The Oxford NUJ branch sent 3 delegates to the NUJ national conference, Southport April 14-17, to participate in deciding on union policy and electing officers for the coming two years. Paul Jenner represented the branch for the first time, alongside Anna Wagstaff and Bill MacKeith. He blogs here about the experience.
As we made our way up the M40, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the NUJ’s Delegate Meeting. In my role as Father of the Chapel at BBC Oxford, I had attended meetings with counterparts in broadcasting at the BBC, but this was on a much bigger scale. When we arrived at the conference centre, I was handed a bag full of agendas and pamphlets, which would help set the scene for the next few days. Fortunately, I had some very supportive colleagues who would help me understand some of the procedures and terms that would be used. For example, I had never heard of the Latin term “seriatim” before, meaning taking one subject after another!
On the first day of the conference, General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet opened the meeting with the news that she had been elected for a second term. This was met with huge applause and widely welcomed. She said that the union had faced a tough few years, and at one point the NUJ was close to folding due to a lack of money. Although the NUJ has been turned around, the warning was clear that challenges lie ahead for journalism, and the conference was vital in putting our stamp on the future.
Throughout the conference, more than 100 motions were put forward by branches, ranging from support for public service broadcasting to changes to the structure for subscriptions. There was robust debate, and everyone was given a fair chance to put their points, although it seemed a very tough job to keep things on track, limiting speakers from rambling! In some ways, us broadcasters had an advantage as we’re used to having to “sub down” our points at the very last minute! I was also asked to speak by the branch on a couple of motions, including improving the quality of “the Journalist” magazine. It was a proud moment to stand at the front of the conference hall, representing the Oxford branch and BBC Oxford Chapel.
The four day event was also a good opportunity to meet up with colleagues from other parts of the BBC and wider press. I had no idea, for example, that the NUJ had a branch in Paris. There were also some interesting fringe events, including one which told how hyper-local newspapers are proving a huge success in Bristol. It gave me some hope for our newspaper industry. In the face of cuts, it demonstrated that there are still opportunities for new entrants into the media landscape.
Overall, the conference opened my horizons to the scope of the NUJ and how it represents so many parts of the industry. It underlined to me how strength in numbers really does work, and although there are always differences of opinion at these events, one core aim is clear; to protect journalism for the years to come.