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June 28, 2024

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet to step down after 13 years

Stanistreet said the days of general secretaries leading unions until they retire "are behind us".

By Bron Maher

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet is stepping down after 13 years in the role, triggering an election for her replacement.

Stanistreet emailed NUJ members on Friday afternoon saying she had been “dealing with some challenging health issues in the last few years” which had “helped crystalise my decision to hand over the NUJ general secretarial baton”.

She wrote: “The days when the role of union general secretary was a run-up to retirement are behind us…

“Every organisation needs creative change, and I think everyone in a leadership position knows when the time comes to move on. Throw in a landmark birthday, and for me the right time is now.”

Stanistreet became the first woman to lead the union in 2011 following three years as its deputy general secretary. She noted in her email: “My response at the time was that I may have been the first woman elected but I certainly wouldn’t be the last.”

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She was re-elected twice, running unopposed each time. Her resignation cuts short her third term, which would otherwise have ended in 2026.

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In her message the outgoing general secretary said she had “worked hard to ensure the NUJ can sustain itself as an independent trade union”, focusing on issues including “low pay, pay parity and journalists’ safety”, source protection, lawfare and safeguarding public service broadcasting.

The NUJ under Michelle Stanistreet

Stanistreet has presided over a turbulent period for the industry, overseeing numerous strikes as publishers sought to grapple with the shift online, cuts to BBC funding and tech platform disruption through thousands of job cuts.

The outgoing general secretary entered office more than a year before the publication of the Leveson report and shortly before news broke that News Corp had handed its journalists’ sources over to the police in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.

The NUJ would later face backlash in some quarters over its approach to post-Leveson press regulation, with the union pushing for a regulator backed by statute and the ultimately-aborted enactment of Section 40.

In the late 2010s the union was involved in partially successful attempts to unionise the UK branches of upstart digital media brands Vice and Buzzfeed. Both unionisation attempts failed on the first try, but Vice UK would ultimately manage to secure recognition from management — before most staff were laid off as the brand collapsed over the past two years.

This month NUJ members at PA Media succeeded in their bid for statutory union recognition.

The NUJ has faced its own organisational troubles over the period: in 2012 it narrowly avoided insolvency, with Press Gazette reporting at the time it had just three weeks of running costs left in the bank. Plans to cut £400,000 in staff costs at the union prompted a revolt and the censure of its leadership by members.

In 2020 the union again warned it “could go bust” despite a new fee banding system introduced in 2016. Today NUJ fees are among the most costly, as a proportion of income, of any trade union, something it attributed to its active approach to campaigning when asked by Press Gazette last year.

Membership declined from 31,019 in 2012 to 24,528 in 2022, which the NUJ blames on rounds of cuts hitting low-paid members.

Stanistreet ended her email to members: “A bad day at the office is invariably lifted by time spent with our members and the knowledge that the NUJ makes a difference, often at some of the worst moments in a member’s professional or personal life.

“Whoever I pass the baton on to will be fortunate in leading a union that will always have a special place in my heart.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
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  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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