Join us, Tuesday December 13th, for an evening of friendship, mulled wine and mince pies, where we will turn our attention to groups who feel increasingly excluded, vulnerable and friendless in today’s Britain. Continue reading
Category Archives: newspapers
How can 12 journalists produce 11 local papers and 8 websites? Last week, the journalists at Newsquest’s South London titles got a feel for how when, after a week on strike, they returned to work for a few days before walking out again for another week.
Speaking at a meeting called by the Oxford branch at The Punter last Thursday, one chapel rep described the process. “You just have to get the paper out: Do we have the age of this girl? No? Do we have a name for her? No? F*** it! That’ll do. Off it goes.” Continue reading
More than 60 journalist from every sector came to Oxford NUJ branch’s ‘digitally-converged summer social’.
Those attending included a sizeable contingent from BBC Oxford – whose chapel co-organised the event – on-screen reporters from Meridan TV’s newsroom, Chapel representatives from the Oxford Mail and Oxford Guardian and members working in book publishing.
Anna Wagstaff, branch secretary, explained the thinking behind the event: “Our local media is interlinked. And in this fast-changing media sector, we all have an interest in fostering a local media ecosystem that offers opportunities to earn a decent living, doing whatever we do to the best of our ability. We wanted to bring together the broadest possible range of members to start to explore common areas of interest.”
The energy generated by the event – which was held in an arts centre near BBC Oxford – was palpable. Alison Campbell, a Banbury-based PR said: “I can’t believe it when I meet PRs who aren’t in the NUJ – this event is another example of how relevant the NUJ is to us”. Several others at the event were equally committed to building NUJ membership.
Paul Jenner, BBC Oxford FOC, said: “I was delighted at the wide range of people who came to the social, and as a result we have had several new membership enquiries. We truly are stronger when we work together.”
NUJ president, Tim Dawson, who was invited to the event to speak, later described the social as one of the best NUJ branch meetings he had ever attended. “The plan to bring people together from every sector really worked. The mix of people made for an enormously stimulating event – if other branches could emulate this success it would be an enormous boost to the entire union,” he said.
Cross-posted from the nuj.org.uk
As part of the Palestine Unlocked festival (www.PalestineUnlocked.com) the Oxford NUJ branch is hosting a roundtable discussion about how news from Palestine is gathered and reported. This is a public event
Venue: Friends Meeting House, 43 St Giles, Oxford
Date/time: Tuesday June 16th, 7.00pm
The discussion will be preceded, at 6.30pm, by the formal opening of an exhibition of photographs taken by Nablus-based photojournalist Abed Qusini, which will be on display until Friday June 26th. (For details of opening times please see below)
Our knowledge of what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza depends in no small part on the ability of Palestinian journalists to gather and report news stories.
They work against the odds. Continue reading
Our after-work get together with journalists at the Oxford Mail and Times, February 12th, offered the first opportunity to review the impact of losing almost the entire team of subs.
Over recent weeks, the papers have moved to a new system of production whereby reporters send their copy to a subbing hub in Newport. Here it is assigned, call centre style, to the first person available, who will upload it onto a template, check it, cut it to length, give it a headline, and deal with any picture and caption.
The content management system they use goes by the name of Knowledge – perhaps to remind everyone of the wealth of local knowledge, experience and critical input that it has been brought in to replace.
So what difference has the shift to the new system made?
We learned that the past weeks have been pretty miserable ones, particularly for the departing subs who were asked to smooth the way for their own replacement by continuing to report for work until such a time as management considered they could get along without them.
The reporters don’t have a lot of confidence in the Newport subbing hub. They know that most of the staff there are newly out of college and are on rock bottom pay. And they doubt very much that the sense of collective responsibility for and commitment to the paper is as strong when you are sitting in Newport and working on a wide spread of Newsquest titles, as when you are part of a team of subs and reporters working side by side on a daily basis and seeing the product on the news stands the following day.
Concerns range from: what happens if something slips through? Who is responsible in the case of libel? to a general awareness that the overall quality of stories suffers when the daily interaction between reporter and sub is lost.
The Newport subbing hub does have a system for raising queries or asking for clarifications, which it does by ringing the newsdesk, though experience so far seems to indicate that this facility is rarely used except for front-page leads.
But reporter–sub interaction is anyway not only for formal queries and clarifications. It can also be useful, for instance, when subs are looking for a catchy headline that can do justice to the story, but want to avoid striking the wrong note. There’s a feeling that this may partially account for the bland character of many headlines coming out of the hub. Subs can also contribute depth to a story through their own knowledge, see links with stories appearing elsewhere in the paper, or alert reporters to possible stories in their patch.
Indeed as one reporter pointed out, the sub on one of the weeklies had effectively been acting as the paper’s editor, so key had he been to locating stories.
Equally if a reporter felt a sub hadn’t got it quite right, a short walk across the newsroom could sort that out. All of that has now been lost.
Nor is it just the quality of the papers that stands to suffer. Without a team of subs who feel a shared sense of responsibility and can be relied on to cast a critical and knowledgeable eye over stories, to query ambiguities and double-check names, places, titles and dates where necessary, reporters are left feeling exposed and under unreasonable pressure.
They care about the quality of their stories and the papers as a whole, and they feel they need to spend time they don’t have doing some of the work they don’t trust the subbing hub to do.
