OK. As threatened yesterday, here are some suggestions on how the NUJ could get more clued-up about what’s happening in its industry. Do leave your ideas in the comments.
1. Fix your print and online publications
Irony of ironies, but your publications suck. Sorry, but nuj.org.uk is a shambles – why can’t I see who runs the union without logging in? Why is the rulebook only a PDF? What is an ADM, why does it matter, and why don’t you explain anything? Why can’t I apply for a press card online? In print, let’s not discuss your newsletters. And Adrian Monck is right – The Journalist is the worst periodical ever published.
I’m less interested in sorting out the printed magazine, frankly – it’s quite far gone. But a first step to improving things digitally might be putting The Journalist online, and opening it up to the kind of wider critique a few bits of its content have had in the last two weeks. Use WordPress, or another free, lightweight CMS – I’m sure you’ll find a member who can help on this front. Open comments on the contents. Then you’ll have started to…
2. Create a home for the conversation
We’ve learned from recent episodes that, today, “consultation” in the NUJ means activists talking to activists. That’s cosy. At least the rooms won’t have smoke in them any more. But, sorry to say, it’s quite clear you guys don’t know much about what’s happening in our business. When it comes to Web 2.0, 3.0 or – frankly – 1.0, it must be the blind leading the blind – or what insight there is is being lost in translation to policy. So throw open some forums on your site, invite some clueful early contributors to chip in – I suggest you get Shane Richmond and Donnacha DeLong to have a good to-and-fro, if Shane’s not left the union yet – and you’ll learn a lot. And you’ll also gain kudos for hosting the conversation.
3. NUJ 2.0: throw the union’s processes open to scrutiny
It’s not enough just to be talking about the right things. You’ve got to walk the walk too. Imagine, by going for idea number two, you were able to create some buzz in the new media content industry by hosting some of its most important debates. And, moreover, imagine some new media hacks – non-members – were intrigued by the far-sighted organisation that made all this possible. What would they find if they ventured to the rest of your website? A transparently democratic, forward-looking organisation? Or an ugly green mishmash that apparently makes it as hard as possible to learn or do or say anything?
It’s time to start again. Let us know how you make decisions. Insist that every member of the national executive council contribute to a blog, at least once a week, telling us what they’re doing and why, and put the headlines from that blog on the site’s front page, next to the latest union news. Publish the minutes of any meeting not dealing with confidential negotiations. Sell us, up front, the benefits of being a member. Learn from the best – take a browse through some brilliant but low-budget NGO and voluntary organisation websites in the New Statesman award shortlist. Start viewing the web as the princple means of reaching current and future members.
Most importantly, show that there is a clear path to take insights from sensible discussion through to implementation and campaigning on sensible policy.
4. Create a digital conference for all comers
For all the NUJ’s desire to involve itself in a debate about web journalism, it’s posted missing on the regular new media conference circuit. Thus, the union appears to have nothing to say to the outside world, and appears to think it has nothing to learn either. This isn’t the case. So set up a conference, perhaps in partnership with good people like NMK or Press Gazette or Frontline, and move your debate outside your own structures. Invite digital natives to speak, and don’t worry if they – or anyone in the audience – don’t have union membership. If they’re impressed, maybe they’ll join. Keep your meetings closed and you won’t get a single new sub.
5. Accept muscle has been replaced by knowledge
This final bit is inspired by Jeff Jarvis’s idea of the new collective, posted last week. It’s also the most testing bit for a union, because it can’t be just a token effort.
Here’s the thing: once, a union’s members gained their power only through collective (industrial) action. Today, union members find it both harder to strike legally, and harder to say yes in a strike ballot. That’s led to a diminishing of the power of trade unions, even if diehards refuse to accept the glory days are gone.
It would be better for all if you realised the new power comes through circulating knowledge through the ranks – not the kind of badly filtered, politically tainted, change-is-bad “knowledge” we’ve seen so far, but real information about what the hell’s going on.
So launch the remedial new media training first. As Craig McGinty says in comments to yesterday’s post, “start with simple training in the use of RSS, blogging, online advertising opportunities, social bookmarking – especially as newsroom staff will be asked to be more web aware, or if cutbacks are made look at having to go freelance.” He’s right – it’s all useful stuff.
Also: do the advanced training for smaller, more advanced groups, just as you do for traditional media skills – web hosting, design, CSS, the fundamentals of new media publishing. Share best practice through industry forums, and help members get jobs – traditional staff ones, and their share of the new wave of freelance ones that will spread through this industry over the next few years. Match members to jobs. Help them form alliances to bid and execute on the kind of collaborative work that characterises the web industry these days.
And, finally, you start leading the debate, rather than trying to drag it back.