Labornet, the newsfeed emanating from the Unions NSW site appears to have become moribund, apparently breathing its last in the first week of November.
Next week also marks the final edition of Workers Online after seven years of publication. According to editor, Peter Lewis, Workers Online was necessary to fill a media gap in the absence of a coherent media policy for the movement at the end the 1990s. Lewis says, "It is perhaps a reflection of the success of this idea that in 2006 the media does cover union affairs again, tabloid press and TV in particular. The niche we set out to occupy has been back-filled."
Notwithstanding the plethora of items available on the net indicated by the weekly media reports on the IR Policy website, he is being somewhat optimistic about mainstream media coverage, in my view.
At a time when there is already an over-reliance in the mainstream media on agencies such as Australian Associated Press, the Government is opening out the media ownership laws leading to the strong possibility of further contraction of news sources.
Opinion pieces by staff commentators in News Limited publications are generally, but not always, anti-union or ideologically “at one” with the Howard Government's industrial relations policy, whose measures are explicitly anti-union.
Lewis says that, "where once Workers Online broke the news, these days our team are forced - often reluctantly - to hold back on stories so we can implement releases in the mainstream press. So instead of leading the debate, we have forced ourselves into a position of following."
The Workers Online team clearly evolved into a news provider as well as a news publisher. Now, Lewis says, the weekly publication cycle "does not give the chance to reflect, develop policy ideas and build campaigns" or contribute to a dynamic debate on IR issues.
Workers Online is, therefore, to be replaced by a "Working NSW think tank" with a partnership between former Workers Online journalists and academics and writers.
For half a century, the labour movement had decried the lack of a broadly based labour-oriented news service. These were available in the 1920s and 1930s in papers such as Labor Call, the weekly Australian Worker, and Workers Weekly. They had their faults, and in the main had small circulations, but these efforts pointed towards the possibilities for news sources independent of mainstream newspaper proprietors.
In Victoria, the labour movement later turned to radio (3KZ) as a medium for workers' news and the promulgation of labour perspectives.
The Internet potentially overcame the imponderables of finding the financial backing for a labour-oriented press. Workers Online provided a welcome opportunity for keeping readers updated on industrial relations issues at the end of the 1990s. Its demise after seven years is to be regretted at a time when workers' access to IR news should be at a premium.
Not that the Internet lacks IR news and analysis. But, the provision of accessible workers' news and the development of policy are two different and necessary functions. There are already a number of labour-oriented online sources. These include think tanks such as the Evatt Foundation, The Chifley Research Centre, and the Australian Institute of Employment Rights.
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