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Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

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Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

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Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

It’s Halloween, and the NUJ are coming as trolls

Posted by Kevin Anderson

NUJ recruitment posterThere should be a footnote to this National Union of Journalists recruitment poster. Join the union unless you are one of those

“self-serving bloggers who don’t really want to be in a union ‘cos it doesn’t have that ‘I’m a digital revolutionary and I’m out there, doing it’ vibe”

This is a line from Gary Herman on NUJ New Media Industrial Council site. I’d leave a comment, but alas, there are none. Have they ever heard the old adage, when you’re in a hole stop digging? Hey guys, if you want to create an ‘us versus them’ line in the sand, congratulations, you’ve succeeded. And the ‘them’ isn’t The Man in management. There is obviously no room in your union for a “brain dead digital enthusiast” like me. (Just to be fair, lest I’m accused of taking the quote out of context. The full sentence is: “Redundancies at AoL should give the most brain dead digital enthusiast pause for thought.”) And right before that, Herman takes a most unprofessional jab at Roy Greenslade:

At the very best, people like Roy Greenslade who huff and puff and storm out of the union are behaving precipitately. At worst, they’re trying to put the boot in. Probably, they’re just a bit dim.

I’m not anti-union. But how am I supposed to interpret such statements? It doesn’t fill me with the warm feelings of union solidarity. “Sorry, but you’re a bit dim comrade?” Is that the message you really wish to convey? Herman rails away against PR and blogs in his piece, but I’m going to give a piece of advice that I never thought I’d suggest to anyone: The NUJ really needs to work on its PR in terms of courting new media journalists.

Emotive and irresponsible attacks such as those in Herman’s piece have muddled the NUJ’s core argument of maintaining journalistic quality and integrity under challenges not from the internet but from economic pressures of changing business models. We all agree that journalists should be ethical, our journalism of the highest possible quality and that our journalism should serve the public good. I have forgone lucrative opportunities in for-profit journalism and consulting because I believe in the mission of public service journalism and its place in a democratic society. We agree that journalists should be compensated for their work. We are not in disagreement over these points, and I - as a digital enthusiast - am not the enemy.

As for the NUJ, I’m moving on. Jeff Jarvis is right:

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.

I’ve got plenty of colleagues and collaborators to work with to create the future of journalism. I’m part of the new collective and have been for a long time. Online journalist since 1996 and damn proud of it.

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10 Responses to “It’s Halloween, and the NUJ are coming as trolls”

  1. Chris Says:

    Hey Suw,

    Wow, they’re taking it from all angles now. I just posted a retort to the latest attack on Web 2.0.

    Things not to do when digging a hole: throw in spade, jump in, keep digging. Much less start a new digging division and automate the means of engineering…

    Keep up the good work.

    Cheers,

    c.

  2. Inaudible Nonsense Says:

    I hope that whomever is running the the organizing and membership sections of the NUJ had a screaming fit about those comments.

  3. Donnacha DeLong Says:

    I’ll leave Gary to fend for himself, but I would like to point out that, while you’ve got something to be proud of with 11 years history in new media, that’s something we’ve got in common. It might surprise you, but I started writing for online in ‘96/’97 (can’t remember exactly when we published the site first) with an online magazine I started with friends and started in RTÉ in Ireland on their news website the same time you started with the Beeb. The New Media Industrial Council is made up of professionals drawn from various parts of the industry - you may disagree with their views, but I’m sorry Kevin, you’re not special just because you’ve got history - we all do.

  4. Gary Herman Says:

    Hi Kevin, perhaps you’d like to quote some other bits of my piece. Like where I say that “all this provides opportunities for our members, and opportunities to recruit more members, at least as much as it threatens pay and working conditions and challenges the traditional structure and functions of the union.” Or perhaps you’re not interested in how the union actually responds to developing technologies and formats?

    As for railing against PR and blogs, well I’m sorry but did you actually read the piece? I assume you’re referring to my observation that “blogs … are becoming increasingly important as a PR tool for campaigns, promotion, and corporate positioning.” I may be wrong, but I don’t think I’m “railing” against anything. So who exactly is being “emotive and irresponsible”?

    And finally, to Roy Greenslade. Let me own up - yes I did attack him. He left the NUJ professing to believe in pretty much all the things the union is concerned with except actually existing. I think that’s pretty strange and, as I said, if I were an AoL employee I know where I’d rather be - in the NUJ with my colleagues and comrades, not outside it with Roy.

