NUJ struggle is sad reflection of things at the Mirror

 Difficult times at Canary Wharf and for journalist trade unionists, just at the point when they both need each other’s help, says NORMAN GILLER

During the tsunami of turmoil at Trinity Mirror, the journalists have never been in more need of a strong union to represent and protect them. How alarming, then, that the crisis comes as the NUJ itself is buckling on the brink of bankruptcy.

The Mirror titles: three papers' staff into one won't go

National Union of Journalists’ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet has warned that her union could be insolvent by October, and her emergency rescue plan reveals that NUJ membership has fallen 18 per cent in the last five years – surely a reflection of the widespread job cuts across the industry.

As a member of 55 years, I am braced for a rise in subscriptions but I wonder what sort of reaction a plea for extra money will get from journalists at the Mirror, where bodies have been tumbling as thick and fast as Fred Michel text messages.

It was not so long ago that the Mirror was firmly a Labour paper, where the presence of an NUJ chapel was taken for granted. Now, Liverpool-born Stanistreet – the first woman leader of the union – is having to try to get formal recognition rights from the Trinity Mirror management, while also trying to save the NUJ and her job.

The relatively infant British Association of Journalists is the recognised “union” at Trinity Mirror but many now redundant staffers consider it has been toothless during the savage cutting of staff.

As the Daily and Sunday Mirror switch to a seven-day operation – minus sacked editors Richard Wallace and Tina Weaver – an old friend captured the mood in their glass tower at Canary Wharf. “How can the NUJ come to our rescue when they need rescuing themselves?” he asked.

“We are getting flattened here, and have no muscle and no fighting spirit. The BAJ is just as powerless. We are still waiting to see exactly how the seven-day operation affects us, but it is obvious they are eventually looking for one staff to do what two staffs have always done in the past.”

The NUJ's Michelle Stanistreet campaigning with her predecessor as general secretary, Jeremy Dear: can she save journalists' jobs, and the NUJ?

Another former colleague told me from No1 Canada Square: “I have never known morale so low. Sly Bailey is leaving with her bag full of money, while many of us don’t know where our future lies.

“This is when we should be counting on the NUJ, but the management knows they are on their knees. They are going into a gunfight with no bullets to fire. We are looking to the BAJ to make a stand but there is no confidence we can do anything to stop being trampled on.

“How long before The People is dragged into the mess? The demand for one staff for three papers is the big fear.”

The Mirror management is trying to disguise their sudden shift of emphasis as a carefully planned move into the new world of multi-media publishing, while those of us with our eyes open see it as copycatting what has happened at other groups like the Independent, Express Newspapers and the now seven-day Sun. It looks a panic measure that can only weaken the Mirror brand already bloodied and bruised following the Sly Bailey reign of error.

I WONDER what Bob Edwards would have made of the mayhem at the Mirror?

The old Fleet Street giant, who passed on this week at the age of 86, edited both the Daily and the Sunday Mirror, along with the Daily Express (twice), Tribune, the Glasgow Evening Citizen and The People in one of the most remarkable of all journalistic careers.

It was Bob who rubber stamped my appointment as successor to Mike Langley on the Daily Express sports desk in 1964, when the daily sales were 4.3 million.

He shook my hand and said: “Welcome aboard the greatest newspaper in the world. There is no greater privilege for a reporter than to be an Express man.”

Old school: Bob Edwards

My pride dropped several rungs a while later when he was quoted as saying: “Reporters? They are just taxis on a rank. To get one, all I have to do is snap my fingers.”

Bob, famous for his Savile Rowe suits, Cuban cigars and beacon of a smile, was a champagne socialist with expensive tastes. He liked to start a dinner table conversation by saying: “Did I tell you about when I was sacked by the Daily Express … for the second time …”

He had love-hate relationships with his proprietors, Lord Beaverbrook, Max Aitken, and Robber [sic] Maxwell, and was an old-fashioned Fleet Street man with newspaper ink in his veins.

Bob was not a sports fanatic, but knew its value as a seller of papers. “I know there are many people who read the Express from back to front,” he acknowledged, “so I want the best possible writing and reporting at both ends of the paper.”

His longest stint was 13 years as editor of the Sunday Mirror. He would have eaten Sly Bailey for breakfast.


Thu June 7: SJA Ladbrokes Lunch with Hugh Robertson, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics. Click here for booking details.