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One of Britain’s leading investigative reporters quoted the legendary ex-editor of The Sunday Times when endorsing Mark Watts to be elected editor of the Journalist.
Tony Collins, executive editor of Computer Weekly, said: “The great Sir Harold Evans told Guardian journalists on October 1, ‘Peeling the onion, peeling the onion... That’s what’s being lost. The vital stuff of placing things on the record, of challenging the official account.
“‘These monsters who have taken over papers in America today have lost sight of it. We have to keep doing it. Not in a partisan way – just let’s find out what the bloody facts are!’
“That’s Mark’s strength. And, as he says, he is not a union hack. I for one would not want to read a journal about union politics. I strongly recommend Mark for the job.”
Collins is best known for breaking a string of investigative stories about failed government computer projects and the Chinook helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994 that claimed 29 lives – including 25 senior police and intelligence officers.
He is among a group of leading journalists to have joined the campaign to elect Watts – freelance reporter, broadcaster and FOIA Centre co-ordinator – as editor of the magazine published by the national union of journalists (NUJ). Some are identified below and others in a separate article.
Andrew Veitch, a documentary maker for BBC World, also referred to Britain’s most celebrated former editor, saying: “I have known and worked with Mark Watts for many years, way back to the ‘arms to Iraq’ scandal before the first Gulf war. He is, in my view, a superb investigative journalist. Given the chance, Harry Evans would have hired him.”
Veitch is a former medical correspondent on The Guardian and science correspondent for Channel 4 News. He has been an NUJ member for “40 years plus” and, like Watts, is a member of the union’s London freelance branch.
“The Journalist should certainly reflect the views of members, support campaigns for decent pay and conditions, and inform and unite the union. But it should also continue to be a standard-bearer for hard, original journalism. I am confident that Mark, as editor, will do all these things.”
The Edinburgh-based political commentator, Ham-ish Macdonell, who was political editor of The Scotsman for eight years until June, said: “At a time like this, when journalism and journalists are under threat like never before, it is vital that the Journalist reflects what is really going on in this industry of ours.
“I have known Mark Watts, as a friend and as a journalist, for two decades now and I can think of no one better to lead the Journalist at this time.
“He has an excellent pedigree as an investigative reporter, is respected within the whole news-gathering sector and, most importantly, he will make sure that the Journalist has a distinctively independent voice."
Martin Short, veteran feature writer, author and television documentary producer, said: “At a time when outlets for real journalism are facing extinction, and union members in all media are losing their jobs or being forced to accept punitive pay cuts, the magazine needs an editor who combines the broadest employment experience with formidable muck-raking skills.”
Author of Crime Inc., Inside The Brotherhood and co-author of The Fall Of Scotland Yard, Short has produced or presented many series on organized crime, the mafia, and police corruption. He said: “We need someone who can both dig out the often shocking stories affecting the livelihoods of our colleagues and crystallise the huge issues affecting the communications industries as a whole. Few NUJ members combine these skills better than Mark Watts.
“With his commitment to developing the Journalist online – along with his wit and good humour – he will also help cast off the doom-and-gloom mood that could otherwise engulf us in these dark times. Mark Watts is my editor of choice, and, I urge, yours too.”
The Hull-based photojournalist and writer, Lee Karen Stow, said: “I believe the Journalist should serve long-standing journalists like me by outlining the enormous issues that face us, rather than dish out to us union politics.
“It should be independent and carry as much news as possible about jobs or opportunities for work in the industry and serve as a showcase for our work. It should be interested in how we, as journalists, are trying to weave our way through these changes in order to survive. I believe Mark Watts is capable of turning the Journalist into a magazine for us.”
Eddie Oyortey, a television producer who has made documentaries for Channel 4 and the BBC, said: “I have worked with Mark and he always manages to make waves with the current-affairs programmes he has made, as well as during his time in newspapers. With him as editor, the NUJ subs will be worth paying just for the Journalist alone.”
Manchester-based Alison Winward said: “The Journalist can run umpteen campaigns and make countless appeals for support for union activities, but they are only effective if journalists read the magazine to learn about them.”
The former NUJ mother-of-chapel at Greater Manchester Weekly Newspapers continued: “Mark Watts has laid out ideas for making the magazine not just a good read for union activists, but also attractive to journalists in general, those who perhaps normally would just switch off at the mention of ‘NUJ’. Get them to read the magazine simply because they find it interesting, and who knows where that could lead.
“Mark has the experience and contacts – in the regions and the metropolis, print and broadcast – to unearth and stand up stories to pique the interest of general NUJ readers as well as union activists.”
Kevin Cahill, freelance investigative journalist and author of several books, including Who Owns the World: The Hidden Facts Behind Landownership, said: “Mark Watts stands head and shoulders above the other candidates.”
An NUJ member for 36 years, Cahill is a former secretary of the union’s London freelance branch. He is well-known in Britain and Ireland as one of the best “story-getting” investigative journalists and worked with Watts on several political investigations, including into Tory funding, “arms to Iraq”, as well as making a series of revelations for ITV’s World in Action and elsewhere on Jonathan Aitken, the former cabinet minister.
Cahill continued: “He has a strong media presence on TV currently and has an absolutely clear vision for where he wants to take the Journalist. What he proposes for the Journalist is exactly what I want to see the Journalist doing. It should break the news on our industry, something that will significantly enhance the reputation of the NUJ.”
Watts said: “I am fortunate to have the support of such inspiring journalists.”
“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.”
The other seven candidates in the election are: Timothy Arnold, a freelance with broadcasting experience; Christine Buckley, former industrial editor of The Times; Michael Cross, a freelance who writes for The Guardian; Frank Morgan, Daily Record sub-editor; Richard Simcox, “NUJ Left” candidate who edits another union magazine; David Tilley, Trinity Mirror content editor; and Steven Usher, Daily Star father-of-chapel (FoC).
Many in the union’s leadership associated with the “NUJ Left” alliance believe that an “activist” should
edit the Journalist to galvanise members into taking action to improve pay and conditions.
However, Watts says that the editor of the Journalist should be, fundamentally, a journalist rather than an activist, and one prepared to keep the magazine independent of the NUJ leadership.
Some leading journalists who support the argument for a journalist rather than an activist are backing Usher, including, according to his e-mail circular to NUJ members last week, Francis Wheen, the writer and broadcaster, and Richard Wray, communications editor on The Guardian.
And some others who prefer a journalist to an activist for the job are backing Buckley, according to her campaign literature, including: Kevin Maguire, associate editor, Daily Mirror; Paul Routledge, political commentator, Daily Mirror; David Hencke, former Whitehall correspondent, The Guardian; Barrie Clement, former Labour editor and deputy FoC, The Independent; and Stephen Evans, presenter, BBC World Service.
on this article
Top journalists back Watts election campaign
Watts campaigns for independent Journalist
FOIA specialist in election for Journalist editorship
Journalistic background of Mark Watts
Comments on Journalist election (7)