Much has changed since I sat down to write for the last issue in June. Can it really only be only four months ago? The UK has a new Prime Minister and the nation is set to leave the European Union. The proposed new Charter for the BBC has just been published, and one can but wonder what the prospects are for journalism when the greatest proponent of the seemingly inevitable Snoopers’ Charter now occupies 10 Downing Street: the legislation continues its progress through Parliament, and the Institute continues its opposition to it.
Thought must now turn to our Annual Conference, which this year takes place in Bournemouth. I look forward to seeing many of you there, and to the debates to be had over the future direction of the Institute. I mentioned in the last issue our decision to address the issue of our colleagues who work in online media with a new category of membership tailored specifically to their needs: the eMCIJ for full time on-line journalists, and the AeMCIJ to equate to our existing affiliate membership grade for those who work in on-line journalism but who do not earn the majority of their income from it.
However one views the on-line media, it is a significant and growing presence, and it is not difficult to imagine that at some stage it will if not replace then overtake the dead tree press, be that in five years or 50: it requires no presses, no printers, no distribution network and no trees. We must be in a position to prevent employers deciding it requires no journalists either!
Such a growth also raises other serious questions which are perhaps more evident to the young who increasingly rely on websites for their news rather than those of us – myself included! – who prefer a broadsheet or the BBC. How can you rely on what you read? Current on-line offerings range from the Daily Telegraph through to the conspiracy-theory heavy Infowars and on to the ‘click-bait’ which is designed solely to generate advertising revenue. There is no meaningful press regulation scheme on the increasingly crowded information superhighway, and no guarantee that what is read wasn’t simply made up 10 minutes before it was posted on-line.
It is a problem which I feel we should address, particularly if we are seeking to extend membership to our colleagues who work in this media. To this end there is a motion before Conference which seeks approval to introduce a ‘Chartermark’ for on-line news services and blogs. Such websites could display the Chartermark to signify that they adhere to the Editor’s and the Institute’s codes, and the Institute would offer a voluntary grievance scheme for complaints and maintain an on-line register of those news services who are signed up.
Your thoughts on these issues are not just welcomed, they are invaluable. Our membership is a vast pool of journalistic talent, and there is nobody more capable of providing the insight and experience necessary to make these plans work should we collectively as an Institute decide to pursue them!