As editors settled down to beef stroganoff at the Society of Editors’ Conference in Manchester, around a 100 placard-waving NUJ protesters urged them to ‘stand up for journalism’as part of a national day of action.
The union held more than 50 events across the country on Monday to make the case for more editorial resources. NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear visited Cardiff, Manchester and London on the day.
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Around 100 protesters marched from the Manchester Evening News offices to demonstrate outside the Radisson Edwardian Hotel where the conference was held and then held a rally at the Friends Meeting House.
Dear had previously handed in a petition to the Welsh Assembly and similar petitions were handed in to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.
Dear said he was ‘extremely disappointed’that editors at the conference had not accepted his invitation to join the union’s fight for more resources.
‘It is about time that they saw their way to fight for more resources for their editorial departments and for owners to show they care about quality,’he said.
The union has faced criticism in recent weeks for its approach to the integration of online and print operations in newsrooms. Commentators such as media blogger Jeff Jarvis and The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade have accused the union of not understanding or appreciating the importance of new media.
The source of the criticism, a comment piece in NUJ magazine The Journalist by the union’s new media rep Donnacha DeLong, suggested that the increased emphasis from newspaper publishers on new media was harming journalism.
Dear told Press Gazette that the piece was not the union’s official view, and he said that this week’s action was not about being afraid of the internet.
He said: ‘The threat to journalists does not come from new media or from websites – journalists need to use every medium. [But] if you don’t have the resources to cover the stories you compromise quality.”
He said the NUJ’s soon-to-be-published report on new media shows ‘we are absolutely in favour of using all the tools a journalist can”.
Around 100 journalists gathered at the Holiday Inn in King’s Cross with speakers including Tony Benn and MP John McDonnell.
Benn called the protection of journalism ‘a big political issue. This is an argument that goes beyond what appears to be the narrow questions of wages and employment conditions. It’s about journalists and society in general”.
He said technological development should be harnessed rather than feared. ‘The key question about technology is what to do with it.”
Benn added: ‘If you leave it to market forces, one of the things that happens is that Wapping happens to Broadcasting House and you have Graham Norton left running the newsroom.”
McDonnell outlined the work being done in Parliament by himself and other MPs to protect journalistic standards, including lobbying over the BBC licence and raising issues around the regional press.
He described a recent meeting with Ofcom over regional news cut backs as a ‘waste of time”, describing the department as a ‘toothless beast”.
Dear said he remained in favour of the ‘pipe dream’of reintroducing a closed shop system that would force all journalists to be union members.
Journalists in York staged two 15-minute walkouts in protest over what the union describes as ‘bad pay, declining conditions and cuts’by parent company Newsquest. Around 20 journalists at The Press and Gazette newspapers took part.
In Nottingham members protested against ITV‘s plans to scale back its regional operation, which means there will be one edition of Central News covering the Midlands.