We are now well and truly in the conference season – and not just the TUC and the political parties but also the annual gathering of our own Chartered Institute of Journalists and IOJ(TU). Yes, the Institute’s AGM is almost upon us, and, despite our Head Office in Surrey Quays having closed earlier this year, we are returning to our old home in Docklands for, perhaps, one last time. The venue chosen for our 2018 conference is the Canada Water Library, conveniently located above the Jubilee Line underground station and just two minutes’ walk from our old HQ, Dock Offices.
My first Institute conference was Liverpool, 1987. In those days there were debates about many contentious topics, but none generated more heat (and less light!) than the seemingly routine arguments between full-time employed staff of media organisations – at that time the majority of Institute members – and self-employed, freelance journalists. Nowadays most CIoJ members, and indeed the great majority of journalists generally, are self-employed, but it was the reverse in those days. Some staffers at the Liverpool conference had an unfairly scathing opinion of freelances, to which they gave vent on the conference floor. A particular target were the “hobbyists”. This was used as a pejorative term for journalists on “special interest” publications. So, if you were working for, say, Pigeon-Fancier’s Gazette or Knitting Pattern Monthly, you were likely to face a certain amount of disdain from some of the other conference delegates! Officially, of course, the Institute maintained no distinction between an economics correspondent working for the Financial Times and the traction-engine correspondent of Vintage Vehicles Weekly, but professional snobbery creeps into every organisation, to some extent, and the Institute of Journalists back in the 1980s was no exception.
Of course, in those days the established career path in the journalistic profession was fairly clear. For most it began with a stint on a local newspaper, an NCTJ proficiency certificate, and on into a large-circulation regional weekly or daily, or a glossy magazine – and then, eventually, a national daily or Sunday paper. In broadcasting it was even more cut and dried as the BBC was then, as to a great extent it still is, the dominant organisation in the UK broadcast media, and the BBC’s graduate entry programme has been the favoured route into the industry for many thousands of journalists over the years. Now, though, we also have a plethora of different training and work opportunities for those seeking a journalistic career, and the nature of the profession has changed almost beyond recognition since that Liverpool conference in the mid-’80s. It is hard to see why “proper journalists” in 2018 would have the nerve to sneer at those who write for online media or broadcast only on the web – although I’m sure some do! Similarly, those “hobbyists” – part-time and self-employed writers whose work appears in specialist publications for anglers or stamp-collectors, or who have a regular gardening slot on local radio – would surely not need to justify themselves to staff reporters on the Daily Mirror or the Yorkshire Evening Post.
In fact, journalism is, and always has been, an incredibly diverse profession and, in consequence, the Chartered Institute of Journalists is an exceptionally “broad church”. If you don’t believe me, come along to our annual conference at Canada Water and find out!