ONE MONDAY morning I got a call asking if I could get a story and picture for Socialist Worker about the Wembley construction workers who had just been sacked.
The paper relies on its readers for stories from disputes and campaigns.
Mainstream newspapers, radio and TV get information from the bosses and less often from trade union headquarters.
We tell the story from the point of view of the people involved.
I found the main gate, where 60 or more men were standing around in groups.
I introduced myself, and explained I had been asked to get a story and picture for Socialist Worker.
Some of the workers recognised me from a demonstration in April commemorating the death of a worker on the site.
That helped, but anyway everyone was very friendly and ready to talk to me.
Getting a good story relies in part on luck, but here is a checklist that might help when something happens near you. I’ve included both the things I did right and the ones I kicked myself for forgetting:
A digital camera is invaluable. Keep batteries charged. You never know when you might need it.
Take spare batteries, and a pad and pen.
If you’ve done this before, try to take someone who has not. If you haven’t, take one who has. But if you have to go alone, don’t worry. Workers are anxious to have the truth published about their dispute.
Try to get there early. Introduce yourself as doing a story for Socialist Worker. Sell or give them a paper if they haven’t seen it before.
Be prepared to spend some time and talk to several different people. Above all, listen.
Find out what triggered the dispute—the immediate cause—and the background. What unions are involved? What’s their reaction been?
Get a feel of the work and particular grievances. Try to use some direct quotes from the workers.
Note down the main points, and make sure you know how to spell any awkward words. Accuracy matters. Take the name and mobile number of your principal contact in case you need to check details of your story.
When taking pictures, look for any special features of the place or the picket line. Take several pictures so that you can send a few of the best ones for the journalists to choose from.
Ideally e-mail your story and pictures to reports@ socialistworker.co.uk Send the pictures at the highest possible resolution. Phone the paper first on 020 7538 0828 and talk to one of the reporters so that they know your story is coming and can keep space for it. They will also be happy to give you advice or help.
If you don’t have access to e-mail you can phone or fax your story in. If it isn’t published, don’t worry. Every story and picture sent to the paper helps to build up a general picture of what is happening, and if your story develops later it may be used then.
Go back to the workers with the new Socialist Worker with your story. If you have the technology to print your pictures, take them too.
Keep in touch with the dispute, and send or phone in follow-up stories.
Try to involve others in going along and in building solidarity. We don’t just report on disputes and campaigns, we’re there to support them.