The Student Conference at the NUJ Centenary ADM in Birmingham finally got under way this afternoon after much confusion over the whereabouts of the London delegation. It all kicked off around 2pm with a discussion surrounding the role of an NUJ Chapel within Universities and Colleges in the UK and Ireland. We discussed the role that student NUJ Chapels could play in our third level institutions. The format of a Chapel relies heavily upon whether or not Journalism is recognised as a formal academic discipline within your university or college. For example, as students from a university devoid of any formal Journalism degree course or masters: we found that our version of an NUJ Chapel, the UCC Journalism Society, does a lot of what a school of journalism would do in other universities. We organise guest speakers, careers evenings, conferences, workshops etc. In terms of an NUJ Chapel in Leeds University, for instance, we have very different objectives, however we have many common primary goals as we discussed at the conference today:
- To represent our members to the best of our ability.
- To offer advice and guidance where possible.
- To disemminate information from the main Union body and other relevant point of information.
- To liaise between the student members and the college authorities/ NUS (UK)/ USI (IRL).
- To act as a medium to recruit new student members to the NUJ.
- To support wider campaigns of student unions on national issues, i.e. funding levels, tuition fees etc.
- To act as a social network for members.
- To offer a medium to our members in which they could make contacts with those already working within the industry.
All student delegates were encouraged to go about setting up student chapels within their third level institutions.
Mr. Chris Morley (President of the NUJ) and Mr. Jeremy Dear (Gen. Secretary of the NUJ) addressed the student conference and offered us an insight into their individual roles within the Union, however it was the debate surrounding Work Experience for student members that injected a spark into the proceedings. Mr Dear illustrated the findings of a recent study undertaken by the NUJ in the area of student work experience. He spoke of horror stories where student journalists had worked in placements for as long as 11 months without receiving payment for their work. It was universally agreed that this was not a satisfactory situation, however, there were reservations with regard to the regulation of Work Experience. Some students voiced their fears that, if over-regulated, work experience spaces would decline due to the hassle involved for editors to take students on. The delegation was unanimous in it’s support for the work of the NUJ in this area, however, many students were still apprehensive about the possible effects of strict regulations.
NUJ and the NUS
One group photo later, the delegation wereback in their seats for further discussion. This time, we were debating a proposed agreement for the resolution of disputes between student media (the NUJ) and the student unions (the NUS) of third level institutions. The agreement, if accepted by both the NUS and NUJ would “allow either side to raise an issue without it developing into an immediate dispute”. In a format of similar guise to a general grievances procedure, the delegation adopted, without any amendments worth mentioning, the proposed agreement.
A brief discussion ensued with regard to the nature of the appointment of student editors and the systems in place in universities with respect to legal responsibility for articles published. The UCC delegation highlighted its dissatisfaction at the election of an editor to the post of student editor at Leeds University. An editor must be appointed not elected, so as to ensure the individual has the skills necessary to execute their responsibilities efficiently and successfully. The UCC delegation also expressed the need for student editors to be trained in team management and positive communication skills as well as a basic understanding of libel law. It was suggested that the NUJ could co-ordinate a day long event where student editors could acquire these essential skills.
The UCC delegation also outlined the procedure for proofing its publication “Motley” for potentially libelous articles. The magazine is sent to the Chief Legal Officer of the University for a libel scan and if so required the editor has access to external experts in Dublin who can independently assess the magazine should it contain an article about the university itself, whereby the Chief Legal Officer’s opinion would be biased.
UCC also pointed to the possibility for larger third level institutions with multiple publications to set up a publications committee, similar to a press council which would oversee insurance, disputes, funding etc. This would also allow each publication to enjoy editorial independence from student unions etc.
An interesting debate overall!