European journalists: Comrades in Arms?


Grim announcements catch our attention daily as we peruse the pages of the mainstream daily press. Standard reading may include bits like:
The Dutch newspaper group Telegraaf Media Group (TMG) announced the closure at the end of the year of its Sunday edition, De Telegraaf, due to drop of advertising revenue….

The is looking for a handful of paid bloggers with journalistic qualifications to launch a local news project in a small number of locations to help cover community news…

The New York Times announced on Monday, 19 October, plans to cut 100 jobs from its newsroom, about 8 percent of its news staff, by the end of the year.

An assistant editor is gearing up for a new life as a driving instructor, bringing to a halt a 32-year career in regional newspapers.

But more disheartening than dwindling newspaper circulations and hundreds of job losses is watching colleagues voluntarily hanging up their notebooks to try their luck in other sectors.

Building camaraderie

The harsh situation journalists face today has prompted attempts to build a sense of solidarity among colleagues.  Members of the media sector, both in print and audiovisual, are organising campaigns and unions to debate strategies in the face of redundancies, declining salaries and bad work conditions. Perhaps this climate may not have resulted without such upheaval.
A study launched by journalism researchers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) in Preston, England, unites academics with the staff at in the pursuit of compiling data from former UK newspaper journalists. The study examines what happens with in their professional lives after leaving the newsroom.

The questionnaire, designed at UCLAN, wants to “to know their experiences of being laid off , how they have adapted in their personal and professional lives since leaving the newspaper, and also look at the gaps that the layoffs leave in the industry: gaps in experience, perspective and professional memory,” said Judith Townend, news reporter at

The survey is being carried out with the assumption that “journalists are under severe strain.” As such, considers “the loss of manpower and its impact on journalism in the public interest an issue that has to be addressed.”

To portray the struggle British journalists face it would be appropriate here to report that on the same day my interview with Judith Townend was conducted, 40 redundancies were announced at Trinity Mirror’s Birmingham division.

Research will certainly not enable laid-off journalists to return to their jobs. But it will be a tool for building a sense of self-interested behaviour among remaining reporters. This group will need to pool knowledge to deal with cuts collectively.

Townend said the study will “ help the wider industry and also UCLAN’s work with newsroom managers and the curriculum on offer to would-be journalists at UCLAN.”
Online social networks have also become a meeting point for some media professionals seeking to share their experiences and deliver their messages. Such is the case of the Spanish group Por la Dignidad de los Periodistas y los Trabajadores de los Medios (For the Dignity of Journalists and Media Professionals), created on Facebook in December, 2008, as a direct response to the loss of 1,500 journalism jobs within the first six months of 2008. This group assembles journalists, students, and unemployed professionals who circulate ideas for dignifying our profession and fighting the crisis affecting it.

The rise of these associations should not be depicted as a bizarre trend in a country like Spain where journalism is a wholly unregulated sector. In Spain, labor rights have historically been introduced through collective agreements and bargaining processes. Affiliation with trade unions has rising in the last decades in Spain but membership does not reach the levels of southern European countries like Portugal or Italy, where union affiliation is on average 80 percent.

Building a strong professional sense of camaraderie among practitioners of our profession should be a major concentration; it is especially so during an era in which media moguls are leading a transition that does not prioritise the defence of quality journalism.

Camaraderie was the objective pursued at the annual meeting of the European Federation of Journalists, held 17 May, 2009, in Varna, Bulgaria. This conference joined together leaders of unions and associations from 25 European countries and concluded with the declaration, Journalism in the Vanguard of Change
Change indeed. These are bruising times for our vocation. Starting halfway through 2008 and up through 2009 there have been media industry jobs dismissals all over Europe. To cite but a few numbers: around 1,000 in Germany and 3,000 between the UK and Spain. These numbers do not include the employ of freelancers, widespread all over the European Union.

Facing the crisis

Cash-strapped media companies strive to find new ways to lower expenses to gain ground on advertising losses and dwindling circulations. This makes the search for new revenue streams all the more compelling for any journalist.

If one observes this search we come across ideas like the one adopted by The Times and the Sunday Times, which decided to launch a membership scheme enticing their readers with special offers and access to exclusive events in return for a £50 pound annual fee. This measure comes a few months after Rupert Murdoch announced the introduction of charges to access all his news websites next summer due to a huge losses incurred by in his global empire.

A different and original business model appears on stage Niiu, the first “personalised” newspaper in Europe due to kick off in Germany on 16 November. Niiu will not only provide news from major German titles like Handelsblatt, Bild and Tagesspiegel, or foreign ones such as the Herald Tribune and the New York Times; it will also include major blogs and Internet news sources. Customers, mainly a young audience, will be able to choose the length of their customised paper. It can range from only eight pages to 60 pages per day.

In the middle of this business crusade journalists must stay true to the best tools we have to cope with the media crisis: quality stories and respect for the unchangeable principles that have always buttressed our profession. Neither a long-term contract in one of the worldwide communications companies nor our powerful editor in chief makes us be a steady journalist; rather we go forward in fidelity to and partnership with our readers, viewers and listeners.

Flickr images from users Roger Blackwell, Steve Rhodes, Leo Reynolds and tomroper