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Former BBC political correspondent Nicholas Jones today joined the army of eminent journalists who want to see FOIA specialist Mark Watts elected as Journalist editor.
Leading journalists from the UK and Ireland are backing a campaign to elect Watts – freelance reporter, broadcaster as well as the FOIA Centre co-ordinator – as editor of the magazine published by the national union of journalists (NUJ) for its members.
Jones, a national council member of the campaign for press and broadcasting freedom, said: “At a time of great uncertainty, the NUJ needs to up its game and help journalists regain a sense of collective purpose and pride, a challenge which Mark Watts appears to have taken on board with gusto.”
The author of several books revealing secrets of the spin doctors, including, Trading Information: Leaks, Lies and Tip-offs; Soundbites and Spin Doctors; Sultans of Spin and The Control Freaks, Jones continued: “Watts has an established record as a campaigner on freedom of information and defender of professional standards.
“When so many journalists are either losing their jobs or have uncertain futures, the next editor has to ensure that the Journalist becomes an effective forum in helping the NUJ guide its members through the worst crisis in the lifetime of most journalists.”
Meanwhile, Mark Lloyd, the former Channel 4 News reporter who has since qualified as a barrister and who specialises in conducting research projects, joined two former colleagues from the programme, Jon Snow and Andrew Veitch, in back-
Lloyd said: “I too have known and worked with Mark Watts from the days when Sunday Business (before its slide from grace) was in the same building as Channel 4 News.
“His stories were always hard-hitting and metic-ulous in their exposure of wrong-doing. The kind of approach, in other words, I would like to see the Journalist take more often: even if it means a more truly independent stance from the union leadership.”
Watts is standing on the basis of ensuring that the Journalist must be independent – of the NUJ leader-ship or any other entity – and become an agenda-setting magazine aimed at serving only the union’s members.
Kevin Cahill, freelance investigative journalist and author of several books, including Who Owns the World: The Hidden Facts Behind Landownership, and who has already come out in support of Watts, called on fellow NUJ members not to allow a candidate who was part of a political faction within the NUJ to take control of the Journalist as its editor.
He said: “The appeal to factionalism of any kind is wrong in relation to this job.”
A former secretary of the union’s London freelance branch (LFB), Cahill continued: “Over the 36 years of my membership, I have seen right and left damage the union’s purpose and function.”
Referring to the newspaper columnist, he added: “Bernard Levin was no contributor to union unity at the LFB, nor were his left-wing enemies. The result was a paralysed branch.
“What we should be aiming for here is to get the best possible journalist on the shortlist, into the job.
“We need to prove to the wider public that journal-ism is important, has meaning in their lives, and we will do that through a properly run, properly edited magazine, where all our colleagues find inspiration and stories. For my money, the journalist for the job is Mark Watts.”
Scott Shillum, former picture editor of Sunday Business (1995-1999) and The European (1990-1995), and now managing director of VisualMedia, which provides video and photography services to companies, organisations, public relations agencies and the media, said: “I have known Mark since we worked together at Sunday Business, where I was picture editor. He has an incredible passion for journalism and was always a pleasure to deal with. Our photographers often worked alongside Mark and the feedback was always positive.
“I have also used Mark’s considerable broadcast-ing skills at VisualMedia, where we often interview very senior business figures for web-based video output. He is an accomplished interviewer and presenter, and it is clear that he has a very broad understanding of the media world from both a trad-itional and a modern-world perspective. He would be a great asset were he to be elected to the editorship of the Journalist.”
Meanwhile, the author, freelance journalist and lecturer on radio journalism at Solent University Southampton, Martin Buckley, who has worked as a BBC producer, is a regular contributor to Radio 4 and feature writer for the ‘quality’ newspapers, said: “I have known Mark Watts in a personal and professional capacity for three years. I would supp-ort his candidacy because he seems to me to be a real journalist in the ways that really matter.
“First, he has first-rate journalistic instincts -- a forensic intelligence, restless curiosity and a terrific nose for a story. Second, he is scrupulously fair and honest -- pretty fearless too. Indeed, he relish-es a challenge from any direction.
“Mark has worked in print and broadcast, and he well understands the tough period of transformation that journalism faces. For him to be at the helm of the Journalist would, in these turbulent times for the profession, send the message to journalists that they had a real, tough, committed fighter working for their interests, ready and willing to go the extra mile in support of their cause.”
Brendan Martin, a freelance writer who has been in the NUJ for 33 years – formerly LFB chair, NEC member, and father-of-chapel – said: “Mark Watts represents the finest traditions of journalism and our union, and combines it with the commitment and know-how needed to modernise our communications.
“The choice in this election has a parallel in the attack on independent local journalism, undermined both by greedy employers and council free-sheets. Do we want the kind of PR rubbish other unions send to their members, or a forum for the whole membership that strengthens the union where the greatest strength is needed – at the grassroots?
“Mark's plans for the Journalist, in print and especially online, are fundamentally democratic in spirit and intent. I urge you to vote Mark Watts 1, Steve Usher 2.”
Tracey Kandohla, Midlands-based freelance re-porter and previously a news reporter on The Sun for 11 years, said: “Mark Watts wins my vote. He will bring to the job the same grit and flair he impressed us with when he was in working in Fleet Street. His talent, strong leadership, commitment to the NUJ and success in fighting for rights will help take the Journalist forward in 2010.
“What makes Mark stand above the other cand-idates is that he knows inside out, and has worked on, all aspects of the media – newspapers, magazines (consumer and trade), television and books. He is as in tune with the tabloids as the broadsheets and provincial press, and understands the importance of both print and online production.
“His experience and skills will be a huge asset to the Journalist."
Watts said: “I am pleased to see so many highly respected journalists joining this campaign.”
He said that he had been inundated with mess-ages of support. “The problem with my not being a politician in this situation is that I do not have a campaign team to handle the enormous feedback that I am receiving.”
A hastily assembled small group of journalists scattered around the UK and Ireland are helping him by working furiously to respond to the messages. Watts added: “Every one of these journalists is firmly committed to the principle of ensuring that the Journalist remains independent of the NUJ leader-ship or anyone else, for the good of every member of the NUJ – individually and collectively.
“But this absolutely remains an open race, and we need members to vote so that they can have the magazine they want. Do not delay, do it today.”
Ballot papers in the election for the Journalist editorship have been arriving with NUJ members since the beginning of October, 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 hustings for union members on Thursday October 22.
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