New media breaks down old divisions

Recent technological advances are changing the landscape of the media. This has been predicted for many years, but the past year has seen technological convergence finally take root in all parts of the media in the UK and Ireland. Video on local newspaper websites, broadcasters blogging, press officers with cameras, magazine podcasts.

These developments present huge challenges for the NUJ. The union is separated into sectors for broadcasting, newspapers and agencies, magazines and books, PR, freelance and new media – divisions that are increasingly uncertain and may soon be obsolete. The union needs to change – but how much, and in what ways?

The Multimedia Commission, of which I am a member, was launched in May and will, over the next four months, gather stories from across the union. It will also focus on a cross-sector sample of employers to produce a report that will hopefully present a clear picture of where we are now.

More difficult will be trying to give some idea of where we go from here; though we’re in good company, as it appears most employers have no idea where they’re going either.

The question is – have the industrial divisions of the union been an obstacle to communication in the union? Journalists in different disciplines have often had a tendency to focus exclusively on things in their own disciplines and ignore what’s happening elsewhere. The NUJ’s structures may only have institutionalised these tendencies.

This year’s ADM also instructed the union’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to review the union’s lay structures, recognising that ‘technological convergence, integration and the development of new technologies, alongside changes in the nature of media ownership, are increasingly breaking down the distinctions between different sectors of the media industry.’

The outcome of the Multi-Media Commission will doubtless provide a lot of the background for this review.

However, the industrial divisions, which may be flawed, may well continue to be the best way of organising the union. The recent rush online by numerous newspapers and magazines took many by surprise. However, agreements reached years ago in the BBC provided examples of best practice that were quickly distributed across the union.

The existence of the Broadcasting Industrial Council made it very easy to access these agreements. The NUJ is often criticised for resisting technological advances – portrayed unfairly as Luddites by employers who are unwilling to provide adequate training or decent pay.

The existence of the union’s New Media Industrial Council shows that, on the contrary, the union is engaged with the new technology sector.

Many of the recent examples of convergence and integration in the media have been notable for their lack of quality. This could be a fad – newspaper owners might decide that there’s no real added value to video on their website and return to concentrating on the written word.

The NUJ needs to focus on what best serves its members and should avoid the same kind of ‘cool-hunting’too many of our members’ employers are engaged in, often to the detriment of the quality of their core output. Whatever the outcome of this process of self-examination, it can only be of benefit to the union and its members.

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