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09/12/2007

What does journalism need most: union policies or more entrepreneurs?

I've written before about the NUJ's apparent derangement in the face of changes to new media. The organisation's attitude attracted some scathing criticisms from prominent online journlists.

It's latest effort is a report called Shaping the Future by its Commission on Multimedia Working. And actually, to judge by comments from Neil McIntosh, could be heading in the right direction:

The report has some problems - more of which later - but it seems only fair to lead on the news that the final report is substantially better than what was published in that controversial (if predictably rubbish) edition of The Journalist - the one that prompted Roy Greenslade’s departure from the union, and the scorn of many others.

Although, while being a step in the right direction, there still seems to be some committee-sim inspired nonsense:

...the union continues to flog the dead horse of its Witness Contributor Code of Conduct, which remains a profoundly silly document. For example, its insistence on, whenever possible, using “material produced by NUJ members […] when such alternatives to witness contributors are available” cheapens the latest, more savvy, report. It speaks more of a fear than an understanding or vision of what users might add to our traditional work. It looks old-fashioned alongside today’s report, and should be spiked.

I'm generally suspicious of inventing policies in the face of the almighty changes being wrought in the world by the shift to networks. Things move too fast for prescriptiveness to be helpful and the pace of things means that proctectionist and conservative instincts are self-deestructive. Innovation, trying things out, looking for new opportunities  seems much more sensible.

I refer you to Saul Hansell writing on the New York Times Bits blog:

It seems to be a great time to be starting out in journalism. Just don’t ask advice from anyone who has been in the business for more than five years.

The quote comes from a post Hansell wrote called "Entrepreneurial Journalism in the Facebook Age" (via Buzzmachine) following an amazing exercise at City University New York's Journalism School where students pitched their ideas for new web ventures.

Every now and then, I meet someone idealistic and perhaps foolish enough to want to embark on a career in journalism. Until recently, my advice was largely the same as anyone had given for many decades: Find a gig where you can write — a small town paper, freelancing for an alternative weekly, a business trade publication (my route). If you’re good, the story went, you would find you way to bigger publications and forge a career.

Today, it’s hard to give that advice, when the economic underpinnings of all those places you were supposed to be trying to work for are so shaky. Is there any good advice other than to learn how to trade mortgage-backed securities?.... In fact, there may well be many more interesting options today for someone who has a passion to find and tell stories.

Despite not being a journalist, I had the distinct honour this week to be invited to give a lecture to post-grad students at the Cardiff School of Journalism, where Matthew Yeomans runs the online journalism course.

One of the things I hope I got across was the amazing opportunities that the web presents for doing things differently and for going direct to (attention) market with interesting ideas and approaches.

Makes me wonder what the role of a union is in this age for journalists. Should it be to focus on employers and policies or ways of encouraging journalistic enterprise?

: : Bonus hidden post: No idea why but this post about advertising  is not appearing on the main page of me blog...

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Comments

Hi Antony

I do think things are slowly changing in the NUJ, but as you say "policies" often look out of date once committees have decided what they say.

I remember chatting to members at an NUJ meeting some time ago and I said the union should look to start an ad network.

It could act as the middle man as it's got a trusted name that is recognised by advertisers and the union then has direct access to a bunch of freelance journalists/publishers/entrepreneurs.

But I think the focus is still on newsrooms and chapels, which in the long-term doesn't bode well for the NUJ as a whole.

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