It’s not every day you get told you have a plum-sized tumour in the middle of your brain.
This life-altering news set me on two distinct and new journeys, one being that of an Oncology patient, the other being that of a journalist.
You can read about my adventures in the NHS here; but this blog post is about how my membership of the NUJ enabled me to create a whole new role for myself and along the way put a ding in the Universe, as Steve Jobs used to say.
It was from the John Radcliff hospital bed that I rang my new employer with the news that I might be starting the new contract a little later than planned and suggested in fact that Richard might like to review his decision about his choice of Head of Marketing, as I was about to have my head opened up and a surgeon, Mr Plaha, was going to have a rummage around in there.
Richard’s reaction was astonishing. In essence he said “Don’t worry about it, you’re part of the family now, we’ll wait for you to rock up when you’re ready. In the meantime, do you need any money?”.
Three weeks after an eight-hour brain operation, I started my new position at a funky “safetytech” start-up based in the Telefonica/Waywa accelerator hub in Piccadilly.
Three months into the role Richard took me aside and said that he’d like me to take a break, a sabbatical. He could see I had a lot to offer, but as I was still recovering from the operation, I wasn’t quite firing on all cylinders, which was true.
I wasn’t on top of my brief and had screwed up the delivery of a new website, so I took Richard’s offer and took a month off.
On my return, Richard offered me something new, something different.
SafeToNet is a “safetytech” company that develops technical solutions that help to safeguard children online.
Seeing an opportunity to build on its social mission, I was offered to create a charity to run alongside SafeToNet, to fill in the parts of the online safety puzzle they couldn’t do as a privately funded commercial enterprise.
In 2006, I’d negotiated £250k investment to set up a podcast-powered webTV company and in the intervening years have used audio and video podcasts in my interim Marketing Director roles whenever possible.
I could see how this medium could be used to help the Foundation fulfil its “educate and inform” charitable objective, especially as the issue of Online Child Safety wasn’t being served or investigated by any other podcaster.
One of my early podcast guests (and NUJ member), Dr Holly Powell-Jones, discussed Online Media Law in her interview and in our post-podcast chat she suggested I become a member of the NUJ, as what I was doing with the Foundation’s Safeguarding Podcasts was as far as she was concerned, journalism.
Having spent many years as a marketer, where I’d worked with numerous journalists and editors on behalf of various tech companies to help get their messages out, it was an intriguing prospect for me to become a journalist.
It was with some trepidation that I joined the NUJ. I’d never been a member of a union, and I’m pretty sure some contracts of employment I’d had in the tech sector contained provisios against membership, despite the fact no employer can stop an employee joining a bone fide trade union.
My first impression of the first NUJ meeting was that some of the language, processes and procedures were old fashioned.
I was mildly caught by surprise to be referred to as a “brother” and slightly disconcerted to be a “comrade”.
However this is simply the reflection of the 100+ year history of the NUJ and the trade union movement as a whole, which if you include “guilds” has a surprisingly long history.
While the Marketer in me is screaming for an overhaul of the NUJ website and approach to marcoms and PR, it is with a great deal of pride that I introduce myself to potential podcast guests: “As a UK journalist, a member of the NUJ, I’d like to interview you for my charity’s podcasts about what you’re doing to protect children online”.
The NUJ Press pass which I covet, cleaves open most doors and has enabled me to create a peerless guest list with over (at the time of writing) 80 podcasts, including 7 OBEs, three Baronesses and contributions from globally renowned thought leaders, researchers, academics, practitioners and technologists from America, Australia, Canada, Finland, Holland, Morocco, the Philippines, Sweden, the UK and even the Vatican.
Through the use of 21st century digital communications tools such as podcasts, blog posts and webinars, combined with the power, weight and authority of NUJ membership and journalism, I’ve carved out a role for myself.
The Charitable Objects of the SafeToNet Foundation extend to other areas, but for now I’m focussed on informing and educating the general public about the complex, dynamic, pernicious global social problem of online child safety.
I have become a social justice journalist within a public relations framework, putting my own ding in the Universe.
- Neil Fairbrother’s SafeToNet Foundation podcast can be downloaded here, and is published every fortnight. He writes this blog in a personal capacity.