    Oh, and by the way, like Donnacha says, we’ve all got history - I’ve been involved with online stuff since 1991, the Internet since 1993: writing about it, teaching it, developing websites, writing for websites. I’d count myself pretty much of a digital enthusiast and I want more of us in the NUJ.

  5. Kevin Anderson Says:

    Donnacha and Gary,

    I raised the issue of my tenure in online journalism (although during most of that time, I’ve worked not just in online, but also in print and on air), not because I think it makes me ’special’ as you put it Donnacha, but because I am *proud* of it, and fed up of being treated like a second-class journalist. Equally, Donnacha, using the term of your online experience as a de facto defence of your views, as you have on several blogs, doesn’t help us to understand your position. I’d much rather see you discuss the actual problems that we have with the way the NUJ respresents its stance on social media.

    Most of us who have worked as online journalists over the last decade have had to put up with print journalists’ attitude that our work is inferior simply because it’s on the internet or on some other digital platform. We have faced bias within our own industry, and unfortunately, it’s a bias that is apparent in the NUJ’s comments about new media, even if you can’t see it. And this isn’t just my view. Adam Tinworth, a card carrying member of the NUJ for 10 years, linked to this post and called it “a dissection of just how offensive some of the comments are to those of us working in new media”. (http://www.onemanandhisblog.com/archives/2007/11/nuj_forget_the_customers_and_theyll_forget_you.html)

    Gary, I think it’s disingenuous of you to imply that I should be quoting the entirety of your post. Generally speaking, the blog format uses small quotes and links back to the original which, you will see, I included. Journalism can learn from blogging by linking back to source material and allowing their readers to decide. Of course, I’m interested in seeing the NUJ respond sensibly and constructively to new media and Web 2.0, but so far, I’ve seen very little except a dismissive and ill-informed response mixed with aggressive ad hominem attacks against those who don’t support the union’s party line on new media. You say that you want more digital enthusiasts in the NUJ. I’m still waiting for any evidence that the NUJ would welcome digital journalists such as myself with anything other than a cold shoulder.

    Suw and I asked for a real debate about Web 2.0 and for the issues facing journalism as its traditional business model comes under pressure. We’re still waiting.

  6. Donnacha DeLong Says:

    What you’re missing, working in the cosy halls of the Guardian, is what’s actually happening in the media around the country. My criticism of the way “Web 2.0″ is being used by media owners to mess stuff up has nothing to do with technology, yet virtually everyone has dragged out that strawman. I’m accused of presenting a strawman, because apparently nobody is arguing that Web 2.0 will replace traditional media - by which I mean professional reporters, sub-editors, editors, photographers, etc, not print - despite Roy Greenslade pointing out that there are those who think exactly that (and he, himself, argues that, rather than replaced, we’ll just be cut to the bone like a Trinity Mirror regional title). How many AOL people who’ve been screwed over as the organisation has turned from audience-focussed editorial work to advertising have you spoken to? How about the people in GAAPweb who left en masse soon after Trinity Mirror took over?

    You claim that the NUJ has a bias against new media, yet you work for a company where the union has fought long and hard for equal treatment and pay for online journalists. You claim to get a cold shoulder, yet I only the other day invited you to join our New Media list (which you could have found with ease, it’s link on the side of our blog). You’re not even in the new media sector, ffs, despite the chair of the New Media Industrial Council being one of your colleagues.

    You continue to try and portray me, Gary and others in the union as technophobes, but that’s patently ridiculous. You’d know that if you’d ever tried to actually engage with those of us working in the union to advance the new media sector instead of throwing stones from the margins.

  7. Kevin Marks Says:

    Ooh, can I play the 3 yorkshiremen game of new media longevity too?
    When I were a lad in 1985, I had to post my ruminations via a terminal in the computer science labs onto GROGGs, I left the BBC in 1989 to work for a New Media startup. It grew and prospered until 1996, when the CD-ROM market collapsed in the face of the net. My colleagues there changed jobs a few times and are still doing exciting things in more than one medium.
    What it comes down to, Donnacha and Gary, is that you are trolling for linkage through rhetorical overreach. You need to learn that this kind of slumming is not good for you in the long term.

