Tag Archives: newspapers

Why local news matters

"Local News Matters" campaign logo.

Oxford and District NUJ has always stood up for local news, arguing that strong news gathering is vital to local democracy. Now this matters more than ever, as more and more local newsrooms are being expected to do their job with fewer and fewer people.

That’s why we’re supporting the NUJ’s Local News Matters Week, starting this Friday (24th March). Continue reading

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More power for working journalists, says Gen Sec

The General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, Michelle Stanistreet, will be speaking at the Oxford Union tomorrow (Thursday 1 November), on the subject of Politics versus the Media.

She will be speaking against the proposition that This House Believes That British Politics is in the Pocket of the Media.

Stanistreet, who gave evidence on behalf of the NUJ to the Leveson Inquiry into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press, will argue that journalists have an essential role to play in informing the public, facilitating debate and holding people in authority to account.

“Evidence about collusion between politicians and press barons, including the handling of News Corp’s bid to take control of BSkyB and, we believe, the BBC licence fee settlement, have raised many important questions. I will argue that it is not the relationship between politicians and the media that needs to change, but the relationship between the media owners and the journalists who work for them.

“The evidence I gave to the Leveson enquiry demonstrated very clearly that the unethical and criminal behaviour of some of the journalists who worked at the News of the World and other News Corp titles was a product of a culture of bullying in which the need to get a story at all costs overrode any normal professional or ethical concerns. This in turn was the direct result of News Corp denying the journalists any collective voice through an independent union – journalists who wanted to stand up to pressure had nowhere to turn,” said Stanistreet.

“I will argue that the answer is not to weaken but to strengthen journalists and the media, through effective independent regulation and the adoption of a conscience clause which will give journalists protection in their contracts of employment against being victimised for abiding by the NUJ Code of Conduct.”

Speaking in favour of the proposition will be:

  • Brian Cathcart – Founder of ‘Hacked Off’ campaign, Professor of Journalism at Kingston University, and advisor to Commons Media Select Committee
  • Roy Greenslade – Trustee of media ethics committee MediaWise, and member of Board of British Journalism Review
  • Mark Lewis – Media Lawyer

Speaking in opposition:

  • Michael Crick – Chief political correspondent at Channel 4 News
  • Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell MP – Chairman of Health Select Committee
  • Iain Overton – MD of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
  • Michelle Stanistreet – General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists

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Trouble in the hub

Branch chair Kate Griffin explains why Newsquest’s “regional operation” could mean big job losses

Sub-editing jobs at the Oxford Mail and Times are under threat from plans to centralise. Subs were recently told of plans to create a “regional editorial production operation”, combining the subbing departments for for Newsquest Oxfordshire and Newsquest Wiltshire. The new regional operation would be based in Oxford.

Shamus Donald, regional managing director of Newsquest Oxfordshire and Wiltshire, described the plans as a “proposal” and announced a 30-day “consultation period” beginning 18th January. He also announced that there would be six redundancies if the proposal goes ahead.

However, the unhappy track record of “sub hubs” suggests that the real number of job losses could be much greater.

In spring 2009, Northcliffe Media told subs at the Leicester Mercury and the Derby Evening Telegraph that they would be joining the Leicester Mercury team to work in a new “production centre of excellence”. Some subs took voluntary redundancy while others simply left. In total, around 40 subs left and most were not replaced.

The new “centre of excellence” in Leicester turned out to be a soulless place with a production-line approach to subbing. The traditional animosity between Nottingham and Derby created a tense atmosphere in the office and made it difficult for the union to organise.

Two months ago, Northcliffe announced that they were disbanding the sub hub. Subbing jobs were created again in Leicester and Derby, but in much smaller numbers. The total number of subbing jobs across the three titles is now about half what it was before the failed centralisation.

Similar stories can be found in other parts of the country, such as the Northern Division of Johnston Press. There a sub hub was created to combine four regions but dismantled just nine months later, with further job losses.

The pattern is clear: newspaper bosses experiment with sub hubs and cut jobs in the process, then cut more jobs when the experiment fails.

This piece appeared in the February 2011 issue of our paper newsletter.

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It’s not all bad news

Branch vice-chair Kate Griffin reports on last night’s speaker event. This report was originally posted on Kate’s own blog.

Who cares about journalism? Judging by the turnout at last night’s meeting, the answer is: “More people than you might think.” The Long Room at Oxford Town Hall was packed with local journalists, councillors and members of the public.

