Regulating the rabble

The British National Union of Journalists has just issued a boggling code of conduct covering the use of material from “witness contributors,” aka citizen journalists, aka us. The ostensible goal is to verify and protect and all that. But it seems obvious that the real goal is to protect NUJ jobs and to try to maintain a separation between the “professionals” and the rest. They want to make it as difficult as possible to use reporting from the people.

It’s braindead. And what’s best is that they don’t even put it up as a web page. So I did here for your edification and discussion.

Emily Bell, editor of Guardian Unlimited, does a fine job filleting the code.

The code, designed for organisations such as ours, who sometimes seek contributions from the public, starts reasonably enough – with a clause that suggests that we do not publish false and malicious material and where we do we seek to rectify it immediately. After that, the suggestions skitter downhill fast in terms of practicality.

It suggests that if using “witness contributions”, media organisations should validate their accuracy before publication, and that they should use material from NUJ members in preference to witness contributors wherever possible, and it includes a clause that effectively rules out the syndication of any material submitted by one of these witness contributors….

The intention, for instance, at the heart of the NUJ’s proposed code is to protect a differentiation between the professional journalist and the amateur. What it actually does is to potentially tie the hands of those who employ journalists to the benefit of those who do not. Wholesale adoption of the code would lead to: no blogs with free comments on them run by established media organisations; no picture streams or video footage from viewers and readers on news channels and websites; and no ability for mainstream news media to experiment with “wikis” or community-built sites.

But, Emily says, everybody else in the world will be doing all those things as newspapers, to paraphrase the gansterism, lie with the dead trees.

: Neil McIntosh, also of the Guardian, also has a proper fit.

  • Why don’t we hear anything about the advances in astronomy brought about by amateur discoveries (like, every new finding includes at least one amateur). I imagine the PhDs in that field are upset by these upstarts, but, man, look at what they’re producing!

    A code is a way of managing from the top. After all, if you have a code, then you must have an enforcement mechanism. We need an internal governor more than a codified set of rules and regulations (that the lawyers can then twist to meet their self-centered needs).


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  • jeff Capes

    And who the hell are you to comment on what the NUJ does. Protecting NUJ jobs doesnt seem like a bad idea to me.

  • Donnacha DeLong

    The NUJ Code is published on their website, try the link at the bottom of this page – It undermines your case somewhat if you can’t get the simple facts right.

  • Well, Donnacha, as far as I can see that is a download of a DOC file and not a WEB page. A web page could be seen in a BROWSER. This doc file required four attempts for me to download it to see the page. It undermines your case if you can’t get the simple facts right, eh?

    Jeff: Well, you may give a shit but I don’t. As far as I’m concerned the priority should not be protecting jobs — I saw far too much of that with pressmen being paid for nonjobs and killing U.S. newspapers — but instead it should be to expand journalism and better inform society, eh?

    Care to let us know whether you are members of the NUJ? Full disclosure, please.

  • Anything wrong with this part of the code?

    4. Such organisations accept that appropriate and agreed payments will be made to witness contributors for all uses of their material and that the terms of licensing will be easily available and clear;

  • Donnacha DeLong

    Apologies, I misread your post. And, yes, I’m not only an NUJ member, but also an elected representative.

    However, you might want to read this and possibly look again at the claims your making. The vast majority of the new code is aimed at protecting the rights of witness contributors, matched with our purpose as a trade union to defend our members. You’ll generally find that that’s what trade unions are for.

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