    As Douglas Adams said, back in 1999:
    Because the Internet is so new we still don’t really understand what it is. We mistake it for a type of publishing or broadcasting, because that’s what we’re used to. So people complain that there’s a lot of rubbish online, or that it’s dominated by Americans, or that you can’t necessarily trust what you read on the web. Imagine trying to apply any of those criticisms to what you hear on the telephone. Of course you can’t ‘trust’ what people tell you on the web anymore than you can ‘trust’ what people tell you on megaphones, postcards or in restaurants. Working out the social politics of who you can trust and why is, quite literally, what a very large part of our brain has evolved to do. For some batty reason we turn off this natural scepticism when we see things in any medium which require a lot of work or resources to work in, or in which we can’t easily answer back - like newspapers, television or granite. Hence ‘carved in stone.’ What should concern us is not that we can’t take what we read on the internet on trust - of course you can’t, it’s just people talking - but that we ever got into the dangerous habit of believing what we read in the newspapers or saw on the TV - a mistake that no one who has met an actual journalist would ever make. One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no ‘them’ out there. It’s just an awful lot of ‘us’.

  8. Suw Says:

    Donnacha and Gary, you seem not to appreciate the irony that you’re proving the point of Kevin’s original post: That your aggressive attacks on new media journalists are driving them away from the union.

    You are a representative of the NUJ, but you are also the sum of your words and actions. You did not “invite” Kevin and me to the NUJ New Media list, you subscribed us to it without our permission. This is generally seen as rude in web circles, a bit like sending spam. The cynical would say that you subscribed us to the list precisely so you could claim that you were being open and friendly, but your comments speak for themselves. There’s been nothing friendly about your interactions with us, or the other bloggers who’ve disagreed with you.

    I did accept your invitation, after realisinq that you had already subscribed me to the list, but I have so far seen little there to encourage me to stay. Certainly the behaviour that you and Gary have displayed here makes me worry that, if I were to try to take part, I’d just end up having to deal with petty, ad hominem attacks instead of discussing the issues. You’ll excuse me if I say that I have better things to do with my time.

    Kevin and I have never said you are technophobes, but instead, objected to the union’s use of derogatory and dismissive terms like “webfolk” and “web technicians”. You say about Kevin: “You’re not even in the new media sector, ffs.” He’s worked as a journalist for the two most successful news websites in the UK, the BBC and Guardian Unlimited. How on earth do you come to the conclusion that he’s not in new media? And how do you excuse that attack?

    And it’s a bit rich to say that we are “on the margins” - both Kevin and I live, eat and breathe social media, and I have been a successful social media consultant for the last three years. Kevin has over a decade of experience in the media, whilst I’ve worked as a freelance journalist on and off for nearly ten years. How is that “the margins”?

    If you mean on the margins of your battles with management, keep us out of it. We agree that the management of media organisations have squandered opportunities and failed to understand the web. But journalism is ill-served by fighting for rigid job titles better suited for the 1970s than the 21st Century.

  9. Donnacha DeLong Says:

    Firstly, an apology - I meant to invite, not subscribe both of you, it’s one small radial button of difference, but it wasn’t my intention.

    Secondly, you might want to check the detail of comments before you take it as an attack. The NUJ is divided into sectors, of which new media is one (that’s how I’m the new media rep) and, according to my list of members, Kevin isn’t in it. That’s all, nothing more nor less. And that’s how he’s on the margins of the debate - not in the sector of the union where these issues are being worked out. If people want to engage in a debate in a union, it’s normally a good idea to engage in the union, not outside of it.

    As for the “offensive” terms, please, don’t be daft. The use of the term “web technician” reflects, not what the union sees them as, but what they are - poor sods who often have to spend all night uploading newspaper content onto the web - no skill necessary, payment minimal. Copy, paste, publish, copy, paste, publish. No apologies for us thinking the web is worth more than that.

    As for “webfolk”, that was poking fun at me first and foremost. I didn’t write it (it was a standfirst written by someone for the magazine, probably the editor). And, quite honestly, if you’re going to be offended by that little…

    I’m a trade unionist and I’ve put myself forward as a rep - that means I’m tough, argumentative and willing to stand up and defend my reputation. If you think that makes me a bad rep, you really don’t know what it takes to be a rep.

    As for “rigid job titles better suited for the 1970s”, I didn’t realise you had website editors, online journalists, etc in the 70s. We’re fighting for professional content online, that’s got nothing to do with the past, but what we know is needed for the future.

  10. Donnacha DeLong Says:

    Oh, and let me remind you - you called us trolls (sniff).