from ‘Chris’ (no link given) that remind me why I wrote that post:
But you wait till you’re staring down the barrel of redundancy – through no fault of your own, just because it happens that your team is being shut down.
Wait till you’re being forced to accept alternative work in a place you don’t want to live or in an area you have no interest in.
Wait till you’re summoned to meetings for a “quick chat” and end up facing four senior managers using classic intimidation tactics.
Then you’ll wish you had a union rep by your side to help fight your corner.
It’s always good to have a union behind you if you’re facing redundancy. Now, I underqualify myself here, as not only have I never faced redundancy, but I work for a corporation that is arguably more ’stable’. In other words, licence fees are still coming in. While not immune, we are safer.
But my issue is that while the NUJ are fighting a corner, it’s all rather pointless. Take this recent example of an NUJ ‘fight’:
The NUJ has strongly condemned the decision of Independent Newspapers to enforce three redundancies at The Kerryman newspaper in Tralee.
Séamus said: “This proposal represents a direct attack on the editorial heart of one of the oldest and most significant newspapers in Ireland. The inevitable consequence would be a poorer newspaper, which would not adequately reflect the community life of Kerry.”
At a meeting with the union yesterday, management announced its intention to make three journalists redundant. The NUJ chapel held an emergency meeting at which management was urged to rescind the decision, which staff say will have a detrimental effect on The Kerryman and Corkman titles.
My issue with this goes back to my ‘SAVE THE JOURNALISTS!” argument. The NUJ is pouring its efforts into protesting job cuts, when really they should be coming together — as a union — to offer more productive aid to their members. Advice on training, re-skilling and re-deployment.
Ed Hart’s comment:
As an objective observer on this one, I have had good and bad experiences of unions. If I had to sum up what I would want a union to do and be, it is to work on behalf of its members. The problem is that some unions lose touch with what this means, and see themselves as lobbyists, or big movers and shakers; when in fact their remit remains low key, but essential to those who really should matter – their members. Do they occasionally forget who the customer is, and what their customer wants?
Helps me counter this argument from ‘thatstheway’ (uh huh, uh huh, I like it!):
Someone so self-consciously hip like you could have some input into its digital media strategy if you weren’t so busy doing precisely what you accuse the NUJ of doing all the time, which is complaining, and making digital media sound like some big deal that’s going to require your special skills alone.
I feel I could contribute with the NUJ no more actively than I could to ASLEF, the train drivers union. Why? I feel I don’t have a connection with their outlook in any shape of form.
I’m all for protecting the strength of print. By doing so, we uphold the values that have made our profession truly great. But I’m also aware that, like the industry, a union has to change and adapt. Sometimes there are battles that cannot be won by standing outside a building with a placard.
I think it’s time for the NUJ to take a step back and reflect.
It needs to swallow a bit of pride and admit that just because journalism is online, doesn’t make it bad. In fact, it can make it very, very good.
It needs to stop posting videos like this, which show not only a devestating lack of understanding about online media, but also an aggressive “We’re trained and you WILL employ us” attitude that we just can’t afford to have anymore.
Maybe what we need to do is knock our collective heads together and search for ideas of how the NUJ can modernise and become the forward-thinking union we all need it to be.
Because here’s the thing: I want to join the NUJ. One commenter on my last post accused me of having no sense of solidarity which, and I hope my friends would vouch for this, couldn’t be further from the truth. If the NUJ can bring itself up to speed, I would love to get stuck in and get my hands dirty.
I believe in the future of journalism. I believe that journalists will be as important in 50 years than they have ever been. I’m preparing myself, and training myself, for a world without newsprint. It’s time the NUJ got ready too.
A colleague suggested to me today that I renew my NUJ membership. I’ve let mine lapse since my student days — the £10 or so I spent for a tacky piece of laminated plastic could have been better spent on, well, anything.
At the time, I was promised not only huge benefits of being a card holder — entrance to events, and so on; never happened — but also representation. A union that would stand up for my rights as a student journalist.
But, after getting this promotional bullshit fed to me at during an early lecture at university, I haven’t seen nor heard a NUJ rep since.
And not for want of trying, either.
Last year I did a placement at a well-known media company. I was, for want of a better phrase, taken the piss out of. They wanted me to do a job that was not only away from the area I wanted to work, but was away from the company’s BUILDING. Instead, I was logging in a ten minute drive away. No thanks — I’m not paying £25 a day (they don’t pay expenses, naturally) to offer free labour.
(That said, once the matter was resolved, it turned into a very valuable placement which has lead to me making many good friends and career contacts.)
At the time, I emailed the NUJ for advice. As a student member, I asked, what rights do I have as part of this Union?
No reply. My £10 didn’t even earn me an email offering advice. No phone call, nothing. They couldn’t even be bothered to link me to a relevant part of their website for help. Which is a shame — because they do have a guide for this sort of thing (PDF). But try following their tips and insist on being paid a minimum wage for your placement — you’ll have a big red boot mark on your arse before you’d even sat down.
More recently — in my quest for NUJ help — after seeing several adverts for unpaid internships at websites that were making plenty of money, I emailed the NUJ to ask them if there’s anything they/I/we could do about it.
