Info

A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

I have something of a love/hate relationship with the National Union of Journalists. Love, because I believe in the principle of unions, and because the NUJ has done good things for some of my former colleagues. Hate, because I think it’s completely fumbling the transition to digital journalism.

Case in point: one of my colleagues, Martin Couzins of Travel Weekly, posted his criticisms of the NUJ’s training over on his personal blog, ItsDevelopmental:

What will be even more tragic is if the NUJ fails to rise to the training challenge because it is too busy ‘defending jobs’.

I would have expected a bit more creativity at a time like this (do unions do creativity?) and more focus on what members need to do to be employable. We know there will be more jobs lost across the industry but the union could and should be mapping out what a future in digital publishing will look like.

Now the good news is that the union responded. The bad news is how Chris Wheal, chair of the NUJ Professional Training Committee, did so:

Try to be a bit more constructive.


That’s how he kicked off. Not “thanks for sharing your thoughts”, not “please be more constructive”. He was just, well, rude.

And further on, this:

Don’t bother doing it on a blog; you can phone the training department and tell them (politely).


So, you know, don’t bother having an open conversation about union issues. Don’t bother engaging with them through the very social media that journalists need to learn about. No, come cap in hand (politely) to your union betters.

The union’s reputation in this area is bad enough. Responses like this just make it worse. 

  • http://engineroomblog.blogspot.com JD (The Engine Room)

    I can understand the second point, to a degree. Speaking to the union’s training department directly might be more immediately effective than having an open conversation on a blog that the union might not read. Of course, there’s no reason why you can’t do both, using the latter to back up the former…

    And I think ‘do unions do creativity?’ is as harsh a thing to say as ‘try to be a bit more constructive’. Neither is particularly polite!

  • http://www.onemanandhisblog.com Adam Tinworth

    But he’s not just saying “it would have been more effective coming to us first”, he’s saying “don’t bother putting it on a blog”.

    The whole tone of the response is defensive – and a complete fumble of an opportunity to respond in a friendly, communicative way that would have done the union’s social media credentials good, instead of damaging them again.

  • http://www.itsdevelopmental.com Martin

    I thought it would be absolutely fine to share these views on a personal blog.

    Wasn’t trying to be harsh – the creativity was meant to touch on our need (both journos and employers) to look at new ways of making money and learning new skills to support that.

    I was trying to air something I think is very important right now. In particular, I thought it was very interesting that the union is doing training with employers. It needs to let people know this and do more of it.

    Overall I found the response quite defensive and not particularly constructive. I felt like I was being told what to do, which is maybe not the best way to enthuse people who actually have a passion for something and could be of use.

    I will be sending across my thoughts on the types of training that i think the union should be looking at.

  • http://www.revstan.vox.com Rev Stan

    I agree with Adam and Martin’s original point. I think it says more about the NUJ and it’s attitude to social media that it is questioning whether such issues should be raised on a blog.

  • http://www.nujtraining.org.uk Chris Wheal

    Apologies if my asking for constructive comments came across as rude.

    The original incorrect and ill-informed blog post came across as rude to me and to the staff of the NUJ training department (I am a freelance hack, not staff and do my role on a voluntary basis).

    The original post said we did not address training for modern communication methods, but we do. I listed the courses. I asked what we were missing and for constructive comments. I am still waiting.

    It came across as a whinge.

    If a journalists wrote a story for publication that was incorrect and ill-researched and they failed to even contact the accused with the allegations in advance, they might just lose their job, but doing it on a blog seems to be OK?

    We teach people about blogging and the web and all sorts but we do not sacrifice journalistic and ethical standards.

    And I am not going to go searching the internet for your next load of hidden away, clique comments when you have a phone number and email address, know the NUJ’s postal address and I will come and meet you personally, if you like.

    If you want to slag me off, have the courage to buy me a coffee/beer to do so to my face. The internet is not meant to be a barricade behind which cowards hide.

    If I am wrong I will apologise (yet again).

    Sorry if this sounds curt – I have to write web copy from 6am in the morning.

    Goodnight all.

  • Adam Tinworth

    No quite sure how posting here is a “barricade behind which cowards hide”. That’s my name up there, right at the top of the blog, my job title and contact details are on the about page, and this site is read by thousands of people a week.

