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Elect Journalist editor - next few days only!

IF YOU HAVEN'T filled in and posted your ballot for the elections for the editor of the Journalist, please do so now. Your ballot needs to arrive in its pre-paid envelope by November 5 - but given the vagaries of second class post, you only have a few days left to post it.

The Freelance has heard of several members contacted by one of the candidates who had either binned or put to one side and forgot their ballots, in the mistaken belief that it was "some sort of circular". There may still be time to get a replacement ballot if you fall into this category - try calling Membership & Subscriptions on 020 7278 7916. They are also the contact point for members who, for whatever reason, never received their ballot in the first place.

The turnout for the last Journalist election was around 15 per cent, it should be much higher. Please use your ballot to demonstrate to a world run by unelected newspaper proprietors that the NUJ is a healthily democratic union.

There's a link to an audio podcast of the hustings here.

Below is a transcript from the London hustings for the Journalist editor elections, hosted by London Freelance Branch. The transcript is by Elizabeth Chappell, from the audio recording, edited to a more manageable length by Matt Salusbury. Transcribed are most of the speeches by the two candidates - incumbent Christine Buckley and NUJ vice-president Tim Dawson - followed by questions to the candidates from the floor.

Tim Dawson

Where I think the NUJ is at and what I think the Journalist should do and why I am the person to do it- the NUJ is a fragile organisation. If membership continues to decline, then within five or six years we will have to rethink the service we offer to members or we will need to seek merger with a larger union-

Which is why we need a magazine, and a whole media offer to our members, which is significantly more engaging than it is at present. We have a budget of £5 million and £250,000 goes on the producing The Journalist, which means both the editor’s salary and also producing the magazine. The bulk of the money actually goes on posting the magazine out.

Our overall spend, is something we need to get an awful lot more from in terms of drawing in new membership and engaging our existing membership and turning all those people onto the union in order to justify that kind of expenditure- but reporting news that is way out-of-date in the Journalist is simply no good.

We are the only organisation that has a real interest in what our members are doing in workplaces and as freelancers up and down the countries, where we organize and so on. We need to turn the Journalist into something more about how members are taking control of their own lives- how that is a kind of dynamic force within our media industries that can improve people's lives.

We have to do more with the magazine. Five years ago when this post was advertised all of the candidates said that they would immediately start producing a lot more online content and it has never appeared.

My guarantee is that from day one of being in post I will- start producing a lot of online content that will go on the NUJ website- That also involves rethinking the way that our magazine works- Many people are keen to receive something that drops on to their doormat but I think we have to think that through quite well. Accepting that we cannot keep with a web [publication], that we are not a daily newspaper but still generating stories that have an integrity and depth of reporting that make it [the Journalist] a really essential read. We should be podcasting meetings like this, we should be using webinars to share information, we should be making videos, we should be looking at all sorts of channels for making the Journalist a news brand across a much wider sphere of media.

I have a strong track record as a journalist, can offer my journalistic background- I have experience of how to persuade the National Executive Council to take decisions that are for the benefit of the union combined with an activist experience of working with bureaucracy in addition to a commitment to work with the entirety of our members so that we can put together a package to make this a far more dynamic and engaging media offer than we have at the moment. For that reason I hope that I will be able to gain your support.

Christine Buckley

When I last spoke at these hustings five years ago, there were eight candidates- I think it is very disappointing that there are only two this time. They brought different skills and aspirations, but two that are particularly relevant to this election. Before I became editor of the Journalist, when I was on national newspapers I never looked at the NUJ website as I had no need to- And none of my friends who were employed outside the union look at it now. Only one or two who were freelance members do now.

It would be very easy for me as I am seeking re-election to promise a raft of new initiatives. Tim is promising a lot. I don't believe that they are realisable as I have managed the budget for four years, and the funds are not of the magnitude as he says, it is about £170,000 to spend on the magazine- funding was cut this year and no funds were available even for an app for the magazine although this could be done much more cheaply and as far as I am concerned that would be the most natural first move into more online presence, when we can afford it.

The budget covers the content of the magazine, the printing packaging and posting, and the costs of posting have soared in recent years. There is nothing left- I appreciate that at the delegate meeting there was a complaint that the Journalist does not have a daily online presence. Funding digital media is one of the biggest questions of our industry.

I have tried hard to boost the advertising in the Journalist - that was my idea to try to get some more revenue. I have changed advertising agencies twice but the climate for advertising in small publication such as ours is extremely poor.

While I was on adoption leave for the a year, a push was made to reduce the cost to encourage people to take the magazine digitally - it wasn't something that I wanted- it is vital that a high-quality magazine is delivered direct to people's homes. The magazine is the union's shop front and while we can afford it is vital that the union should have a magazine that it can be proud of.

For the majority of members, The Journalist is the only thing that connects them to the union, which reminds them of why they pay £25 for membership. We have to recognize that the majority of NUJ members are not active, and will never be active they don't have time for a greater involvement on an ongoing basis. Journalism is facing its biggest challenge in its history. News organisations are struggling to find ways to make digital media pay. Journalists are facing job losses. And as Tim has mentioned, we're struggling too. The memberships is falling- I was shocked by the recent figures.

