The latest UnionDues podcast features Britain’s longest serving and best-known industrial correspondent Alan Jones.
Our discussion ranges from growing up in north-east Wales where he “never met anyone who was a Conservative”, summer holiday work experience at a local ‘paper which he then went on to be employed by, covering industrial stories that were at the time the staple material to be printed.
Alan describes how the process of reporting brought him into regular contact with local union reps at big industrial plants like Shotton. “None of this was in any way out of the ordinary,” he says, pointing out that having established himself as an industrial correspondent, it was a natural area to go into when he eventually arrived at the Press Association in the early 1980s. “I found it was as easy to talk to a Chief Executive as a General Secretary of a trade union”, says Alan, emphasising that the vast majority of union officials at all levels have been “nothing but helpful”.
The demise of industrial correspondents
Alan is rueful about the demise of industrial correspondent roles, noting that he probably is “the last man standing” in a once well-populated area. “Not having a group of correspondents covering a particular industry has total shattered how unions are perceived in the media”, adding that specialist reporters “know as much as anyone” about their chosen subject areas.
Some of the recent coverage Alan describes as “appalling”, and this is part of the reason why he stays involved. “It’s a joy to speak to union officials every day and put forward what they are doing,” recognising that when he goes to union conferences, “it’s just me and the Morning Star” and that this in turn underlines the need for a distinct journalistic focus on unions to be maintained.
A brutal strike and devastating aftermath
Alan describes the 1984-5 Miners’ strike as “so long and so vicious” with a “devastating aftermath.” In his view, the strike was also pivotal in the decline of media interest in unions, although the recent resurgence of coverage is “not just about strikes” but a broader sense of injustice.
However, it is not an industrial issue that Alan regards as his biggest story. When he was tipped off that Julian Assange was about to seek refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, he found himself at a partly self-created media whirlwind.
The importance of Julian Assange
Alan is passionate on this matter. If extradited to the USA, Assange probably “will spend the rest of his life in prison just for being a journalist. He was given information about what he thought were war crimes and he published it. There’s an argument he should be decorated…..I think it is important for me to keep the story alive.”
We rounded off a fascinating conversation by chatting about the reality of working for an organisation like Press Association with a global reach. The only downside Alan sees sis that any mistakes are amplified by repetition and reprinting – and making mistakes is part of the human condition.
And finally – what can unions do establish and maintain good relations with the press? The answer is priceless, but you’ll have to listen to find out more.
Why does this matter? And #thought4theweek
But sitting above all this is a fundamental question that Prof Mel Simms addresses in her #thought4theweek which is “Why does this matter so much?”. The answer is a reminder of just how deep we need to dig to protect democracy and rights at work.
You can access the latest and all episodes of UnionDues here.