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FOIA Centre co-ordinator Mark Watts is campaigning for the new editor of the Journalist magazine to be a journalist at heart – not an activist.
He is running in the election for the post, to be decided in a ballot of members of the national union of journalists (NUJ), because he thinks that only he out of eight shortlisted candidates can offer the clear vision of an agenda-setting magazine independent of the union’s leadership.
He says: “This is my pitch. We need a journalist – an independent journalist – for editor of the Journalist.”
But it has proved a controversial stance, and it is the big debating point in the election.
Many key figures in the union’s leadership ass-ociated with the “NUJ Left” alliance argue that the
Journalist should be an “activist” publication focussed on galvanising members into taking action to improve pay and conditions.
Watts was co-father-of-chapel at Sunday Bus-iness, and successfully fought an employment tribunal – with NUJ backing – for unfair dismissal after being fired for sending two internal e-mails to managers protesting about job cuts.
He says in his election address that he would, as editor, focus the Journalist to become an agenda-setting magazine, breaking more exclusive stories about the media industry and becoming a “must-read” for journalists. He also wants to increase its frequency and launch a “proper website”.
He writes: “I am not a union ‘hack’. I am a journalist. I am a journalist who has, of course, belonged to the NUJ throughout his career. I have been a supporter of the NUJ and its campaigns, and have been active at chapel level. But, fund-amentally, I am about journalism rather than trade unionism.”
“I strongly believe in independent journalism, and that must apply to what is published in the Journalist. I would ensure that it keeps independent of the NUJ leadership and serves journalists who belong to the NUJ.”
He added: “If we at the NUJ do not believe in journalism, then I am not sure who will.”
Many top journalists have come out to support his
stand, since he launched his campaign less than two weeks ago, that the editor of the magazine should be independent of the NUJ leadership.
Watts said: “This is seen as such a radical idea to many at NUJ HQ, and to many of the NUJ’s highly committed political activists who are undoubtedly very effective campaigners and who will, I am sure, vote diligently in this election.
“I am also certain, however, that the vast majority of NUJ members agree with me.”
Leading figures in the NUJ who are not part of the “NUJ Left” network estimate that it can deliver up to 400 votes. This may seem tiny, but only 1,000 members are expected to post their ballots in the election, less than 4% of the NUJ membership.
Watts said: “Turnout in NUJ elections is, in gen-eral, very low. We should aim at least to double this anticipated turnout in order to dilute that hardcore vote. I want the result better to reflect the true wishes of NUJ members.
“In effect, this election will be decided by the turnout. NUJ members must take control of their union and not leave it to any single political faction – left or right, extreme or otherwise.
“I am calling on all NUJ members who care about journalism to show what kind of magazine they want. And they can only do that by voting. There is a clear choice.”
Ballot papers in the election for the Journalist editorship were mailed last week and should be arriving with NUJ members over the next few days, with the closing date for receipt of votes on November 6. The result is due to be announced later that day.
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