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Some of Britain’s leading journalists have joined a campaign to elect Mark Watts – freelance reporter, broadcaster and FOIA Centre co-ordinator – as editor of the Journalist.
From across the media industry and throughout the UK and Ireland, journalists are endorsing the bid by Watts in the editorship election. They have come forward after he declared less than a fortnight ago that he was standing as a candidate to take the helm of the magazine published by the national union of journalists (NUJ) for its members.
They are led by top names from the worlds of national and provincial newspapers, magazines, and television news, current affairs and documentaries. Some are identified below and others in a separate article.
Tim Llewellyn, the BBC’s Middle East corres-pondent for 10 years and a highly regarded writer and broadcaster on the region, said: “I have worked with Mark in broadcast journalism and found him to be professional, imaginative and ruthless in pursuit of the story.
“He is experienced in all areas of our trade, especially that sadly much-overlooked area these days of investigative journalism. Mark is uniquely qualified to inject the Journalist with the new ideas and concepts the publication badly needs in these perilous times for all journalism – print, broadcast and web.”
Meanwhile, Jon Ungoed-Thomas, a reporter specialising in investigations on The Sunday Times, said: “Mark has a well-established reputation for breaking stories on national newspapers and television, and using his investigative skills where others have been reluctant to tread.
“He is one of the journalists who spearheaded the use of freedom of information laws – in this country and overseas. I welcome his plans to continue the campaigning work of the Journalist, to strengthen its news coverage and to increase its online profile.”
The former crime editor of the Sunday Express, Andrea Perry, said: “I have known Mark Watts for a number of years and know him to be a dedicated and determined professional who puts quality journalism first.”
She continued: “Given the state of the industry, communication is key to ensuring the future of journalism and that is why there needs to be a fresh approach to engage with a changing journalistic audience.
“Mark’s broad experience in all areas of the media makes him the ideal choice. He is meticulous and never shies away from fighting for a better media.”
Bill Goodwin, the journalist at the centre of the ground-breaking ‘sources’ case and who represents the NUJ’s biggest victory to date for the journalistic cause, said: “Mark Watts would make an outstand-ing editor for the Journalist. He has very clear ideas how to improve the magazine and to make it a strong, campaigning publication.”
Now news editor of Computer Weekly, Goodwin worked with Watts to expose, for ITV’s The Big Story, The Sunday Telegraph, The Times and The Engineer, how the only two people in the UK jailed in the ‘arms to Iraq’ affair were victims of a set-up by US and UK customs and intelligence officers. They were cleared on appeal after the revelations.
Goodwin added: “Mark brings with him an unrivall-ed range of experience and contacts across all parts of the media. He is an outstanding investigative journalist, and a great defender of journalism and press freedom.”
Elena Cosentino, a television producer working mainly on Panorama and other BBC programmes, formerly of CNN, said: “Mark Watts is my ideal candidate for the Journalist editorship. A born journalist, Mark would bring to the magazine the convictions and rigour of a tenacious and uncompromising, investigative mind.”
“Most importantly, Mark is someone who truly walks the walk. While a loyal and very active member of the NUJ, he has never shied away from calling the NUJ leadership to account whenever he believed it may be slacking or not fulfilling its duties to members.”
Cosentino was awarded £250,000 in a celebrated case for unfair dismissal against CNN and, in a highly unusual judgement, also won costs at employment tribunal against the broadcaster, leaving it with an additional estimated £500,000 legal bill. She had to fight the case with her own lawyers, after the NUJ failed to back her.
She added: “I have no doubts that he will raise the standards of the magazine and encourage a healthy, free debate that will make the Journalist more relevant, and NUJ members more passionate about the union.”
Fiona O'Cleirigh, a freelance television producer, said: “The NUJ needs activists, but the job of editing its journal should fall to someone who is, essentially, a journalist. Mark is an established investigative journalist for print and television, a committed supporter of union values, and a past father-of-chapel.”
She continued: “I have seen Mark march into a manager’s office and demand – and achieve – the reinstatement of a colleague who had been unfairly sacked just two minutes earlier. He can always be relied upon to do what he considers to be the right thing, regardless of the personal risk.”
Angus Young, local government reporter on the Hull Daily Mail and its former father-of-chapel (FoC), worked with Watts at the start of his career. He said: “I am pleased to endorse Mark Watts in the forthcoming election. He cut his teeth as a trainee reporter in Hull and even then demonstrated a passion and commitment to quality journalism.”
“I still tell the story about ringing him on the night of the Lockerbie bombing when he was on the evening late shift at the Mail just to make sure he had heard about it. He replied, ‘Don't worry, I've got it all under control.’”
Many of these journalists, and others, have shown their support for the Watts campaign by commenting on the Press Gazette website, on www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk, www.journalism.co.uk, and a blog by Jon Slattery, the former deputy editor of Press Gazette.
Watts said: “I am really grateful for the support of these leading lights from across our industry, and from many other journalists as well as some prominent NUJ figures.
“They are endorsing not just me, but more import-antly, my campaign for an independent journalist – as distinct from a propagandist or an activist – to be the new editor of the Journalist.”
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.
The NUJ Manchester branch is holding election hustings for union members on Thursday October 22.
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Watts campaigns for independent Journalist
FOIA specialist in election for Journalist editorship
Journalistic background of Mark Watts
Comments on NUJ election (7)