It’s election time at the NUJ and my vote was long decided before the ballot papers were issued. At stake is the editorship of the union’s publication, the imaginatively titled The Journalist. Unlike most such jobs, where you fill in an application form, get through a couple of interviews then negotiate terms and conditions, this post is balloted by the membership rather than decided by a couple of senior executives. It’s an important job, because the magazine is a key way for the union to communicate with its members.
I must confess to being a somewhat lazy cardholder. I pay my subs but don’t really get involved. I’m one of those members that is glad the union is there when I need help but tend to ignore it the rest of the time. It’s partly because too often I see the executive putting effort into supporting causes abroad rather than working to improve our lot at home. Don’t get me wrong, supporting journalists overseas working in difficult conditions is vital but such official solidarity has often been given at the expense of helping members here. The NUJ has been slow to adapt to the rapidly changing face of British journalism. Gone are the days of huge chapels at every paper or magazine. And while the London Freelance branch has a thriving membership, us freelances outside the capital often feel ignored or forgotten about.
This is why I’m voting for Michael Cross. I’ve been privileged to know him as a colleague and occasional drinking buddy for a while and I was one of those who persuaded him to run for office (disclosure: I also helped set up his online campaign). Michael has many years experience under his belt – he’s been a staffer, worked abroad, done stints in broadcast and also has enjoyed a thriving freelance career of late. In short, his work record alone makes him someone who understands many of the different roles a journalist might perform. Indeed, as the number of freelances grows, Michael’s own experience should appeal to many.
Crucially, Michael’s vision for The Journalist is the most comprehensive. Although he has the smell of hot metal in his nostrils, he’s also very aware that our union mag needs to be fit for our multimedia, digital era. And despite being a former FoC, Michael’s no yes man – he will bring an independence to the job and know when it’s necessary to stand his ground against the union leadership, should the need arise.
Perhaps most importantly, Michael aims to turn The Journalist into a proper publication advocating journalism and reflecting our working lives, rather than being a union propaganda sheet – propaganda is all well and good at times, but I for one want a magazine I actually want to read and I know I’m not alone in that. The NUJ is full of lazy members like me but a properly produced The Journalist should be there to cover professional issues and not just workplace ones (especially for the hordes of us whose workplace is their front room). Being in a union isn’t just about standing on picket lines but also about feeling supported as a professional. Michael’s vision would mean The Journalist would be a publication non-members would want to read too, which could be crucial in halting and reversing the declining membership. And that vision also includes a wide-ranging online strategy, essential for attracting young journalists who won’t remember the pre-internet way of working.
Michael’s manifesto is openly available on the Facebook campaign group and you can also follow him on Twitter. There will also be a hustings in Manchester on 22 October if you want to hear him speak (the other candidates will be there too).
The ballot’s already underway and closes on 6 November. If you’re an NUJ member and you haven’t made your mind up yet who to vote for, I urge you to check out the manifesto and put a 1 in the box next to Michael’s name. You won’t regret it.