    Clearly we have a very different view of “hidden away” and “clique”…

  • http://www.chrisfrost.me.uk Chris Frost

    Martin Couzin’s original post misses several points: 1) The NUJ is not some monolith but a collective of members doing their best to support each in often difficult times. If you don’t like the way the union is going then join in and change it – it’s easy, there’s so few volunteers these days for volunteer organisations that elections are rare. If you want to do something, you’re welcome – both your views and your actions.
    2) Martin says we should collaborate with employers. The NUJ would be happy to, but I’m afraid few employers would be – that’s why they tried so hard during the eighties to derecognise the NUJ – a move that continues today. Collaboration on training in journalism largely ended in the eighties when employers learned it was cheaper to employ freshly trained newbies from college. That’s what will happen now as jobs are cut back – skills will be bought in from the freshly trained outputs of colleges at wage rates substantially less than those being paid now. Good news for students seeking jobs, not such good news for those whose skills may have gone a little stale. Have a look at the NUJ Training website and see how your skills can be updated.
    3) The idea that the union somehow “doesn’t get” social media or the new digital age is ridiculous. The NUJ is a union, a collective and so has a collective understanding. If its members get social media, then so does the union. It might not be giving what you think is the right emphasis, or pointing it in the right direction, but that’s up to you. Join in and get the union doing what you want it to, and not just what others think is right.

  • http://www.onemanandhisblog.com Adam Tinworth

    Join in and get the union doing what you want it to, and not just what others think is right.

    Easy words to say, harder idea to execute. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that union mainstays hide from criticism behind these words. Whenever I see someone raise criticism of what the union is doing, the first response is a person in a position of Union authority trying to slap them down, as happened with Martin, as happened with me months ago, and then they fall back on “join in”.

    But the point of my post was that “join in” actually means “join in on our terms”. That’s not good enough.

  • http://www.chrisfrost.me.uk Chris Frost

    Easy to say and easy to do if you really want to change things. The union is presently structured around branches; attend yours and insist they invite people like Chris Wheale and I along to meet you and other members to discuss these things – I’d love to do that; I’m rarely asked.
    If you don’t like the present branch structure and think we should do things differently then work to change that. Admittedly you’d probably have to start with the present structure to change it, but that’s the problem with democracy. We all agree how things should be and then the majority has to agree in order to change them. The only other option I know of is to do what the leadership tells you and that’s what you are rightly criticising. I’m happy to listen to what the members want, discuss it with them and to follow that up (if I agree, of course – I’m not a paid official there just to do what I’m told). But I’ve yet to hear what you want. Why is joining in not good enough; surely it’s the only way in which you can change terms for joining in for you and other.

  • http://www.nujtraining.org.uk Chris Wheal

    “Whenever I see someone raise criticism of what the union is doing, the first response is a person in a position of Union authority trying to slap them down,”

    You mean respond? debate? I am often a lone voice in the NUJ fighting against the more commonly held views. I rarely win. I probably hold the record for failed motions at the union’s annual conference.

    Sometimes, just sometimes, I do win. When the union wanted a political fund,I led the campaign for a No vote and won, chucking the silly, divisive and sectarian idea into the long grass.

    Yes we used new media and traditional publicity methods but we also engaged in the debate within the union too.

    Blogging is a useful weapon in a wide-ranging armoury, but it has its limits and you have engage in whatever arena the battle is held, with whatever weapons at your disposal.

    And, to be fair, the people involved in training at the NUJ are among the most open to change and to a progressive modern union, so your attacks are even more misguided.

  • zamiel

    I’d like to join in, if I may, with an observation.

    The union was forged in a very different environment than we have today. They speak at length about correctness and research in traditional journalism, while I have more first-source references and analyst relinks to the most casual of posts to my blog while the AP can barely put together a straight sentence. I can toss a line out to my friends and others who might be only peripherally associated in seconds and get a response in minutes on everything from where I might talk to someone who knows about micing a video game tournament to someone accessible to speak on the subject of nuclear arms deals between the Western allies, and I can do it for free and without being under anyone’s rubrik.

    I can do it. Adam can do it. Martin can do it. In a half-hour, we could put together a Google Group with the informational resources, if not the monetary ones, of the NUJ. On a whim. In a cave. Possibly from scraps. Anyone in the business with a technical and social bent could do it.

    This, I think, is the crux of the issue. Because if that’s the case — what does anyone need the union for? Group health insurance rates? The really cool laminated press-card? Or just the access to the old-boys network that gets run over a scotch and a smoke instead of sixty times a second from my bedroom in my pyjamas to Adam on his cell in Heathrow to David Axe who may be Hell-knows-where in a warzone, and none of us need a formal organization to teach skills that no one’s figured out yet.

    Maybe the union’s just not necessary as the structure it’s held for years on years. It exists to self-propagate, to self-support, and to effectively remove competition as an organization. If there’s anything the new tier guys can do, it’s form dynamic, ad hoc, distributed organizations built on New Media and new skills, new talents. Maybe what we’re seeing is the broken-down old lion trying to hold place in the pride.

