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: branch meetings
7pm Thursday February 18th, Oxford Town Hall
“Grassroots junior doctors have been central to countering government spin, using social media and other strategies to generate stories and coverage in a truly 21st Century campaign”
So says Oxford-based Dr Rachel Clarke, former TV journalist turned junior doctor, who has been involved in coordinating that media strategy at a local and national level.
Rachel will be a guest speaker at our February branch meeting, to talk about the issues at stake in the junior doctors dispute, the campaign of disinformation being waged by the government, and how junior doctors have used social media, in particular, to expose their lies.
7.00pm, Thursday November 13th, upstairs in the St Aldates Tavern, St Aldates (opposite Oxford Town Hall)
Who can get access to what information about my personal and professional life, and the lives of those I interact with – and does it really matter?
Branch member Matthew Teller will be speaking at our October branch meeting about his work as a freelance travel writer specialising in the Middle East.
The meeting is 7.00pm Thursday October 9th, upstairs in the St Aldates Tavern, St Aldates, opposite Oxford Town Hall, and it is open to non-members
In this guest blog post, Matthew talks about his efforts to navigate “a journalistic path between the unthinking demands of tourist board PR, and the equally unthinking demands of breaking news”, and asks whether political aware travel writing is gaining ground.
Come to the branch meeting to hear more and join the discussion,
WRITERS work alone. Freelancers tend to, anyway, and I’ve freelanced most of my life. That’s one of the reasons why the NUJ – alongside writers’ guilds and other trade bodies – is so valuable, creating networks and fostering working communities among writers and journalists.
So I’m honoured and delighted to have been asked to speak at the NUJ’s Oxford & District meeting on October 9th. It will be an informal affair: hearing about other people’s lives, and how they got to wherever they happen to be, is always fascinating. I’m proposing a hefty dose of that.
I write mostly about the Middle East. I’m lucky to have lived in Jordan, Jerusalem and other places, and privileged to have been able to travel widely on assignment across the region. A couple of clips: I wrote this from Egypt last summer, just before the military coup: http://quitealone.com/2013/07/05/hope-floats/
And my Radio 4 documentary on military relations between the UK and the Gulf aired last month – details here: http://quitealone.com/2014/09/23/sandhurst-and-the-sheikhs/
Beside the BBC, I write for newspapers and magazines both here and around the world.
My background is in travel writing, nowadays perhaps the most degraded and discredited branch of journalism of them all. It wasn’t always inconsequential, PR-driven and irredeemably fluffy, of course: there was a time when what we would now recognise as travel writing was virtually indistinguishable from foreign affairs reporting – and I’m interested in how we might be seeing something of a return to that today.
With the enormous growth in tourism, the point of much mainstream travel writing has changed. Edginess has dissipated, description has faded and discovery has atrophied. For most people, most of the time, travel writing now means glorified tourist-board copy, telling safe stories about safe destinations from familiar standpoints. That’s not always the case, but travel journalism, digging below public narratives, and travel writing, challenging perceptions of people and places, both face existential threats amid the shrinking of our industry. Editors willing to push boundaries are hard to find. My word rates not only haven’t moved in fifteen years, they’ve mostly gone down.
A new genre?
Yet, along with the ubiquity of travel “content”, especially online, I’m sensing change in the air. The hunger for good stories, well told, will never die, and travel writing feels like it may be splitting. TripAdvisor and its ilk – clearly hugely popular – serve a purpose, as do Lonely Planet and Rough Guides (for whom I’ve written several titles), but have you been reading the website Roads & Kingdoms, for instance? Or have you been tracking Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Salopek, blogging for National Geographic?
Politically aware travel writing is gaining ground. Navigating a journalistic path between the unthinking demands of tourist board PR, and the equally unthinking demands of breaking news, feels new. And the countries the weekend supplements prefer to cover – the Frances, the Italys, the Antiguas and the Australias – aren’t at the core. It’s the places that don’t count as destinations – Central Asia, say, sub-Saharan Africa or my neck of the woods, the Middle East – where this new approach is being honed, feeding into how we, at home, imagine different places to be “newsy” or “touristy”. It’s an exciting time.
I’d be interested to discuss all of this, and more, on the night. See you there!
