Sunday, 5 June 2011

Citizen Smith journalism is not for me

Alfie Meadows, a philosophy student at Middlesex University, appears in court this Thursday, 9 June, on a charge of violent disorder. It strikes me as highly unlikely that Alfie is guilty of violent disorder and highly likely he finds himself in the dock because he was hit on the head, nearly fatally, probably by a police officer, at the student demonstration in London on 9 December. That's the controversial part of this blogpost. I don't think the rest will be.

Supporters are holding a rally for Alfie at Westminster City Court, 70 Horseferry Road, at 9am on Thursday. If I can swing it, I'll go along there before I start work. If I do go, I'll take some photographs. What I won't do is share any photos with the local newspapers.

That's not because I don't like the journalists on the local newspapers. I do like them, and I'll happily help them out with pictures of local protests that I've had a hand in organising, when I know they can't send one of their own photographers to cover the event.

But I know there will be freelance photographers at the rally on Thursday for whom protests such as this are bread and butter. I'd quite like to have a stab at adding demo photography to my own CV - heaven knows, I attend enough of them! It's never going to be my day job though! (Have you seen my pictures?!) The temptation is there, however, to send a snap to the local papers. I could ask for money, and they'd probably say no, but if I asked for a credit they'd say yes and many people are happy with just that. There are few things as satisfying as seeing a photo you've taken in the paper.

I'm eschewing the pleasure, though. I've gone all principled. I'm not going to play citizen journalist in this instance, when I know I'd be depriving some other poor sod the chance of selling a picture - a fellow National Union of Journalists member at that!

Taking the moral high ground also lets me have a dig at Sir Ray Tindle, the owner of 200 plus local newspapers, including our own Barnet Press and associated titles. What's Tindle done that's annoying me? Stopped employing freelances on his north London newspapers.

Nine journalists there had taken two weeks' strike action to protest against their impossible workload, caused by Tindle not filling vacant posts. What has Tindle's response been? To dispense with the services of the freelance staff that fill the gaps and help the full-time journalists and photographers get their titles out each week.

Tindle boasts that he hasn't made any journalists redundant, even in the recession. But he leaves posts unfilled and increases the workload on those left behind so that they can't do the good job they want to do. What is Tindle's plan? Probably, ultimately, to plug the editorial gap with content provided free by "citizen journalists", sending in reports and photographs.

Tindle's newspaper group made £3 million last year. Tindle is a rich man, and his son will inherit his empire. Tindle has worked hard, but his journalists, many hundreds of them, work hard too keeping him rich and building up a nice pot for his heirs. I don't think Tindle newspaper readers should start feeding in their own labours for nothing on top of that! Let's have some pride!

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