The good news is that there are fewer vacancies for reporters than there have been for many years. There’s a sizeable group of young journalists none of whom have been at the Oxford Mail/Times for more than a year, and they clearly have confidence in one another, enjoy working together, love journalism and are optimistic about their future.
But they know, as does anyone who has worked on a newspaper, that they can’t sustain a quality paper through their own efforts alone, as has already been demonstrated at other Newsquest titles that have already completed the switch to a subbing hub.
The Oxford branch and NUJ national officers will continue to work with the Oxford Mail/Times chapel, as well as MPs and others to bring the subbing role back to Oxford.
We will also all be watching closely to see whether the considerable savings Newsquest is making by getting rid of the Oxford subs go the same way as all previous savings from almost a decade of continuous cost cutting – straight into the pockets of the shareholders of the US parent company Gannett. Year on year pay freezes have seen real pay at Newsquest papers drop by between 15% and 20% over recent years, and the NUJ Newsquest group chapel is now putting in for a rise of 3% or £750, whichever is greatest.
The union will also continue efforts to address the gap in pay and conditions that makes the Newport subbing hub such a lucrative option for Newsquest. At a national level, in the run up to the general election, the NUJ is raising the alert over the threat to informed democratic debate that is posed by underinvestment in local papers, and it is calling for a short sharp inquiry into the future of the local press.
Members of the Oxford Mail/Times chapel, the Oxford branch committee and the NUJ National Newspapers Organiser have paid tribute to William Crossley for all the work he put in to supporting members, over several years, as Father of Chapel at the Mail and Times.
William left his job as sub on the Witney Gazette following Newsquest’s decision to move to a content management system operated by a subbing hub in Newport. His was one of around 15 subs jobs lost in this way.
At an after work gathering called to review the impact moving to the new production system was having on journalists and on the quality of the paper, NUJ National Newspapers Organiser Laura Davison thanked William for his long and dedicated contribution to his chapel and the union. “He was a really excellent FoC,” she said. “I could always depend on him to supply us with accurate and highly detailed information, and he will be greatly missed not just here in Oxford but across the Newsquest Group Chapel.”
The “few remaining subs” at the Oxford Mail/Times group put together a farewell Gazette front page where they gave testimony, in their own particular style, to William’s fastidiousness and professionalism, acknowledging also the number of stories he regularly contributed to the paper.
An “un-named newshound” is quoted as saying:
“We can now spell Royle Logistik Core any way we like and it doesn’t matter if we miss the hyphens out of Morton-in-the-Marshes. However, it’s a bit of a bugger as someone will actually have to write all the crappy bits for the Witney Gazette that William used to do himself because he couldn’t be arsed waiting.”
Anna Wagstaff, speaking on behalf of the branch, said: “We all owe William a great deal for shouldering the responsibility of being Father of Chapel at the Oxford Mail and Times at a particularly miserable time. There was no way he was ever going to agree to work with the Knowledge content management system, yet he stayed engaged and doing his best for his chapel members until his last day.”
Even after leaving the paper, William remains engaged in efforts to ensure that the chapel continues to provide an effective voice for the journalists at a very uncertain time. He has also promised to continue to catalogue the more high-profile gaffes that are published in his own local paper, The Cotswold Journal, which has been subbed by the Newport hub for more than a year now, producing some superb examples, one of which can be seen below. We can therefore look forward to remaining in regular contact.
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.”
The Oxford Mail’s owners are planning to move production of the paper, and its sister titles, to Newport in South Wales. Plans recently announced would see all of Newsquest’s Oxfordshire and Wiltshire titles, including the Oxford Mail, Oxford Times and Witney Gazette, being sub-edited from this distant “hub”.
As a result of the planned move, 20 experienced journalists face a stark choice: move to a completely different part of the UK or lose their jobs. But the impact on their lives is only part of the story: what about the impact on the communities these newspapers are supposed to be serving?
Oxford & District Branch does not believe that a local paper can be truly local when it’s being produced by people who have no connection with the local area whatsoever. The people hired to sub-edit the papers in the new “subbing hub” are unlikely to know, or particularly care, about Oxfordshire, its people, places and issues. And they won’t get a chance to learn, either – the new hub will be a factory-style set-up where workers handle papers from all over the country rather than specialising in one area.
Right now the subbing is done by experienced (although overworked) local journalists, based in Newsquest Oxfordshire’s offices on Osney Mead. If they are replaced by a production line 90 miles away, where the workers are fresh out of college, how can the quality of local newspapers not suffer?
Unfortunately, this seems to be part of a national strategy for Newsquest, which owns local papers all over the UK. It’s already happened in Darlington, York, Blackburn and Glasgow. The impact on quality has been well documented by Hold the Front Page in a piece headlined Newsquest’s Little Hub of Horrors. Readers of the Oxford Mail and Times and other local titles, who accepted Newsquest’s justification for a major price rise last year on the grounds that they were paying for improved quality, may well feel they have been taken for a ride.
As a union, we’re fighting not just to save the jobs of skilled local sub-editors, but also to save local papers from spiralling into decline as a result of this harmful cost-cutting. Over the next few months we’ll be asking people to send a strong “Say No to Newport” message to Simon O’Neill, editor of the Newsquest Oxfordshire titles. To support us, please sign our petition to keep local production for local papers. Click on the postcard to sign the petition! We’ve also printed off stacks of ( real) postcards with that message and we’re asking people to sign them and post them off to Simon O’Neill. If you’d like us to send you a handful of postcards to share, please get in touch!