Report by Tim Dawson.
Trades unions have not always been the quickest to adopt new means to communicate, in part because of an institutionalised ambivalence to technological change. It perhaps explains why reporting this sector is one that that has attracted relatively few online operations.
Into this gap step two recent past presidents of the National Union of Journalists (in the United Kingdom and Ireland) with a mission “to apply strong news values to what we do, but with our maxim of ‘investigate, collaborate, agitate’”.
Union-news.co.uk combines daily trades union news with video packages, features written by trades unionists and labour-movement campaign news. It is the work of Tim Lezzard and Pete Murray. The former is based in the south west, and is a former regional newspaper reporter. The latter worked for many years as a journalists and producer for the BBC and is based in Glasgow.
Launched a couple of weeks ago, Murray says that they have been pleased with the numbers they have attracted to date. “We had about 3,000 visitors in the first week, and we have had very encouraging responses from the unions that we have worked with”.
Revenue comes from advertising – mainly from trades unions themselves, although their model is rather different to a consumer magazine. Some unions are placing banner ads as an act of solidarity, and to help the venture get up and running – it is an idea that has a long history in the labour movement. In return for such help, Union-news will run advertorial style features on some union’s campaigns – a current example being the postal workers’ union’s demand for fresh dangerous dogs legislation.
Neither are expecting to make a living from the site initially – Lezzard works part-time for the South West TUC, Murray hopes to work as a film-maker and trainer for trades unions on his own account. Nevertheless, they are committed to posting daily news and hope to take at least some income from the site in the fullness of time.
With a focus on UK trades unionism, Murray believes that their main competition comes from the Morning Star’s website. “Our videos are already better than theirs, though”, he says.
The sector they are covering is one that has endured, even if it is a shadow of the force that it was during the 1960s and 1970s. In those days, most national newspapers employed an ‘industrial desk’ of up to half a dozen reporters covering trades union affairs. Today, many newspapers don’t have a single industrial correspondent. With six and a half million members, however, trades unions represent arguably the largest civic body in the UK. Whether they represent a community of interest, however, is another matter.
“The vast majority of trades union members don’t have much care for their union save when it directly affects their live – because of a pay deal, or if they are facing redundancy”, said one senior official of the Unite union.
“And most trades union activists are only really bothered about what is happing in their own union,” he added. “Good luck to Union-news if they can make it work, but I suspect that like so many websites, the will struggle to keep up the interest”.
Lezzard and Murray also face some formidable reporting challenges. They are committed to providing coverage in an unbiased and balanced way. The unions for which they depend for their income, however, can be quick to take offence if things are not written up as they think that they should be.
Nevertheless, with their extensive contacts in the movement and track record as journalists, they stand a better chance than most of grafting a living from the movement.