Monday, March 23, 2009

Devastating news...

It’s Monday morning, I’ve been back from Laos for two weeks and this is the first chance I’ve had to catch up on the blog. I promise I’ll try and do better in future!

The past two weeks have been devastating for the industry – amongst the worst of the recent cuts announced were those at GMG – but have also witnessed yet more of the fighting spirit amongst our members, whether at Leeds and the BBC South Asia Service or at the Morning Star where a welcome
new deal on pay was agreed to end the dispute.

So what have I been up to. Here’s a snapshot…
l Gave evidence to the Office of Fair Trading investigation in to proposals to relax the media merger regime. In other words, should we allow greater consolidation in the local and regional newspaper industry. Er, no. Debt, brought about by excessive borrowing in order to fund recent consolidation, is one of the principal reasons driving cost-cutting at the moment. I simply don’t believe the companies who say further consolidation would save jobs. Further consolidation would mean more cuts and journalism becoming even more remote from the communities it seeks to serve. Centralised subbing, photographic pools, general reporters without patches, closed district offices…it’s a recipe for driving the final nail in the industry’s coffin. Instead of allowing the same greedy owners to fleece our industry more we should be finding ways to break up their existing monopolies.

l Met Secretary of State Andy Burnham to discuss the future of regional and local media. We made the call for him to convene an industry conference to consider how the government, Regional Development Agencies, media companies, local businesses, journalists and editors can come together to sustain quality local media – that means both supporting existing media prepared to invest in quality content and helping to support new local initiatives – in print and online.

l Lobbied Johnston Press over cuts at the Yorkshire Post/YEP. We took our campaign to the financial analysts – part of our argument that continuing cuts are a false economy, leading to lower sales and fewer advertisers in a cycle of decline. I joined striking journalists handing out leaflets as the company announced their latest results - £128m profit. Later that day I went to the Waldorf Hotel to meet Johnston’s HR head Malcolm Vickers to press for a resolution of the dispute.

l Met with BBC M/FoCs to discuss the threat of compulsory redundancies at the South Asia Service. Reps named two days for national strike action following a 77% yes vote in the ballot. Since then I’ve met with chapel members at the South Asia Service and had informal talks with BBC management to try to resolve the dispute. More talks are expected this week.

l Submitted our response to the panel on fair access to the professions. The union has campaigned for a number of years to open up journalism to people from all backgrounds. 98% of new entrants have degrees, just 3% come from families headed by semi-skilled or unskilled workers and far too many people are expected to work for free for months at a time before they can get a job in the industry. No wonder access is so restricted. We have lobbied HMRC, the Low Pay Commission and now welcome the chance to push our case with government. We’ve called for an industry training levy, better enforcement of the national minimum wage and support for union initiatives like the George Viner Memorial Fund and Move on Up project which provide assistance to Black and Asian journalism students.

l Attended our Policy and our Finance committees – discussing the union’s financial situation, plans to rent out part of Headland House, our work with the TUC, our international work and much more.

l Had meetings with reps from Johnston Press, Newsquest (subsequently wrote to Chief Executive Paul Davidson setting out our concerns about the company’s request for staff to work unpaid for a week),
Guardian Media Group and this week went to Manchester for a meeting of Trinity Mirror reps to try to co-ordinate our response to cuts and pay freezes.
l Run from meeting to meeting – the TUC Executive, internal management meetings, Central London Branch AGM, the Colombian embassy and many more…

Oh, and I won the football World Cup. Well, the mini World Cup. Actually the Berkeley Nomads AFC Mini World Cup – a 6-a-side tournament featuring five teams. But still, the NUJ team won.

Must rush, got a column to write for Tribune.

God, that holidays feels a long time ago!

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