Friday, October 05, 2007

Remember Peterloo: Journalists to Lobby Editors

Melodramatic press releases usually find their way straight into the bin. But when the National Union of Journalists - ever fair and balanced remember - call on the spirit of the Peterloo Massacre it's hard to look away and walk on by.

There could certainly be fireworks in Manchester on Monday 5 November ... not least as scribblers and snappers give their editors a rocket: Stand up to greedy media owners! (Enough of this corny hackery already. Ed)

The National Union of Journalists is organising a lobby of the Society of Editors conference at the Radisson Hotel on Peter Street.

Union president Michelle Stanistreet, of the Sunday Express, said: “The media is owned by a smaller and smaller group of extremely wealthy corporations. They make big profits but they want more. So journalists face a constant round of job cuts and dwindling editorial budgets. This means that more and more news is just recycled press releases.

“We want our editors to join with us and stand up to the culture of cuts. If they believe that journalism is important for democracy and for local communities they must take a stand."

All things considered they should be pushing at an open door (this is I think the SoE mission statement and a rallying cry from their president) :

The Society of Editors works to protect the freedom of all sectors of the media to report on behalf of the public.

Society members share the values that matter:

- The universal right to freedom of expression
- The importance of the vitality of the news media in a democratic society
- The promotion of press and broadcasting freedom and the public’s right to know
- The commitment to high editorial standards

“If we are willing to embrace the opportunities now available to us, this will be the industry's heyday. Now is the time to be bold, to experiment, to be prepared to fail and then have another go.”

Paul Horrocks
President, Society of Editors and Editor, Manchester Evening News

“The editors are meeting on a site that was developed to commemorate the Peterloo massacre," continues Michelle. "We hope they will take courage from history and seize the moment. ”

This lobby will be the national focus of the snappily named Stand Up For Journalism event. Job cuts and derisory offers, as in West Yorkshire are evidently undermining the vitality and standards the editors champion.

There seems to be less and less time for time for journalists to develop decent stories. In Manchester few Town Hall meetings - even Full Council - are covered from beginning to end by a single journalist.

Whatever MEN newsman David Ottewell may say in comments here edgier stories are simply not getting covered and deep and wide investigations are almost unheard of.

Concentration of ownership locally - even in the hands of what we might consider the more benign Guardian Media Group - is not helping either press workers or reading public. The highly principled Scott Trust scarcely intervene or intercede with either the MEN or the regional and specialist titles. Bean counters appear to have a rather free hand to restructure, close titles and cheap chisel the staff.

Of course the Peterloo Massacre itself back in 1819 occurred in a time of revolutionary changes, not only in calls for representation and suffrage, but also in the development of a free and diverse press.

Edward Baines was rather generous to magistrates and murderous yeomanry in sharing blame with the organisers, Richard Carlile, soon to launch The Republican was more direct, as was John Edward Taylor a writer for the Manchester Gazette which helped organise the event. But he was to break through to a national lead story as chance intervened.

Thomas Barnes was not present but he was editor/proprietor of The Times and let's say "not convinced" of the merits of the cause. He sent John Tyas to get the story - the only national reporter on site. Being kindly seated in the middle of the action with the dangerous radicals themselves Tyas was arrested and imprisoned.

Although he was later able to file copy from prison his furious editor, Barnes, tending to think this arrest was more than chance, didn't hesitate to run a damning report from Taylor. As the establishment paper selling all of 7,000 copies at 7d per day this line boosted the outrage at the killings along with the case for proper representation and wider suffrage.

Carlile's Republican was produced quickly and cheaply. It soon overtook The Times' circulation and was a thorn in the government's side.

A law was introduced to enforce a minimum price. This aimed to strangle "cheap papers". Carlile and many of his colleagues and sellers were imprisoned as a result of their work.

More on 1819 and All That anon.

Miles Barter has more exciting NUJ quotes and details.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget the We remember Peterloo facebook group


Chris Paul said...

Thanks Mr Parbury, how could I? More soon cometh. Leaflets to deliver now though. In time for the, ahem, June 2009, General Election.

Anonymous said...

Good to see the Manchester party machine getting into gear nice and early. Course we planned June 2009 all along...