A big spasiba to our two expert speakers, Neil Clark and Mike Taylor, for leading a discussion about the quality of coverage of the conflict in the Ukraine at our June meeting. This was a pilot for a more informal, discussion-led style of branch meeting, and we were delighted to see a record turnout with many familiar faces as well as first-time attenders, some of whom may not even have been born at the time of the fall of the Berlin wall.
We asked our speakers to address the question: Are we seeing a return to Cold War journalism?
Mike Taylor, a senior analyst at Oxford Analytica argued that UK reporting had been largely balanced, using measured language to describe the anti-Kiev activity in the east of the country. He gave the example of a report for the Daily Mail online headlined “New president of Ukraine is sworn in as pro-Russian rebels launch latest assault in beleaguered country’s east”, arguing that the article didn’t overstate the severity of the fighting, it quoted a Ukrainian paratrooper who said the aim had been to destroy a building housing the powersupply at Luhansk airport and there were no injuries, and reported that a spokesman for the ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ would not even confirm that the attack took place at all. Mike argued that the article used measured language, “referring to the militants in eastern Ukraine as ‘separatist’ or – perhaps more controversially – ‘fighters of mostly Russian nationality’”.
He accused the Russian media, however, of systematic negativity in its reporting of the West as decadent and debauched, reminiscent in its hostile tone of the Soviet media of the 1980s. “If there is a new Cold War in journalism,” Mike concluded, “it is coming from Moscow.” The core arguments of Mike’s presentation can be found here.
Neil Clark (NeilClark66.blogspot.co.uk), a prolific freelance journalist argued, in contrast, that Western coverage of the conflict in the Ukraine has systematically employed double standards in its reporting of the Maidan demonstrations and the toppling of the Yanokovych government on the one hand, and the subsequent demonstrations and referendums in the east of the country on the other. Neil, who contributes regularly to a very broad spectrum of publications including The Guardian, The Week/First Post, the Morning Star, the Daily and Sunday Express, the Mail on Sunday, the Spectator and Russia Today’s OpEdge column, questioned how measured or balanced the language used to describe protestors on different sides of the conflict really is. Why were the Maidan square demonstrators referred to as “pro-democracy protestors”, despite the important role played by fascist groups, who now hold five positions in the government, while people in the east of the country, protesting against what they see as the undemocratic overthrow of their elected government, are described as “militants” or “pro-Russian separatists”. And why are referendums held in the east of Ukraine derided as meaningless by many commentators who are simultaneously cheering the return of democracy to Afghanistan when elections are held there under foreign military occupation? Part of the problem, he suggested, is the extent to which coverage has tilted towards comment at the expense a straight reporting of events. The core of Neil’s presentation was based on an OpEdge piece for the Russia Today website, ‘I’m Confused, Can Anyone Help Me?‘
As part of a lively discussion, Jim Boumelha, who is the NEC member covering the Oxford area, talked about the many meetings that had taken place, under the auspices of the International Federation of Journalists, between representatives of its member unions, the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine and the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine on the one hand, and the Russian Union of Journalists on the other. They were brought together by the IFJ last March at a roundtable in Brussels, where they agreed co-operative measures to provide support for journalists and to uphold professional ethical standards and journalist safety, in a co-ordinated plan of action to help journalists covering events in Crimea, Kiev’s Maidan Square and across Ukraine. The three unions came together again on 19th May under the aegis of OSCE in Vienna to agree a detailed memorandum including opposition to violence against journalists and their detention, call for ease of procedure for freedom of movement, and rejection of manipulation and propaganda.
July branch meeting
The July branch meeting will focus on Making Journalism Pay in the Digital Age. It will be a networking event, with introductions from two experienced freelance journalists, an contributions from many branch members who have experiences, good or bad, in finding diverse ways to use the opportunities offered by digital media to build up an income from the work they do. It will be a week earlier than usual, on Thursday July 3rd, and will be held upstairs in St Aldates Tavern, opposite the Oxford Town Hall.
What does the coverage of the Ukraine tell us about the state of the European media? Who are the Cold War warriors and who are the independent, critical and informative sources on both sides of the old divide? Where do you go for a clear picture of what is going on in Ukraine and central/eastern Europe?
Join us over a glass of Stolichnaya (or not) as we open our June branch meeting to anyone interested in standing up for incisive and diverse journalism.