    At which point I can but say maybe it’s time to stop trying to rejuvenate the old mane and see what the new boys are wearing.

    “Join in and get the union doing what you want it to, and not just what others think is right.”

    Or you can just do the right thing, get others in your loose network to do the right things, and do something better on your terms. Seems to be working so far, to the tune of thousands of readers a week. And no one lines the budgie-cage with your latest magnum opus.

    I’m just saying.

  • http://www.nujtraining.org.uk Chris Wheal

    How to create a new financial model to fund journalism in the future was the subject of a debate earlier this week hosted by the NUJ Left – a grouping within the NUJ.

    This might prove a useful introduction for you to get involved.

    All links open new windows
    The NUJ Left site (looks like they tried to make it look like a really old Hot Metal newspaper)
    Press Gazette
    Roy Greenslade’s Guardian blog

  • http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs Michael

    Wading in for my two pennies:
    “If you don’t like the way the union is going then join in and change it “

    Currently I see very little incentive to do this. You’re basically asking me to:

    *Join an organisation that doesn’t represent my views or my working practices;
    *Throw myself against a brick wall of out-moded thinking in the hope that I can knock a few chips off;
    *Talk and talk and talk to shift the views of people so they’re slightly more updated (diverting time and energy away from my day job to do so);
    *And pay for the privilege.

    I’d rather join a Facebook campaign (or some such activity) and affect the attitudes of people that work in the same way I do.

  • http://www.nujtraining.org.uk Chris Wheal

    Off the top of my head I can think of several new media methods of communication employed by the NUJ officially.

    • The NUJ has a group on Facebook.
    • The general secretary has his own blog (link opens new window) .
    • There are websites.
    • There is a regular campaigning email and
    • Several specialist email lists.

    But if we only engaged with people who used these methods of communication we’d miss a lot of people, both members and the people we need to influence, such as MPs, regulators, the public and, sometimes, media companies.

    My personal view – and again I get shot down by the NUJ for saying it – is that if your main concern is what the union can do for you on a personal level, then I’m not bothered if you join or not.

    The whole point of a union is what we can do together.

  • http://www.onemanandhisblog.com Adam Tinworth

    Jeremy’s blog is absolutely a step in the right direction. I’d love to see more of the union officers doing this, and actively engaging with the wider discussion about the future of journalism on blogs.

  • http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs Michael

    I understand the purpose of a union, but thanks for explaining anyway.

    And I’m not looking to join for personal benefit. As stated before I’m not looking to join full stop.

    My experiences of the NUJ (and like you this is a personal view, not one of my company) have shown it to be slowing the rate of change when it should be increasing it.

    I think my time is better spent supporting change through my own methods and channels than putting time and effort into getting the NUJ to have a shift in attitude.

  • http://www.nujtraining.org.uk Chris Wheal

    Maybe going off topic here but how about a blog v bulletin board debate?

    I ask because I much prefer the bulletin board format and it enables a much fairer contribution from all sides, whereas the blog owner is much more in control.

    Good bulletin boards also enable much easier inclusion of other material, such as audio, video and so on.

    I know how to post that in a blog and can use HTML but many people do not and the simpler approach of bulletin boards – press this button or even automatic incorporation of images/video – is more accessible.

  • http://www.nujtraining.org.uk Chris Wheal

    Sorry – should have made clear that I was talking about the best BB software – you do have to pay for that of course – but it is better than the best blogging software.

  • http://www.onemanandhisblog.com Adam Tinworth

    I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition.

    Forums/BBs are peer-to-peer, but they’re inwards looking – so they’re a discussion between a contained number of people. That’s both their strength and weakness. I certainly think a forum or BB for NUJ members would be fabulous.

    But I don’t think it’s wise to ignore the wider, distributed conversation about journalism and publishing going on across many. many blogs. They’re complimentary offerings, not competitive. As the definition of journalist starts to shift, the union has more change of engaging with the new breed of journalists through active blogging than through a bb.

  • http://www.nujtraining.org.uk Chris Wheal

    BBs need not be so inwardly focussed. Many are open to all, with anyone able to sign up and contribute.

    The advantage blogs have is that they are fee to set up whereas good BB software will cost you a few hundred for each site you set up and then there’s hosting issues.

    But you do get what you pay for.

    You can have some areas of a BB available only to certain categories of contributor. This is usually moderators, for example – but it could be subscribers or other categories.

    Anyway, tomorrow, the NUJ Professional Training Committee meets. I will suggest we start a blog (or BB) purely on the issue of journalism training.

