Debating subbing at NUJ freelance branch

On Monday night I spoke about the future of production journalism at the NUJ’s London Freelance branch, a meeting which drew over 50 people. Rather than throw in the kind of provocative controversialism which often features in this debate, I tried to give some food for thought. Rather than pretend I knew all the answers, I asked some questions, and tried to persuade those present to ask more. I’m told people enjoyed what I had to say, and I certainly enjoyed the friendly and constructive atmosphere – so my thanks to the  branch and all present.

For those not present, here’s a short round-up of some of the points I made.

• Subbing or production journalism is still vital, but we need to recognise how the function has changed. This will enable us to argue positively for the skills required, rather than defensively about the skills supposedly being lost.

• With more ways to deliver content, and more ways for that content to be consumed, isn’t it logical to see that greater expertise in delivery is required?

• While some functions that previously stood separately have merged, there is still a difference between gathering material and delivering it – particularly where news is concerned.

• Good subs or production journalists don’t guarantee quality, and good writers should be able to write clearly and accurately. But journalism, for all the egos involved, works best as a collaborative process and collaboration tends to improve quality.

• To make the best of the technology now available, we need to get the balance between general skills and specialism right – which means recognising the need for  both.

• In the long term, it costs more to neglect quality.

• We need to talk about what technology can enable us to do, rather than what it makes us do, and we need to stop thinking it’s not our job to assert control over the way our job is done.

• There is nothing wrong with examining how technology can reduce hours, create jobs and improve work. Just seeing it as a way to cut costs is short termism.

• For all the very real problems we face, these are exciting, inspiring times for media workers.

There’s much more to say on each one of those points, and it’s fair bet it’ll be said on this blog over the coming months. This is just a brief(ish) round-up. Some of the ideas here are expanded upon in the July issue of InPublishing magazine, which is out in mid-July. Further details as I get them.

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