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.