The editor of The Journalist is a position that needs to be accountable to NUJ members – and that’s why the role is one that members vote for. Oxford branch feel we need to be in a position to make an informed decision. So we selected 5 issues we feel are priorities, and we asked the two candidates for their views, which we publish below.
1. How will you help journalists to do their job in the 21st century?
CHRISTINE BUCKLEY: Journalists are facing enormous change and pressure. Digital and social media are forcing incredible transformation of news and current affairs. And many media organisations are also shrinking beyond recognition as they struggle to make money.
The magazine can’t change that. But it can help keep people up to date with the transformations sweeping through their profession. Through our features we look at both the broad industry changes and what journalists can do to help themselves adapt and survive.
In the past we have also promoted the union’s professional training courses and will do again when more advance dates for training provision are available following the abolition of the training department.
And of course The Journalist publicises what the NUJ can do for journalists in terms of fighting for jobs, pay, standing up for quality journalism, and defending members when they are unfairly treated.
TIM DAWSON: Journalism is changing quickly and navigating a career in the media is ever more challenging. I have a long-standing interest in the future of our industry and how individuals can benefit from technology, as well as facing its downsides – see my website newmodeljournalism.com, for example.
Sharing new ideas about how to work and deploy our skills is a basic function for a trades union such as ours, and our magazine is an ideal place to do that.
The Journalist is also well placed to report industrial changes that other professional media don’t. The introduction of the online-based ‘Newsroom 3.1’ in some Trinity Mirror sites, for example, has caused excitement and dismay among members in equal measure. It is the sort of story that deserves space in our magazine not least because a great many of us are likely to experience editing by algorithm in the next few years.
2. How will you keep in touch with the concerns and issues facing all sectors of the union? And how will these issue be reflected in the pages of The Journalist?
I am in contact with many people across the spectrum of the NUJ and the magazine receives many suggestions. I try to ensure that features and news focus on our various sectors. Broadcasting and newspapers, national and local, are our biggest constituents but we ensure that we carry pieces reflecting the issues of the PR industry, books, magazines, and photography. We ran a column devoted to PR for a couple of years and now have the regional spotlight series to reflect the geographic spread of the union.
I have visited countless chapel and branch meetings, as well as picket lines, during my time as an activist. If elected, I would be doing a lot more of this. Our union would be nothing without activists and ordinary members, all of whom deserve the chance to say their piece to the editor of their union’s magazine at some point. I would also use social media to engage with members and webinars, podcasts and videos to take our message to the widest possible audience. By meeting with members, I would gather up their stories and these would form the bedrock of The Journalist and its allied online content. All our sectors, and geographic areas deserve proper coverage.
3. How will you balance union news and campaigns against professional interests? How do you see the relationship between the role of The Journalist editor and the NUJ communications office?
The editor of The Journalist is elected to guarantee independence so that the magazine is never in danger of being merely the mouthpiece of the union’s leadership. Our membership comprises professional communicators and they don’t want to see naked propaganda in the magazine. We report the key campaigns and news from the union in an objective way in the hope of informing but not preaching at them.
I think for this reason the editor of The Journalist needs to have some distance from the communications office although there are areas where it makes sense to collaborate, and the magazine depends on the website – produced by the communications office – for a lot of its news.
I work part-time, only working on the magazine. If an editor takes up the position on a full-time basis they will be required to work for the communications office for two days a week. I think this could easily blur the distinction between the two and could compromise the independence of the editor.
Both deserve space – but a magazine that tries to hector its readership will soon end up in the recycling bin. Campaigns and professional interests are best served by rooting out compelling stories that make their own case. Awful as was the recent shelling of Gaza, for example, worthy denunciations of militarism and imperialism would not be the stuff of a magazine that I edited. The extraordinary work undertaken by lay and full time NUJ officials helping the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate on the ground to reach their first collective agreement, however, has the potential for compelling reportage that underlines the great work we carry out with our sister unions around the globe.
Regarding the relationship between the role of The Journalist editor and the NUJ communications office, I see parts of both jobs as distinct. We elect an independent editor so we can obtain a dispassionate view of the work undertaken on our behalf. Nonetheless, I would expect a high degree of co-ordination between the functions so that we are not inadvertently covering the same stories. In addition, the editor spends approximately a third of their time undertaking other tasks at the direction of the General Secretary. It is quite possible that some of this might be in areas that are supportive of the communications office. I would relish that opportunity.
4. How will you ensure that the quality of the magazine reflects the professionalism of the membership?
I have always made it a priority to commission the best quality writers that the magazine can afford. We pay for every contribution. I believe this helps The Journalist be a magazine that a journalists’ union can be proud of. I don’t have one-sided opinion pieces. I try to ensure that the magazine has the kind of impartial, well-researched journalism that you would find in any national publication.
I spent a decade commissioning and editing for The Sunday Times. Great journalism is often a collaborative effort and getting the best out of contributors is what distinguishes good editors. I really, really care about any product that has my name on it and I am relentless in pursuit of quality. Judge me by all means on the standard of my own writing – there is lots of it at www.tim-dawson.com
5. How will you make it easier to read online?
The magazine undoubtedly needs an app urgently. Unfortunately the union has not yet been able to make the money available for this. I hope that this will change soon.
Five years ago all the candidates in this election promised ‘significant online content’ from The Journalist. Delegate meetings have demanded it since. It is inexplicable that it has not happened. I am committed to a printed magazine, but it has to be buttressed with significant online content that is written and updated daily. Effort and enthusiasm is all that is required to make this a reality. I can supply both in abundance. I would do a great deal more to drive members to choose to consume the magazine online, not least because the resources that this could free up could fund more content.