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: Oxfordshire
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
David Cameron and Nigel Farage weren’t the only ones facing difficult questions about the EU referendum on Tuesday evening. While the prime minister and the UKIP leader were busy practising their soundbites ready to face live questions from the audience, NUJ branch members in Oxford were having their own debate about what the referendum result could mean for them. Continue reading
To exit or remain: what’s at stake for us in Oxfordshire?
We’ve invited Antony David, managing director of Solid State Logic, a local high-tech business, and Robert Wilkinson, a former teacher and a trade unionist, to tell us what they think, and explain why they will be voting “in” and “out”, respectively. We’re inviting you to come and join the discussion. Continue reading
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!
At its March meeting the branch agreed to donate £250 towards a memorial to all the people from Oxford who went to Spain 75 years ago to fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Here branch member Chris Farman tells the story of why they went, and of two journalists who were among the 26 volunteers from Oxford.
In July 1936 a military rebellion was launched against the democratically elected government of the Spanish Republic. For the next three years Spain was torn apart by a bloody civil war which claimed almost a million lives and left the country in the grip of a pro-fascist dictatorship under General Franco.
Franco’s success owed much to Hitler and Mussolini, who supplied him with a constant stream of guns, tanks and planes. They wanted to try out their new weapons and tactics, and Spain provided an ideal testing ground. The Republic appealed to the Western democracies, but this was the era of appeasement, and Britain and France, anxious not to antagonise the Axis powers, refused to send any help. Eventually, the Republic did receive aid from the Soviet Union, though never on the scale of that sent by Hitler and Mussolini to the so-called Nationalists.
The war aroused intense political passions and some 35,000 volunteers, including 2,500 from the British Isles, would serve with the International Brigades, the military force recruited to fight for the Republic. From Oxford, 26 volunteers headed for the battlefields of Spain, of whom seven would never return. They included nurses, doctors and ambulance drivers, as well as combatants, and represented a wide range of backgrounds and political views. One was an engine driver, one was a member of the House of Lords, one was a teacher and one was a musician and composer.
There were even two journalists – Ralph Fox and Tom Wintringham. They met as undergraduates at Oxford in the 1920s, where they became close friends and ardent communists. They wrote for the party newspaper, The Daily Worker, and founded an avant-garde journal, Left Review, which attracted rising literary stars such as Bertolt Brecht, Pablo Neruda and Stephen Spender.
By the end of 1936, the two friends were in Spain. On December 28 Fox was killed as his unit led an attack on the town of Lopera, near Cordoba. Also killed was the poet John Cornford, who the day before had celebrated his 21st birthday. According to one account, he was shot while trying to retrieve Fox’s body.
In February 1937, Wintringham commanded the 500-strong British Battalion in its first action, at the Battle of Jarama. More than half the battalion was killed or wounded and Wintringham himself was hit in the thigh. He returned to the front again in August, but was again wounded and repatriated to England.
Like Fox and Wintringham, many of the volunteers were communists. But there were also plenty of Labour party supporters and ordinary trades unionists who saw that a victory for fascism in Spain would be the prelude to further aggression. They were proved right, but were never given any official acknowledgment or thanks. Over a hundred towns and cities in Britain have tried to make up for this by erecting their own memorials to the volunteers. Oxford now has the chance to follow their example.
The International Brigade Memorial Trust has launched a fundraising appeal for a memorial to the volunteers who lived, worked or studied in and around Oxford. The initiative has the support of the Oxford & District Trades Union Council and Oxford City Council, which has given a site in Bonn Square for the memorial.
The proposed date for the unveiling is September 6, but this will only go ahead if sufficient money is raised. The appeal fund currently stands at more than £2,000 – including a donation of £250 from the branch – but the target is £5,000, so there’s still a long way to go. Please help to make sure that Oxford’s volunteers for liberty are not forgotten by supporting this appeal. Send donations to 6 Stonells Road, London SW11 6HQ. Make cheques payable to ‘IBMT’ and write ‘Oxford Memorial Appeal’. on the reverse. All donors will be acknowledged in the commemorative booklet that it is hoped to publish when the new memorial is unveiled.
The Oxford Mail‘s Witney reporter has been thrown out of a town council meeting – for the fourth time. On Monday 10th March, the council met to discuss the future of two public buildings, Langdale Hall and the Corn Exchange. But the reporter covering the meeting was asked to leave after town councillors voted nearly-unanimously (with one exception) to exclude the press. This means that discussions of public interest will not be publicly reported. This is the fourth time in less than a year that a reporter has been excluded from a town council meeting.
As a branch, we are concerned that Witney Town Council is not allowing local reporters to do their job. We have written to Cllr Peter Dorward, Mayor of Witney, to ask on what grounds reporters are being asked to leave meetings. We believe there are important issues of principle at stake about transparency in the way decisions are reached on how public money is spent. We have therefore asked the mayor to supply us with information about what guidelines and criteria are being used to decide when it is acceptable to conduct council business in closed session.
