Short Reflections on the Strike: Paying it Backward and Forward

I’ve been a unionised employee since before I got my first degree.

I took journalism at Carleton – a professionally minded sort of degree, to be sure, but one that prepares you for a sceptical viewpoint, a certain allergy to rhetoric, and a disposition not to join things. Not the most promising qualities for union folk.

I wasn’t, however, averse to unions. As I said in a previous reflection, my mother’s background was more Diefenbaker-style conservatism; my father was a generally lefty immigrant from that most liberal of European nations, the Netherlands. We had interesting discussions around the dinner table. The greatest gift I received from those parenting conditions was the example of talking things through and not assuming there was only one right side to an issue. That two people who loved each other could nonetheless disagree on things and it wasn’t fatal.

Anyway, in the third year of my undergrad, I landed an internship with the local CBC radio station. The two-week placements weren’t paid, but if we did anything that got to air – a news story, or booking guests and writing the script for a current affairs interview – we got paid the standard freelance rate. This I managed, and soon after got my very first CBC pay stub… including a deduction for union dues.

It was paltry – like, $2.25 or something. But I queried it with my radio lecturer, who happened also to be a network producer at CBC and an absolute whip of a journalism instructor.

“The union in years past has fought to get that standard freelance rate that you and everyone else gets paid,” she told me. “So you honour that by paying into the union so it can keep fighting on everyone’s behalf.”

CBC employees locked out in Winnipeg, MB, 15 August 2005

“day one: walking in circles” by Agent Magenta, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, found on flickr.com

Well, that made sense. Of course it did. The union isn’t just a relic of the industrial revolution. It has continued to work to improve things, and so we honour the past by paying in the present to keep an advocate for our future.

It’s why my mother didn’t rankle much about joining the BC Ferries Union. It was a trade-off everyone knew about, at least in BC: union jobs meant better wages, but from time to time, you might have to go on strike or something.

This is why I’m so surprised at the voluntary nature of union subscription at the university. This may sound strange to post-Thatcher British ears, but I see a real wisdom in it. I know the independent-minded tradition of Britain is a strong one, and university lecturers are particularly keen on exerting their independence. Again, not a profession of joiners.

I will just close by noting, however, that such independence only goes so far. Everyone is collectively organised in the pension scheme for which we are currently striking. If our union efforts fail, everyone loses out. If we succeed, everyone wins. But only some of us have given up our wages and risked embittering ourselves to management and students alike. Looked at that way, the independence of thought and action looks a little more like timidity.

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Tough Gig

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Sad days for the newspaper industry – in my current home, the UK, with my beloved Guardian, but also in Canada, the country where I learned and practised journalism. The bleeding at Postmedia was painful and shameful (and, thanks to the dubious blessing of social media and the courage of people like Jana Pruden, completely exposed in all its personal minutiae), and then Friday saw the shuttering of the Guelph Mercury and, less significantly for the country (we all know where the power sits) but more significantly for me, the Nanaimo Daily News.

My parents gave me the drop on the Daily News by Skype this week. Nanaimo’s their home, the Daily News their daily, well, news. They knew I’d care because it’s big news from where I grew up, because I study media for a living, and because I used to be a journalist myself until, as happened to so many of my fellow travellers in this reporting game, the axe fell.

But my history with the paper is more entangled even than that paragraph suggests. Barring a mighty letter to the editor of Maclean’s when I was in Grade 9 (yes, I was That Kid), the Daily News was my first gig in journalism. Continue reading

Go Set a Watchman

I confess, I had a difficult time figuring out what to do with the news of Harper Lee’s new publication. When I got home this afternoon, I tweeted a nice message of support for a local band whose new CD is just pressed–we got our copy through the slot today. The music’s great, and the writer/singer/strummer is a friend and former neighbour. Tweeting support was absolutely the right thing to do.

Except I then decided to figure out why people on my feed were talking about “savages” and “Jordanian”, and after a click or two, my cheery tweet seemed somewhat out of place. Twitter is, of course, that cheek-by-jowl blend of grotesque, mundane, inane, and clever. But it felt odd.

So aside this, I see the news about the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, and I feel like I’m being told one of those stories about how Grandma got on the roof. Or like Kramer: I’m flippin, I’m floppin, what am I gonna do?

A couple of hours later, after the kids are abed, I look more into the Harper Lee story. We need good news, right? And the news is all good, as seen in this story from the Guardian… right until the comments from Dr. Ian Patterson from Cambridge University (otherwise known as the University of Cambridge) who was reportedly “underwhelmed by the news.” Dr. Patterson gives it the right smug academic snub, deriding Lee’s first published work as “a soggy sentimental liberal novel if ever there was one.” He doubts, it seems, the lasting power or artistic worth of the unearthed treasure that is about to dazzle all the bestseller lists. Continue reading

It Doesn’t Have to Be that Way

It’s been five years since I worked for CBC in Ottawa. I’m on a different path, now, swiftly approaching the viva for my doctoral thesis at the University of Edinburgh, and although my past work is a part of the work that I’m doing now, it is only in the last couple of weeks that both the “CBC” and the “Ottawa” parts of that past have been so forcefully top of mind.

The way Canada has made international headlines recently, people would be forgiven for wondering if the docility that weaves into our fundamental fabric has been rent or replaced. We watched the shooting of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo whilst on duty at the war memorial and the subsequent and bizarre attack on Parliament Hill and think, This is not the capital of Canada, surely. To those who say Canadians, Ottawans, parliamentarians were complacent, I say I think it was something more subtle than that: we always knew it was possible that Canada would be the target of an attack; we just didn’t believe it would actually happen. It’s a head and heart thing. tweet parliament attack

Anyway, I was gutted watching the news on Twitter, and fearful for my friends and colleagues. The places where I had worked were locked down, and the people I had worked with were out on the streets, unsure if there were any more angry people with guns about and transmitting what little they knew to us, the interested public.