It is vital that we reach out to as many people as possible so that more journalists are encouraged to join [the Union], we have more of an impact if people want to read the magazine. Busy journalists don't want a magazine that is dreary, niche, or seems to talk only to itself - they wanted a Journalist that engages readers with interesting well-written well-researched features covering the massive changes sweeping the media industry.

I changed the magazine when I took it over, and I have been pleased by much positive reaction to the magazine. The last reader survey said that 85 percent of readers like the new content, 63 percent like the features and the 81 percent like the design. Another survey is being launched and timed with results not to interfere with the election. The election will determine what members want from the Journalist, whether it is Tim's or mine.

Questions from the floor

What is your interpretation of the editorial independence of the magazine and how you would interpret that in your editorship?

Tim Dawson: The Journalist has to provide and honest account of how the union is working, this is framed within the union's policy - however the Journalist should report honestly on successes and failures where they exist. For instance, the controversy that surrounded the payment of Jeremy Dear as General Secretary: that was an appropriate matter for the Journalist to report dispassionately but when the DM (Delegate Meeting, the Union's biennial conference) decided that no impropriety had taken place, then that was the time to drop the matter. The Journalist is not there to try to steer policy, it is there to apply dispassionate reporting.

Christine Buckley: I have the job for five years, I viewed editorial independence as that the magazine could not be dictated to by the general secretary or NEC, and to safeguard that doesn't happen there is an editorial advisory board. Their role

is to protect that independence should it ever come under threat. In my experience there has never been a hint of that.

How do you envisage the General Election in terms of the political parties and media policy generally?

Christine: Looking at the election, it is hard to follow up campaigns because they move so fast, e.g. Scotland and devolution, by the time the magazine comes out again the campaign has moved out. However we should cover what is the in tray of the parties and what they are likely to do. What I say doesn't preclude doing something early before the election, e.g. early in the New Year and then to look at it again after the election results, rather than being hostage to fortune and try to follow things which move too fast.

Tim: Following campaigns is not possible in a title of this size. But there are key issues that this election will face that are of relevance to us as a union. For instance trade union reform at the 1999 election which brought in fairness at work legislation -- we doubled the number of our recognition agreement as a result of that legislation.

Would you endorse a particular political party?

Christine: As a trade union we would have a better chance with the Labour party, but as a journalists' union we should not take sides.

Tim: I would be against our endorsing one party or another. It would be untenable for journalists who are our members reporting that election if the union was seen to take sides.

John Toner, NUJ Freelance Organiser, asked about images of strikers on the cover and inside the Journalist.

Tim: It takes a great deal of courage for members to strike. But I am also against clichéd photography.

Christine: Pictures of strikes don't really engage people.

What are the functions and boundaries of the Editorial Advisory Board?

Christine: I tried to get them to have online meetings because of the amount of money spent on those meetings compared to what it produces is too much. It is a sounding board for the editors. There are lots of ideas suggestions and comments in a journalists union already, but it is there if you need it.

Tim: As long as the board exists I will try and make it as effective as possible, but I think that getting resources deployed towards getting the editor of the Journalist to more chapel meetings might be a better way of deploying resources.

A question was asked about social media and online presence of the Journalist.

Tim: Social media means that you can link- social media to articles, things that I have written for the Journalist, links to audio files, dual publication, it is a challenge, some of the Facebook - there are issues of moderating a facebook page.

Christine: You can get horrible things on Facebook, how do you take away the Journalist from that association? I wonder why people undermine the union, social media that is easy to use is also easy to abuse.

How many copies of the magazine are printed and how many countries is it mailed to?

Christine: The last mailing list was to 24,600 including subscribers, and we do send quite a lot of the magazines overseas including Ireland, Netherlands and France-

What would you do as an editor on Day One of your job as editor of the Journalist?

Christine: It would not be Day One of the job for me. I would be trying to produce a magazine that would engage as large a number of readers as possible, make a greater case for an app to make the magazine readable and available on a tablet or a smartphone.

Tim: I would spend Day One on the phone with members and activists, I would find the stories that I haven't heard anywhere else, to inject the kind of editorial vibrancy that is needed.

I don't think that an app should be a priority, I have no idea how many people read the NUJ website- if it is written as stories and as journalism rather than in a press release format, then you use social media to drive people on to the website. The idea that we have a website and there is a view that we don't put stuff on it. I don't think that there is a journalist in the UK that doesn't absorb a lot of news and information on the web. It seems to me odd as a union that we are not pumping out a lot more news and information.

The news that is unique to us will be my central focus. I will be looking at all of our stories, and thinking how as a journalist do I take that away, and if I had to present a news conference at a newspaper? For instance, action taken by NUJ members at the BBC, members of BBC Scotland threatened not to cover the Commonwealth Games and the Scottish Devolution referendum. I would concentrate on the stories at which we are the centre, and then I would develop them and place them at the heart of the magazine.

Last modified: 27 Oct 2014 - © 2014 contributors
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