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NUJ newspapers and agencies summit

© Jason Harris

30 April 2015

One NUJ may have been the ironic title of a major summit of the union's reps working for newspaper and news agencies, aping the latest jargon from the newspaper groups, but it did prove that by working together as one, we can learn from each other, support each other and develop strategies to help our members.

The summit, held in Birmingham on Saturday 25 April, brought together participants from the UK and Ireland representing members in the national and local press and freelance and student members. They heard presentations from officials, chapel and group chapel reps and NEC members on how to build chapel strength and mount campaigns and how to deal with the digital transformation of the industry.

One of the strongest messages was the commitment to quality journalism, which many felt was under threat from newspaper group policies.

There were powerful descriptions of the bullying and stress still too prevalent in the industry, and those attending were reminded of the importance of effective health and safety representation.

In the past decade more than 5,000 journalist jobs have gone and 150 titles have closed. Digital newsrooms are transforming the way journalists are expected to work. Despite taking on these changes, journalists have not seen their pay improve and are experiencing heavy workloads because they are expected to bring in stories, cover events, produce videos and podcasts and use social media.

Picture desk staff and photographers are being cut across the board and production is being moved away from the local paper to subbing hubs many miles away.

But the summit wasn't all doom and gloom. The reps heard from several chapels about some of the successes the union has had in fighting for members' jobs and pay.

There was also plenty of good advice on campaigning strategies. Participation in shareholder meetings and informing local community groups and politicians were discussed as ways of engaging members as well as taking effective action.

The summit was held as part of the union's Local News Matters, a campaign which aims to reclaim a vital, vigorous press that is at the heart of the community it serves and is owned and operated in the public interest. It calls for:

  • a short, sharp national inquiry into the state of local news;
  • local papers to become community assets to prevent newspaper titles closing overnight and to give potential new owners, including local co-operatives, the time to put together a bid for a paper;
  • action to stem the job cuts and attack on quality journalism;
  • research into new models for local journalism, levies, tax breaks and other measures to fund community media.

One clear message from those attending was NUJ members' commitment to quality journalism. One member after another emphasised the only way for newspapers to remain relevant to their readers, and therefore economically sustainable, was to provide well-informed, quality reporting and editing and professional images.

They said misguided targets for web hits or numbers of stories do not recognise the reality that news cannot be produced to order. Engaged readers want more than listicles or to buy back user-generated material they are expected to submit themselves.

With an eye on the elections, the importance of engaging with politicians and the new government, whatever its shade, through early day motions and support of the union's call for a short sharp enquiry into local news were also emphasised. The union needs to be on the front foot to fight the challenges ahead.

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said:

"It was fantastic to see reps coming together under the One NUJ umbrella. It's NUJ members who care deeply about quality journalism across print and digital media and who are campaigning and arguing for this principle, as well as proper staffing levels and fair pay.
"Readers and advertisers are urged to back the argument for quality content and oppose some newspaper owners' attempts to shore up profits at the expense of sustainability."

Read more about the Local News Matters campaign and how you can support it.

Sign the Caernarfon and Denbigh Herald/Daily Post petition to prevent Trinity Mirror closing down its Caernarfon office, ending a 180-year presence in the town.

Tags: , local newspapers, news agencies, local news matters, trinity mirror, petition, reps, newspapers, photographs, freelance, students, chapels, nec, new media, quality journalism, video