Where do we go from here?

When I started work as a trainee reporter in 1967 on the weekly Wharfedale and Airedale Observer, not only was hot metal still the production method, the paper even relied on single slug monotype machines.

Five years later I joined the Yorkshire Evening Post where web-offset was soon on the horizon. I still recall, and miss, the smell of the molten lead in the comps' room. Of course, that's just the nostalgia of a slightly aging hack.

The switch to single-key production was, I would argue, the biggest upheaval in the history of newspaper production of the 20th century. Journalists on the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post didn't do badly out of it.

The £25 a week rise won by the NUJ joint chapel was sizeable. But any hopes that the benefits of new technology would be further shared with the staff — a shorter working week, further financial rewards — were short-lived.

Anti-union legislation enabled employers to destroy the strength with which the print union members had protected themselves.

Here in Leeds, print union organisation on the shop-floor became nonexistent, though workers in the press hall retained their membership.

Our joint chapel was de-recognised, but continued to exist and work. Like today, we maintained our membership base of around 130 out of a joint editorial workforce of 180, now reduced to 160.

If we thought computers and singlekeying could not be outdone for rapid change, we were wrong. Today's development of new media is bringing changes of far greater significance.

When computers were introduced, at least management negotiated with chapels and rewarded the new skills that had to be learned. Today managements seem to think they can introduce what the hell they like, without negotiation or reward.

That led to a confrontation here at the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post late last year, when the joint chapel put a freeze on all new media training until such time as an agreement had been negotiated governing the introduction of new media work, protecting our members' working hours and health and safety.

We wanted opt-out rights, mainly thinking of staff who might be reaching the end of their careers, who might be unable or unwilling to learn a whole new range of skills. We also wanted everyone who did want to train to have the right to do so. We had young staff who were enthused by the prospect of new media. After four months of negotiating we got our "enabling agreement" covering all of the above.

Because of the many unknowns which we face — and management admitted that it is as much in the dark as we are as to what type of new media operations will work, attract readers, make money — the agreement includes regular monitoring. If an operation is tried and does nothing for the company or our two papers, it will be dropped and something else will be tried.

As for financial rewards for journalists: Johnston Press insisted there would be none, then made a pay offer well in excess of four per cent for the first year of a two-year deal we subsequently negotiated.

The agreement covers the use of video cameras. The agreement says "risk assessments" must be carried out by managers before sending staff out with video equipment — something we learned from our colleagues in the broadcasting sector.

Several regional centres have already introduced video reporting. Does it work? Not so far. The standard of video reporting produced by some newspapers is appalling. Training appears to be basic.

How can they hope to produce quality film by giving a newspaper reporter a video camera and showing him or her how to use it? Monitoring will continue over the next year.

Another concern is that new media work is not simply piled on to staff who will be expected to maintain their current level of work for the newspapers at the same time. We will not allow any increase in our working hours to cater for the demands of new media.

Looking at the broader picture, what does new media mean for the National Union of Journalists? The NUJ is a progressive and successful trade union.

It recognised years ago that new media would mean major changes for its members, and not just in newspapers.

Even before many newspaper owners had begun to analyse the possibilities, the NUJ had established a new media section within the union's structure.

Today the NUJ is recruiting in the specific area of new media. NUJ membership continues to grow and the union is one of the few which can make that boast.

The union has a strong student membership base, meaning we are recruiting the young men and women who will be the next generation of journalists in Britain.

They will be coming into the industry, including newspapers, already fully equipped with new media skills.

The founding members of the NUJ 100 years ago included a group of west Yorkshire journalists.

We will be celebrating their work when we attend the NUJ's Annual Delegate Meeting this week in Birmingham, the city where the union's founding conference took place.

The founders could not have dreamed of the changes which were to affect their industry over the next century.

Neither could I when I started work on the Wharfedale and Airedale Observer 40 years ago.

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