Many journalists are ‘greatly concerned’about the effects of cross-media integration on their working conditions and practices, according to a report published today by the National Union of Journalists.
The report on multimedia working, produced by a special commission of seven NUJ members, examined how changes in the way news is produced and consumed is affecting journalists’ working conditions and the quality of their work, and how the union should respond.
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‘Our evidence shows members are clearly greatly concerned about the effects of often ill-conceived multi-media plans on their working lives, on their health and safety and on the quality of the work they produce,’the report says.
The commission’s findings were based on detailed interviews in 15 workplaces and responses to a questionnaire sent to news organisations in various media collected in June and July.
The quality of journalism is being threatened in the multimedia age because of the increasing demands placed on reporters, who are working longer hours and taking on more responsibility for no extra pay, according to the commission.
According to the survey, 52 per cent of respondents felt the standard of online journalism was merely ‘adequate”. A third said new media journalism was of a professional standard, while 14 per cent said the quality was generally poor. Standards
The report found that the most serious threat to the standard of online journalism was the practice of publishing material without it being checked by a qualified journalist. Journalists from national newspapers, regional titles and magazines told the commission that they had been publishing unsubbed news stories on their websites because newsroom managers had failed to intoduce systems for online subbing.
‘The worrying thing is that they don’t seem to care about the quality of pieces that are filed,’one Telegraph Media Group journalist said. ‘The priority is to file as quickly as possible.”
One magazine group, according to the report, operates an ‘open outcry’system where a reporter filing copy for the web shouts across the newsroom: ‘Can someone read this?”
Newsquest was also singled out for publishing unsubbed news stories.
‘There is a strong feeling that Newsquest would be happy for reporters to upload their stories entirely untouched,’one respondent alleged.
Terms and conditions
The report found that newspaper staff have had their terms and conditions ‘watered down’and often have to tackle new disciplines such as video without any training.
Of the chapels that responded to the survey,, 31 per cent said their house agreement had been adapted to include new media working – what the commission saw as a ‘flagrant breach’of existing agreements.
More than 50 per cent of the chapels said their members were expected to work on new media for no extra pay.
However, union reps at Archant’s Norwich centre have negotiated a bonus scheme that rewards journalists based on the traffic generated by their papers’ websites – staff received an extra £120 this year as a result.
The report said: ‘As newspapers go over to web-first publication, extra shifts are required at unsocial hours, notably at weekends.”
Seventy-five per cent of journalists found their workload had increased, and 37 per cent were now working well beyond their allotted hours.
The commission expressed concern that web-based journalists were being given extra roles, such as aggregating blog posts and monitoring readers’ comments.
The report said that at one Archant title, web-based journalists also work on a ‘customer help desk’where they respond to readers’ requests and queries.
Newsrooms would suffer if journalists lost their individual specialisms in favour of ‘generic journalism”, the report said.
In 45 per cent of the offices surveyed, there had been editorial redundancies since web operations were introduced.
However, this was attributed to general cost-cutting measures rather than particularly to online working.
Various news organisations have created new online-only jobs such as web editors or dedicated video reporters.
The report said training has not kept pace with the increasing demands for journalists to have skills across multiple media. A leaked email from a Northcliffe manager to staff, sent before most journalists had had video training, said: ‘It’s simply a case of pressing the red button and pointing it at what is going on.”
The NUJ has ‘struggled’to adapt to the needs of online journalists, and needs to rethink its organisational structure accordingly, the report acknowledges. It adds that the union’s new media sector is still ‘small and without the organisational expertise and resources’of other divisions.
‘The union has struggled to encompass internet journalists into its structure, just as it did with broadcasters,’it says.