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Like convergence, touched for the very first time

NEW TECHNOLOGY? "Don't worry, it'll never catch on". That was the gist of a 1980s leaflet that General Secretary Jeremy Dear found when the union moved offices. As he reminded the union's 2007 conference, this turned out to be a bit wrong.

Not only do we have new-fangled Direct Entry (the 1980s process which transferred subbed copy direct to a lithographic negative), we have convergence, or integration - the process of print newspapers going all multimedia on us, adding online content, video, podcasting and other whistles and bells to their output. So how do we engage with it?

Andy Williams of Cardiff University researched integration at Trinity Mirror's Western Mail, confirming journalists' suspicions that they're moving to multimedia on the cheap. Staff - 84 per cent of them - said their workload had increased, while the paper lost readers, who perceived a drop in quality.

The majority of journalists surveyed believed that the local press should involve the internet, but they had "concerns about how it is implemented". Nearly all journalists felt that convergence needed more staff to cover extra work. TMG has so far spent its integration money on software and kit, but not on staff. It expected two video clips per day, after "an initial flurry... (These) were not being made" as there were no time nor resources available. Videos that were made looked "amateurish", with many police PR videos and "stuff off YouTube".

"It's not something that's achievable on existing resource levels", Williams concludes."If you want two or three tasks to do at the same time, you need two or three people to do it", says Jeremy Dear. The successes in online news come from big investment - the BBC, the Guardian - and he urged journalists to emphasise good practice in negotiations on convergence: tell management "this is how the BBC did it." There are health and safety regulations relevant to integration, especially for single-operator working, and these have the force of law.

The Freelance Industrial Council's Adam Christie reported on a meeting in Leeds over Johnstone Press's planned integration. The union in the workplace should be ready with questions to ask when management announces integration. "It was very hard for freelances to get training," Adam said: "there needs to be a budget for training freelances and for paying them while being trained... There's also a need for management to get their heads round copyright'.

The agreements reached with Johnstone will form the basis for guidelines on convergence going on website shortly. The next Freelance will report an NUJ conference on integration that took place in May.

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