Do you belong in the NUJ’s digital media sector?

donnacha b&w smallWhat do content uploaders, website editors, frontend developers, online communications consultants, bloggers, tweeters, live streamers and html designers have in common? They’re just some of the roles that make up the membership of the NUJ’s new media sector, writes Donnacha DeLong,founding member of the NUJ’s ‘new media’ sector and the first online member to be elected President of the union.

The first thing to point out about the name is, yes, we know the web isn’t new any more. In fact, we know that better than most, as representatives of the sector have histories that, in a number of cases, have careers that go back many years. When we say new media, we don’t mean the technology, though new bits and pieces come along all the time, we mean the industry.

The new media industry is still in its infancy – many are still trying to figure out how to make money. Companies appear and disappear with disturbing regularity, making it a highly insecure sector in which to work. When a newspaper closes, we are often looking at many decades of existence and history. When an independent website disappears, we’re usually looking at only a few years of existence.

This insecurity and constant change is something that makes the NUJ so important for people in the sector – it also makes it very difficult to recruit and organise. What the union can do is fight back, help prevent cuts and offer alternatives, at the very least, the union can (and has) negotiate a far better redundancy settlement when the axe does fall. However, because people change jobs so often, getting a handle on who works where is difficult. There’s no guarantee that the people with whom you start a recruitment and organising drive will even be there a few months down the line when you start to talk about recognition.

The NUJ created new media sector back in 2005. The debate about whether or not it should exist had gone on for years – the NUJ has had online journalists in membership as long as they have existed. I was one of Ireland’s first online journalists back in 1998 and I was a member as were my colleagues. But most of our online members worked for employers like the BBC or the Guardian, in Ireland, RTÉ or the Irish Times (where the NUJ negotiated the first two house agreements exclusively covering website staff). They were covered by existing workplace organisations and didn’t need a separate sector.

By 2004, though, independent websites were becoming established parts of the media. We had a growing membership in AOL and were preparing a case for recognition. The journalists at AOL didn’t work in broadcasting or newspapers or PR or any of the other sectors that existed in the union. Within a year, we had set up the new media sector (and got recognition in AOL).

The sector has continued to grow, but slowly – there’s a lot more potential. A study a few years ago estimated there could be up to 100,000 people doing NUJ eligible tasks in the sector in the UK and Ireland. That’s the future of the union.

Donnacha DeLong worked on the website of RTÉ News (the Irish equivalent of the BBC) and played a key part in developing online journalism in Ireland in the heyday of the dot.com-boom. He has worked for Amnesty International, editing the news section of their website and as senior site editor of amnesty.org. He now describes himself as an online communications consultant and a freelance writer and conference rent-a-mouth. Throughout these years he has been a union activist in his workplace, his branch, and nationally within the New Media Sector and eventually as NUJ President.

For further information about the NUJ New Media sector go to http://www.nuj.org.uk/work/employers/new-media/

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