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. Convergence, or integration - is 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?

The opening frame of Dr Andy Williams's presentation
Vlog verité: the opening frame of Dr Andy Williams's presentation.

Cardiff University's Andy Williams researched integration at Trinity Mirror's Western Mail, confirming journalists' suspicions that they're moving to multimedia on the cheap. Of Trinity Mirror (TMG) staff, 84 per cent said their workload had increased, while the paper lost readers, who perceived a drop in quality. Read his report, and in today's multimedia world, see video: http://100yearsofnuj.wordpress.com/2007/04/15/digital-convergence-how-should-we-respond. Note to student journalists: short URLs are better than long ones. Use http://convergence.notlong.com

The majority of journalists Andy surveyed believed that the local press should involve the internet, but they had "concerns about how it is implemented". (This point was repeated at the subsequent NUJ conference on integration - see below.) Nearly all journalists felt that convergence needed more staff to cover extra work. TMG has so far spent its money on software and kit, but not on staff, for integration. The expected two video clips that journalists were expeceted to procude per day, after "an initial flurry... were not being made" as there was no time and no resources available. Videos that were made looked "amateurish", with many police PR videos and "stuff off YouTube".

"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 journalists were urged 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 health and safety regulations have the force of law.

Freelance Industrial Council's Adam Christie says that the union at the workplace level should be ready with questions to ask when management announces integration.

Agreements on integration reached with Johnston Press formed the basis for NUJ guidelines on convergence, which can be downloaded from www.nuj.org.uk.

Adam said of the Johnston agreements, "It was very hard for freelances to get training... there needs to be a budget for training freelances and for paying them while being trained.

"There's also a need," he went on, "for management to get their heads round copyright."

The NUJ's recent "Agitate, Educate, Integrate" conference on convergence heard how many journalists are enthused by the opportunities of convergence, but that in some newspaper companies, like the Telegraph, integration has been used more as an excuse to try to attack working conditions and squeeze rates.

As our staff colleagues adopt more and different ways of working, there is an urgent need for training so that we're not left behind, and to avoid freelances becoming more vulnerable to a host of copyright violations such as work being reused on the web for no extra payment.

There is a clear risk that the worst employers could simply cut freelances out from the process completely. But companies' tendency to boast about their web popularity has been used by members to successfully press claims for increased freelance rates, as has happened at The Scotsman (now a Johnston title).

Media companies themselves are still unsure of how to proceed - not every videocast will necessarily be popular with readers.

In many ways, the owners are as much in the dark about where change is leading us as we are, which gives us an opportunity to shape developments in the interests of journalists.

The Branch intends to hold a meeting later in the year on the implications of integration, particularly for freelances. The NUJ commission on convergence is expected to issue a report just after we go to press.

[Site map] Last modified: 13 Jun 2007 - © 2007 contributors
The Freelance editor is elected by London Freelance Branch and responsibility for content lies solely with the editors of the time
Send comments to the editors: editor@londonfreelance.org