In olde London

Some more followup to the National Union of Journalists row brought on when a member of the National Union of Curmudgeons rubbished web 2.0 and a chicken-little commission of the NUJ tried to close the door on change:

Roy Greenslade gave us his considered response to comments on his decision to quit the union. He discusses an anonymous journalist grappling with being stuck between the union and the future and says:

Despite his continuing sympathies for colleagues, and his lingering desire to remain faithful to the NUJ, he will realise that the demands of a paper gradually moving from print to screen are inimical to those of a union that, despite its pro-digital rhetoric, is committed only to preserving outdated demarcation lines, defying the need for flexibility and struggling to fend off staff cuts that, in fairness, will be necessary.

How could I possibly remain a union member when I now hold such views? To advocate that we need fewer jobs is anathema to the union. That’s why I say it would be hypocritical for me to go on being a member. Nor could I, as some commenters suggest, fight for that position within the union. It would be a laughable option. . . . I cannot, in all conscience, remain within a union I now regard, albeit reluctantly, as reactionary. The digital revolution is here and I am digital revolutionary.

Neil McIntosh shoots the NUJ’s red herring in a barrel.

Donnacha DeLong, said fishmonger, appeared on BBC Five Live’s Pods and Blogs show.

And Suw Charman and Kevin Anderson take a different tack, defending web 2.0 and its benefits.

The mainstream media is not leading the charge to the internet, it is following along behind its audience, laggardly, sullenly and defensively. Many journalists have spent ten years dismissing the internet as a fad and an inferior medium. They are equally dismissive of Web 2.0 without even knowing what it means. DeLong says on the NUJ New Media’s blog, “So there we go – a nice big debate about the issues”, but he has done nothing to move the debate forward and nothing to help of inform NUJ members. Instead, he has engaged in more scare-mongering about the threat of the internet and simplistically focused on perceived, but illusory, dangers to journalism.

Both of us embraced the internet because of the opportunities it presents. It’s the world’s greatest story-telling medium, bringing together the strengths of text, audio, video and interaction. The internet as a communications tool can help journalists tap sources like never before, making their stories richer and more balanced. Why wouldn’t journalists take advantage of the internet?

Yes, the job is changing, and we as journalists need to change with it. The internet may be posing a threat to the business model that support journalism, and it’s understandable that this causes anxiety. But misrepresenting the reality of that change won’t make it go away.

Suw and Kevin are reluctant to feed the troll and though Jay Rosen cheers them on, I understand their hesitation. It’s a mistake, I think, to let the curmudgeons set the agenda and, for that matter, get the attention. It doesn’t move us forward. And I really don’t care if they are left behind. Andrew Keen made suckers of us all when he staged “debates” around teh wrold to promote his awful book and for awhile, I was such a sucker. Now DeLong thinks that he has caused useful debate. But Suw and Kevin are right: He did no such thing.

So I’m looking forward to Neil‘s next post with his suggestions for his union. I leave it to the members whether that is worth the trouble. But I do think that looking forward with tangible strategies for change — best practices, lessons learned — is the only debate worth having.

: MOMENTS LATER: Here is Neil’s five-part prescription for the NUJ. He suggests fixing the union’s publication and web site (irony often noted), creating a place and even a conference for debate, becoming more transparent, and this:

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.

I think the problem is this: jsut as we as a profession and industry must learn how to open up, we still talk about it in closed organizations and meetings. I heard the other day from someone who complained about the Online News Association conference in Toronto. I can’t judge the conference since I was thwarted from getting there. But I did find the agenda to be weak tea and I’ve long been troubled that it is (irony noted) an echo chamber.

The essential mistake is organizing around organiztaions. We need to organize around interests, skills, experience. Look to the example of the Facebook hackathons: Interested developers organize themselves and get together to share the best practices and frustrations and needs and ideas, generously, openly. They don’t join a union or an association or work for a company. They just learn from each other.

That is the new collective.