    We’ll link to these sites if we do. I hope you’d all at least contribute something.

    Watch this space.

  • http://www.onemanandhisblog.com Adam Tinworth

    BBs need not be so inwardly focussed. Many are open to all, with anyone able to sign up and contribute.

    That’s not really my point. BBs are focused on discussion within their own confines. Blogs are focused on discussion between blogs all over the internet. Two different things.

    Anyway, tomorrow, the NUJ Professional Training Committee meets. I will suggest we start a blog (or BB) purely on the issue of journalism training.

    That would be great.

  • http://www.nujtraining.org.uk Chris Wheal

    “Blogs are focused on discussion between blogs all over the internet. Two different things.”

    The BB I regularly use links to others BBs, to campaign groups, to blogs, to BBC news and papers and all sorts.

    (yes it does have section that are much more internally focussed/specialist)

    For many sections, especially discussion and chat areas, the format is all that is different. The content can be very similar to blogging. And stuff we start will be picked up on other fora and blogs and linked back and then we will discuss what they said about our idea and so on.

  • http://www.onemanandhisblog.com Adam Tinworth

    Missed this:

    The advantage blogs have is that they are fee to set up whereas good BB software will cost you a few hundred for each site you set up and then there’s hosting issues.

    That’s simply not right – you can get blogs free – but you can also pay for better software, to host them yourself, etc. And then you do get what you pay for. This blog is run on a paid-for version of Movable Type, with a support package and I pay for the hosting. The blog platform we use at work is the Enterprise version of Movable Type, which we pay for, have a support contract with, and host ourselves on a pool of servers.

  • http://www.onemanandhisblog.com Adam Tinworth

    And blogs can take on BB-like conversation thread.

    There’s definite cross-over between the functionality of the two tools, but the focus lies in different places.

  • http://www.nujtraining.org.uk Chris Wheal

    The NUJ’s Professional Training Committee (ProfCom) agreed to set up a blog today.

    There is a bit of background work to prepare (putting up meeting minutes and a history etc) and it will be done voluntarily so give us a week or so to get a work in progress going(possibly more than that as I have engagement next weekend and a major project to research and write).

    Will post when it is is live.

  • http://donnachadelong.wordpress.com Donnacha DeLong

    Easy words to say, harder idea to execute. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that union mainstays hide from criticism behind these words.

    This is complete rubbish, Adam. I’m now the second member of the NEC to comment on this post. If I recall correctly, I invited you to join the NUJ New Media list a couple of years ago, yet you haven’t. If you want your complaints to be properly considered, you need to make sure people can find them. Sorry to tell you this, but we don’t all subscribe to your blog. I stumbled across this debate by accident.

    If you want people to respond to your comments and complaints, you need to tell them about them. Posting to your blog is often about as effective a means of doing this as standing outside your house and shouting about it.

    You are a member of a democratic membership organisation called a trade union, try acting like it and stop acting like the union owes you something. Join in, get involved in the debates – in person, on lists, on Facebook – the places where other members are instead of grandstanding on your own blog and expecting others to come along.

    Finally, I really like the fact that you linked to my old response to your blog as being slapped down. How exactly did I “slap you down” – you were perfectly able to respond to my post. At the time, I was engaged in a series of debates across numerous sites about my article. Is that “not getting” social media? Nonsense. Debate is the basis of democracy, not complaining when someone disagrees with you.

  • http://www.onemanandhisblog.com Adam Tinworth

    If I recall correctly, I invited you to join the NUJ New Media list a couple of years ago, yet you haven’t. If you want your complaints to be properly considered, you need to make sure people can find them.

    This would be the same New Media mailing list I’ve been on for the last two years, and which I’ve posted to in the last month?

    Nice to know you were paying attention…

  • dk

    I recently attended a very good digital convergence course run by the NUJ in Scotland. It’s nonsense to say they are not getting to grips with New Media.

  • http://www.onemanandhisblog.com Adam Tinworth

    Indeed, which is why I very clearly said it was social media, rather than new media, that they’re struggling with.

  • Mike Higgins

    The NUJ in Scotland is currently piloting a digital conversion course. It’s primary aim is for stills photographers to be able to shoot digital video to widen their skills base. In addition they are being shown the basics of digital video editing. This will hopefully help them to be more versatile and can offer their material for online or mainstream TV etc.

    The first course was held in December in Glasgow, the second one’s next week in Edinburgh. Hopefully it’ll be rolled out after that to allcomers.

    Following the digicon course there are others which are being developed.

    I agree that we have to move forward, the problem is no-one knows where this digital revolution is going.