Enough about that. The other headline–one that is perhaps less interesting globally but, like the Tragically Hip, a point of peculiar and perhaps obsessive importance in Canada–concerns former radio host Jian Ghomeshi. Continue reading

Heartsick Condolences and the Inevitable Deja-Vu

"You are the chump"

Fellow former CBC journo Dave Atkinson got the same tap on the shoulder in 2009.

Last week, I was at the inaugural conference for BRAIS – the British Association for Islamic Studies. It’s one of the initiatives assisted by the centre that’s funding me, and it brought together philosophers, historians, language scholars, political scientists, and social researchers like myself, all of whom touch on Islam and Muslims in the work that we do. I presented a paper as part of a panel on Scottish Muslim experiences organised by the Muslims in Britain Research Network; I was also busy as a volunteer support; it was a chance to “network” – crucial for a grad student on the cusp of completing the thesis and looking for “the next step;” and I took it upon myself to live-tweet Aaqil Ahmed’s keynote presentation. Ahmed is the head of religion and ethics for the BBC, and therefore a pretty important guy in the media environment in which I work and conduct my research. I’m not going to say it was the most important two days of my academic career so far, but it was exemplary of both the work I’m doing and the point I’ve arrived at.Michael Munnik presenting at BRAIS 11 April 2014

Thing is, five years ago, I would not have imagined this is where I would be. Continue reading

JHistory – Review of Spreadable Media

So, this is not my academic blog, featuring musings on my research usual disclaimers yadda yadda. But I nonetheless reserve the right to store links to my available ac-writing here, not least to keep things in one place but also to help spread the word. Book reviews are a little easier, especially if they’re not behind any paywall. Tend to be less jargony, easier to get through in a brief sitting.

And this one is a doozy: pertinent to anyone who has a blog, reads a blog, shares a blog (hint hint), or whatever. Plus all those other non-blog things that also count as social media and, somehow, in a Wittgensteinian way look like they hang together. The problems of classification are part of what this book is trying to do. So click on, have a look… and spread it, yo!

“Spreading a New Buzzword to Describe Participatory Culture”: a review of Spreadable Media by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green.

At the book’s very beginning, we are told, “If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead” (p. 1). This is more a buzzy, normative declaration than an empirical observation, and it is our best clue as to what informs the analysis that follows. They set their term against comparable buzzwords: spreadable not sticky, spreadable not pirated, spreadable not viral. These are the themes that shape what follows.

Read the review here

Future of UK and Scotland blog: Muslims Debate the IndyRef

I don’t know if this counts as journalism or as “impact-oriented” academic writing (read: popular, or as it’s known in the UK, “completely un-REFable”), but at any rate, I contributed a blog post to an indyref site run by colleagues here at the University of Edinburgh. This is loosely out of the political science department, but it’s big-tent and it comes with support from the ESRC. They’re doing as comprehensive a job as they can of covering discussions leading up to the big referendum on 18 September.

The centre I’m with got wind of a debate targeting Muslim students in Scotland, and we thought this was fascinating enough for our own work but might also plug nicely into theirs. So they’ve posted my reflections, and you can find them here.

More may follow: I was back in Glasgow two days after the discussion in question for a BBC-sponsored discussion of identity and the referendum, and if there’s more to be said on it, I will let you know.

The independence debate began with a recitation from the Qur’an and ended with the chair exhorting the audience to “think of the umma” when deciding how they would vote on 18 September. In almost every other respect, the debate at Strathclyde University on Sunday 9 March was just like any other around Scotland.

Read more here…

A New Empathy

So now I’m an expert on porn.

Not exactly, but the phrase “Michael Munnik is a researcher at the University of Edinburgh” was uttered by a BBC presenter in an item about pornography. Very weird. And I’m going to tell you how it all came about.

First, the issue: you might have heard about Belle Knox and “the opprobrium, the censure, the outrage, the alarm” as some expert said once on BBC concerning this Duke University student and the job she’s taken on to support her studies. Not to mention the porn-viewing classmate who outed her. Continue reading

A Lively Engagement – Life and Work 09.12.13

Scotland Cemetery - vgm8383

Canongate kirkyard in Edinburgh – photo courtesy of vgm8383 (cc)

In continuing archiving of journalism, here’s a recent piece I did for Life and Work, the monthly magazine of the Church of Scotland. The event was early in December; the article appeared online the following week but has this month appeared in the hard copy of the magazine.

“The panel convened at Edinburgh’s Scottish Storytelling Centre, beneath John Knox’s historic house, and history was on Reid’s mind: he disapproved of the institutional churches’ absence from the current debate on independence. Whereas in the past, the Church of Scotland had demonstrated some of its greatest strengths in speaking to matters of the state, it was not ‘feart’, perhaps, but puzzlingly unwilling to declare itself.”

Leo, the other Boss – the Guardian 11.12.10

I’m gathering loose bits of journalism that are strewn in other places here on the blog. This is a piece I wrote for the Guardian‘s Family section. They’ve got a feature called Playlist, where you write a short essay on a song that is significant to you for family reasons – nostalgia, lullaby, whatever. Here’s my crashing take on Bruce Springsteen’s “Night” and, in truth, the entire Born to Run album.

Playlist: Leo, the other Boss (scroll down)

“Bruce Springsteen’s monumental album Born to Run is the soundtrack to my son not being born…”