Let me ask you this: Is the NUJ really standing up for journalists?
The answer for me is a very firm and direct no.
The NUJ is a cowardly union, hiding away in offices in which they wish were still furnished with typewriters and a smoking room. Their magazine, ‘Journalist’, is symbolic of their attitude to the changing media world. Only very recently has it become available online. As a downloadable PDF, that is. A pain to download, a pain to read — and completely anti-Google. Journalists looking for its words of ‘wisdom’ wouldn’t find them too easily.
Now when I say hiding — I don’t mean they’re not out there campaigning. They are. Very hard, in fact, with chapels springing up and making a lot of noise in places like the FT and in unison against the Birmingham media hub.
What I actually mean by hiding is that they are cowering from the future. Here’s the NUJ, plowing money and effort into saying “STOP THE CUTBACKS!”… and then dealing with the blow with yet more anger and disbelief when it happens anyway.
If I were a member of the NUJ, I’d demand it help me as a struggling journalist. Where can I re-skill? How can the NUJ help me choose courses to enhance my online skills?
Simply: It can’t. Look at the diary — what do you see? Gloom — print this, rate cuts that. I’m not saying we don’t need meetings to discuss our rights in the workplace, but like the newspapers making the cuts, we are FIGHTING A LOSING BATTLE.
If the NUJ is really out there to act as a service for all working journalists, it needs to wake up. It needs to get over its fascination with tradition. It needs to pull its head from the sand, stand up and come up with a plan to really help those in need.
Right now, the only noise I hear from the NUJ is complaining.
“Save the journalists!” they’ll scream.
“But how we will survive? We can’t afford them,” say the newspapers.
“Well, er… we don’t know. Just SAVE THE JOURNALISTS, ok?”
Ugh, checklists. Last time I had a checklist for work it contained the instructions to up-sell customers at a well known computer shop in the UK.
But it did have its uses — I could look at it if I ever wondered what steps were needed in order to banish myself to Hell for serial dishonesty.
But here’s a checklist that could actually come in very useful. If you’re like me, you might scoff a little at the thought of having a help-guide for your articles, but taking a look at that list I don’t think there are many journalists among us that haven’t cocked up at least one of the items.
I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
There we were, watching the football, and it’s heading to penalties. It’s nil-nil, a bit scrappy, Everton just edging it… and two minutes before the end of extra time, an ITV ident sweeps across the screen.
WHAT?! ADVERTS?! The game is still going on. The whole pub gasps for a bit. And, as if written by the gods, ITV sort out their technical cock-up and return to the game.
It’s 1-0 to Everton. Almost 120 minutes of pretty poor football and ITV miss the one bit of excitement in the whole game.
A shambles. Make no doubt about it — this was a MASSIVE blunder. Not helped by “it came at a bad time for us, sorry if you missed it” comment offered by the pundit team in the studio.
I can only hope it was gremlins rather than human error. And gremlins seem the likely option — as after the match ITV viewers were treated to a minute or so of this:
I wonder if something more shameful happened. I wonder if the producer had rigged up the adverts to go on at a certain time — i.e. at the end of the extra time. Tradition on ITV is that right smack-bang on the end of extra time they’ll cut to ads before returning for the penalty shoot out. What they didn’t allow for here, then, was stoppage time, or just general delays that happen in any sporting event.
One word: FAIL.
On a serious note, is it about time the coverage of football on ITV is put under a little scrutiny? I think so.
First off, the pundits are awful. Clive Tyldesley couldn’t analyse a cabbage, let alone a football match. Compare ITV’s offerings with Sky and you’ll see a canyon of quality difference. And to think that when Sky first got the rights they were roundly criticised by many — they’re now streets ahead of both BBC and ITV.
Neither the Beeb or ITV have anyone even close to be as good as Jeff Stelling, or Andy Gray, or Richard Keys. Even the small-time pundits like Jamie Redknapp have more to say about the game. Hell, I’d rather have Kris Camara analysing football than Mark Lawrenson. Seriously.
Second, and this bears some importance with me, are we all forgetting the ITV Digital fiasco? Their failing to properly manage their contracts, coverage and finances has led to many football clubs being placed in severe financial straits. Cambridge United went into administration soon after the ITV deal collapsed. Many clubs are still suffering from the knock-on effect of the dodgy deal.
And thirdly… well… it’s just rubbish, isn’t it? The only time ITV get it somewhat right is on Champion’s League nights — and that, I’d argue, is only because the pictures are provided for them. All ITV have to do is commentate over it.
If anyone out there watched the Histon vs Leeds match early on in this year’s F.A Cup, you’ll have seen the terrible state of the cameras. Yes, it was raining hard, but a whole half without the camera being wiped? Jesus, what tosh. And what happened to giving a camera a shield from the weather?
Amateur stuff, it really is. Get football off ITV — no-one enjoys it.
Major props to @paul_fernley for spotting this gem:
(click to enlarge if you need to!)
In other news, Paul also mentions that today marks the relaunch of BBC Weather online. Cracking timing, lads!