If the council was hoping to avoid public scrutiny by this move, the plan has backfired. In the absence of being able to report the actual meeting, the Oxford Mail reported being thrown out and gave a potted history of previous attempts to exclude the press. This was followed up with an angry editorial describing the councillors as “silly burghers” and arguing that “transparency is clearly a dirty word to the secretive folk who run Witney Town Council. ” The story was picked up by the Guardian and by Hold The Front Page. So much for keeping things under wraps.
The Oxford & District branch is trying to build up a picture of how Oxfordshire residents use local news services – and what they think of local news provision. We’re carrying out a series of interviews and publishing the write-ups on our website. Here, Anna Wagstaff interviews a mental health nurse who lives in East Oxford and works for the Oxfordshire Mental Health Trust, who opted to remain anonymous.
This interview was done on the day of the latest changes to the Oxford Mail and Herald series.
Where do you go for your local news?
I get the Oxford Mail most days and watch the BBC for local television news. We love Geraldine Peers – she supported the scouts! I go to the BBC rather than ITV because it’s more local. ITV’s Meridian is all about Southampton and Portsmouth. And I listen to OX105.1FM [now off air]. It’s local music with local people running it.
How well does the local news serve your needs?
I like ‘What’s On’. I want something that keeps me up to date with what is happening in Oxford here and now. It’s really good at that, and giving feedback on what happened and how it went. My kids read it because I have it in the house, and there are local things they have a connection with. I’m not asking for intellectual debate. It’s a local paper.
It could be more political; it’s very neutral. It needs to take up local issues that actually matter. The Mail does have opinion columns, but they tend to be views on very politically correct and Green issues – like cycling and the development of Warneford meadow, gravel pits, house building in rural areas. Personally I’m pissed off with planning permissions given in places that are already residential. I’d like the Mail to start questioning, for instance, why are all these sheds being built at the ends of gardens? My garden now floods all the time because there’s nowhere for the water to go.
It shouldn’t be a political paper, because it’s a local paper, but it should take a stand more on issues that affect local people, and not just middle-class campaigns.
I like the ‘Scales of Justice’ in the Oxford Mail, naming and shaming. It’s good to be able to see who has been done for what. But I think they may be doing too much about crime. They could do a lot more stories about what’s good about the community. There are a lot of good neighbourhood initiatives, like the Barrack’s Lane garden.
They need to find out who the Oxford population is. They stereotype the population. They think it’s all Green because they have a strong voice. And it’s lovely they still report on the Aunt Sally, and they have that sense of history, reminiscences about the Cowley Works and bell ringing and so on. But if you buy news around here it is from an Asian news vendor. They sell it, but they don’t read it. I don’t know how you make it more relevant to Oxford of today. The Mail readership is 50 years and over – people who have lived here for ever. Also it is very focused on East Oxford, Barton, Blackbird Leys and Cowley. You rarely get North Oxford, or Marston or Hinksey.
Of the reporters, it’s mostly white men, very few women and no African Caribbean or Asian reporters. I do think it needs to be more diverse, properly diverse without being tokenistic or patronising. The Irish community, for instance, is enormous, but it has no voice, except for one programme on Oxford [BBC] radio on Sunday night. A lot of the inter-racial stuff is negative. Unfortunately Bullfinch [the child sex abuse criminal trial], of course, had to be a huge focus, but there are plenty of good stories that don’t get reported.
How effectively are mental health issues – your area of work – covered in local media?
One in three people have mental health problems, possibly more depending on where you live, and that isn’t really reflected. You get the odd article about “I’ve been through depression”, but very little about attitudes to mental health.
There is actually a lot of expertise in mental health in Oxford, and we have a very large mental health group – Littlemore, the Warneford, the Park. There’s a lot of research done here and we have a lot of professors, but they never get mentioned.
Mental health does deserve more coverage. Not just to talk about things that are going wrong, but also the good things. In Oxford there is really good face to face care, and it is not being reported.
There was a good article recently about the Luther Street centre for homeless people, and how they address mental health and health issues generally. That was good. It’s been there a long time unpraised. But there are so many groups doing really good work, and they never get a mention unless they organise a special day. You don’t hear them on BBC Oxford chat shows. No one recognises them for the job they do. The Samaritans is a very strong campaign group, MIND is fantastic, and so is Rethink [a charity that supports the families of people with mental health problems]. The media could take the initiative and ring up these groups and report more on the fantastic work they are doing.
Have you ever used the local media to express your own views or publicise information?
Never, but I probably would write a letter if I felt strongly enough. I was going to contact them about the mental health cuts that happened here about five years ago, but it was more difficult to do then without putting your job at risk. There’s more protection now with all the whistleblowing stuff, there’s a proper procedure for going to the media, but you’re still meant to go through the [Mental Health] Trust.
How important do you feel effective local news services are for a good cohesive local community?
Very important. It needs to be informative, but it should also be political – not party political, but taking a stand on issues that matter.