CONGRATULATIONS to Maggie Hartford, former business reporter and books editor the Oxford Mail/Times, who was made a Life Member of the NUJ two weeks ago. The honour was given in recognition of her 40 years of unbroken union membership – all of it as a member of the Oxford Mail and Times chapel.
Last year, having watched the newsroom dwindle over the past decade to a shadow of its former self through successive rounds of cuts, Maggie took the opportunity of yet more redundancies to hand in her cards – but she kept her union card.
A lunchtime gathering at The Fishes to celebrate her Lifetime Membership brought together colleagues still at the Mail/Times with many former friends and colleagues from the past. Their recollections of Maggie were remarkably consistent, whether they were talking about her role in the hard-fought seven-week strike in the winter of 1979/1980 (which secured a pay rise of around 12% as part of a more comprehensive settlement), or confronting day to day issues about working conditions or bullying, or the NUJ campaign to stand up for the value of high-quality local journalism: professional, calm, determined, and just a pleasure to work with.
Peter McIntyre, who started as a reporter at the Oxford Mail shortly after Maggie arrived, and was Father of Chapel for many years, including during the long pay strike, paid tribute to the consistent contribution Maggie made throughout her career to chapel efforts to address workplace issues and improve pay and conditions:
“Maggie served on the Oxford Mail/Times chapel committee in many posts. She was always a voice of calm authority within the chapel and was very influential in getting important changes, particularly on maternity leave and women’s issues, ” he said.
Kate Griffin joined the Oxford Mail as a trainee and got into the habit of stopping by Maggie’s desk on her way back from the tea machine.
Her first impression of Maggie? “I wanted to be like her – calm, professional. I never saw her getting stressed out. But when management were being bastards, she was usually the first person to tell me about it. She taught me that there is no conflict between being professional and being in the union, and the two go together. If you’re fighting for decent pay and conditions so you can do the best possible job, what could be more professional than that?”
Anna Wagstaff, secretary of the Oxford branch thanked Maggie for the positive way she always responded to requests to involve the Oxford Mail chapel in local initiatives for the NUJ’s Stand Up for Journalism campaign. “Staying positive in the face of a management business strategy that aims to keep profit levels high by endless pay freezes, cuts and more cuts, regardless of the impact on quality, is difficult. But whenever I rang Maggie for help mobilising colleagues, I could always count on an enthusiastic response, and that was a real fillip for me. Her Life Membership is well deserved recognition for all she has done for fellow journalists over the years.”
“Bet she’s found something to get constructively pissed off with, to tackle in her new free time,” wrote Jayne Gillman and Mike Watson, two of the many former colleagues who sent anecdotes and tributes.
Maggie said: “There have been good and bad times, but one thing has always cheered me. It’s been sad when colleagues move on, but they have always been replaced by fantastic new people who are enthusiastic about the value of local news, and who know that high-quality journalism needs to be fought for.
“I wish I could say that the management has been as keen to fight for the future of provincial journalism as it has been to squeeze the last profits from our local newspapers.”
The lunch for Maggie took place at a time when 15-20 subs are losing their jobs at the Oxford Mail and Times as their roles are taken over by a subbing hub in Newport, Wales, so there were mixed feelings among many at the lunchtime gathering. As one of them put it: “It reminded me that it used to fun working here.”