Journalist Nick Davies gave a talk drawing on the eye-opening material in his book Flat Earth News. He explained how cutbacks have created a newsroom culture that would have been unimaginable a couple of decades ago. Increased pagination and reduced staff numbers over the past twenty years mean that the amount of page space to be filled by each journalist has tripled since 1985. To put it another way, each journalist must now find and check each story in a third of the time.

The result has been a decline in fact-checking and original reporting. The Cardiff University researchers who helped Davies gather data for his book found that even in the country’s top national papers, only 12% of stories are journalists’ own work and only 12% of key facts are being checked.

He explained how churnalism – cutting and pasting copy from wire agencies and PR companies – leads to distortion and misinformation.

Michelle Stanistreet, deputy general secretary of the NUJ, explained that the cutbacks in journalism aren’t a response to straitened circumstances; they’re driven by owners’ desire for bigger profits and a disregard for quality.

She told the meeting that Gannett, owner of Newsquest Oxfordshire, aims for profits of 30% year on year – higher than companies like Centrica, which we traditionally think of as “fat cats”. The current financial climate is simply an opportunity to get away with using pay freezes and redundancies to squeeze even more money out of local newspapers.

We also heard from the Mayor of Oxford, Cllr Susanna Pressel, who expressed her support for local newspapers as a tool of local democracy. She backed up Nick Davies’s comments about churnalism, saying that she is bored of seeing council press releases reproduced word for word in the Oxford Mail and would prefer to see reporters actually coming to council meetings again.

Finally we heard from David Horne, a long-serving reporter on the Oxford Mail and Witney Gazette (both owned by Newsquest Oxfordshire), who volunteered for redundancy during the paper’s current round of staff cutbacks. He compared current conditions at the newspaper group to how they were when he started out as an Oxfordshire reporter.

He said that the Newsquest group was not prepared to spend money on investing in the newspapers and their staff, even if those investments meant greater returns in the future. He also explained how the widespread use of digital cameras is putting professional photographers’ livelihoods at risk.

For me the exciting thing about the evening was the high turnout and obvious engagement with the issues. What could have been a straightforward question-and-answer session became a lively debate, covering issues such as cost, quality and accountability. We also discussed emerging forms of journalism such as community journalism, blogging and citizen journalism.

We didn’t manage to solve the industry’s woes in one evening, but the evening ended on a note of hope that journalists have strong public support when they demand the resources they need to do their jobs properly.

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Northcliffe: how not to do local

Northcliffe Media is going all local. Or, as the annual report and accounts for 2007 puts it, “[i]t has been revitalised as an integrated provider of local media services”. The company, part of the Daily Mail group, intends to expand its “online network of ultra local news […] to over 120 community portals” by the end of the year.

Tim Anderson, publisher of Bluffton Today, was invited to speak at Northcliffe’s May conference. He spoke about the success of his pioneering hyperlocal newspaper and how “the road to recovery runs through the neighbourhood”.

You might be forgiven for thinking that this focus on all things local means more decision-making power at regional level. However, journalists at Northcliffe’s regional titles have seen how the company’s top-down management strategy works. The August issue of the Journalist tells the story of the battle for union recognition at Northcliffe titles around the country.

“Journalists in Stoke have twice got as far as holding a ballot of staff under the arcane procedures of UK employment law, which require that a union must either be able to show it has majority membership in a group of staff known as the ‘bargaining unit’ – that is, all the employees in a distinct section of the company – or win a ballot held under the auspices of a government agency. At Stoke – and at Bristol and Gloucester – Northcliffe tried to rig the process by including in the editorial bargaining unit all kinds of non-editorial workers who were not even eligible to join the NUJ.”

In other words, Northcliffe is using centrally dictacted union-busting strategies to prevent local NUJ chapels from forming.

This tactic has prompted union chapels at Northcliffe’s titles to become a little less local in their approach. Cross-chapel organisation and information-sharing has helped unions to deal with misinformation and bullying. For example, when Northcliffe told staff at the South Wales Evening Post that union recognition would automatically put an end to merit payments, the Bristol chapel [1] was able to demonstrate the untruth of this from its own experience. As a result, the battle for union recognition at Northcliffe titles is looking more hopeful than it has for 20 years.

In the meantime, every Northcliffe regional title has been ordered to carry exactly the same strapline. Whether you open the Leicester Mercury, Cornwall Today or the Stoke Sentinel, you’ll see the same words under the masthead: At the heart of all things local.

[1] The Bristol chapel is a joint chapel for journalists on the Western Daily Press and the Bristol Evening Post.

This was originally posted on Kate Griffin’s blog.

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