7.00pm, Thursday June 12 at The Chequers, High Street, Oxford
Branch members Neil Clark and Mike Taylor will lead a discussion offering their own critical appraisal of media coverage from both sides of the old Cold War divide of events in the Ukraine, Hungary and other eastern European countries.
Neil Clark (left) is a freelance journalist who covers a wide range of subjects for a wide spectrum of media outlets. An OpEdge on the “anti-democratic democrats of the west” for the website of the Russian television network RT.com, a feature for the Daily Express on Charles Aznavour, and the Intelligent Punter’s Guide to the Eurovision Song Contest, for online news magazine The Week, are just three of the many pieces he had published in May (these and more are available at his award-winning website neilclark66.blogspot.co.uk/). Neil will take a (highly) critical look at how events in the Ukraine have been covered the British and western media.
Mike Taylor (right) is a senior analyst at Oxford Analytica a “global analysis and advisory firm” covering developments in the political economy of Eastern Europe. He started his career working as an editor at the BBC monitoring centre at Caversham, covering the Soviet Union and the Balkans over a period that spanned the latter stages of the Cold War and the period of Gorabachev and perestroika. He currently focuses mainly on the Balkans and Central Europe, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, as well as Turkey Greece and Cyprus. Mike, who is also treasurer of the Oxford NUJ branch, will compare and contrast the different ways the conflict in the Ukraine has been covered by media across central/eastern Europe.
Where? In the snug, upstairs in The Chequers pub, 131 High Steet, Oxford (at the Carfax end of High St down the alley by Hotel Chocolat)
When? 7.00pm Thursday 12th June
Who? This an open branch meeting. We welcome anyone who supports informative, critical, independent and diverse journalism – particularly if you work in the media
We’ve all been watching, reading and hearing about what is happening in the Ukraine over recent weeks and months, and we doubtless all have our own views about how the story has been covered. At a time when communities across Europe seem to be turning both left and right in the search for alternatives to the political status quo, what can we expect from the media we all rely on for our information? Come and join the discussion.
Come and join us at the March branch meeting, Thursday March 13th, 7.00pm at The Town Hall, St Aldates, Oxford: Battles at home and abroad. We’ll take stock of important progress in the battle for the book sector here in Oxfordshire, progress our project of sponsoring a jailed Turkish journalist, following an important judgement by the European Court of Human Rights, hear an appeal for support for a memorial to the people of Oxfordshire who fought and died fighting fascism in Spain in the International Brigade, elect new members, decide who the branch will vote on motions to the NUJ Delegate Meeting in April and more.
Our branch meeting this coming week (Thursday 13 February) will focus on Oxford’s publishing sector. Fiona Swarbrick, NUJ national organiser for magazines and books, will lead a discussion on rebuilding unions across Oxford’s book (also journal, digital and multimedia) publishers.
Oxford is a seat of education, academia and book lovers. Yet most of the publishers now based here relocated to the area in the past 20 years, derecognising the NUJ as they came, as part of a bid to drive down pay and conditions. Butterworth, Heinemann, Macmillan and Routledge moved here from London or the Home Counties, resulting in the break up of some of the best organised chapels in the union. A salary survey we did in 2006 at Harcourt (now Pearson), which incorporated Heinemann, showed that salaries had dropped from around 80% of average white collar earnings in 1990 to less than 60%. Hard won terms and conditions that seem barely believable in today’s climate were stripped away. A culture of stress, overwork and in some cases bullying emerged. We want to right that wrong.
Come to our meeting on Thursday 13th February at Oxford Town Hall, 7pm. We’ll be discussing how we can improve pay and conditions in the publishing sector. This is a branch initiative, which should involve raising our public profile in relation to book publishing, so everyone who cares about the issue can get involved. Please come and join the discussion.
The May branch meeting will take a discussion on new opportunities for earning a living in a digital market using our traditional skills in writing, reporting, researching, interviewing, illustrating, desgining, editing, photographing, filming, publicising and all the other things NUJ members do. We will explore avenues for building links with Oxforshire’s growing digital communitiy to open up new opportunities for collaborating to earn a living in digital markets. We are all learning from one another, so please come along and join the conversation.
When? Thursday May 9th. Discussion starts at 8.00pm. From 7.00-8.00 is a training session on starting up your own website. Participation is by prebooking only, but members are welcome to sit in on the session.
Where? The Panel Room, Oxford Town Hall