Workers Online
Workers Online
Workers Online
  Issue No 61 Official Organ of LaborNet 07 July 2000  




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The Soapbox

Mark McGrath on Seizing the Web

New South Wales Teachers have federated their news with the release of their own online news channel.


The new NSW Teachers Federation site

One of the long-standing bugbears of the Labour movement has been the media's role in the playing out of issues in the political arena.

Unionists and party supporters alike have yearned for a way of bypassing the mass media every time their voice suffers at the hands of unfavourable editorial treatment by the broadcast and print media.

Unrealised Potential
Quite understandably, many unions on launching their new websites optimistically claim that their new site has the potential to become an alternative media channel to the mass media, broadcasting directly to their target audience, free of any editorial manipulation from outside and often unfriendly forces.

For many unions getting online, this potential remains just that; unrealised potential. A lack of activism amongst both their membership and leadership, a low rate of online membership, a poorly designed site and the absence of any electronic infrastructure that simplifies and quickens the online publishing process, are all factors that can hold a union site back from becoming a real alternative media channel.

If the union isn't out there campaigning amongst and for its membership, it's not going to have much of a story to tell that's worth reading about. Even if a union does have the story content, this won't overcome the limitation of a low rate of online membership a lot of blue collar unions have at the moment, though thankfully this rate is gradually increasing.

But there's still yet another barrier unions have to overcome which is a technical one: being able to publish their content quickly and in an orderly fashion so that the online unionist can get the news while its still news without it being too hard to track down.

Getting Some Publishing Grunt Under the Bonnet
The new Teachers Fed site qualifies on all of the above criteria: it's an active union that runs campaigns worth reading about (The Telegraph seems to thinks so) with a highly active membership that has a rate of online membership estimated to be in the range of 80-85%. Its website also has the necessary publishing grunt under the bonnet as well as smart design to make its content rich and dynamic.

The online publishing engine sitting behind the Teachers Federation site that provides this grunt is a product developed by Social Change Online called AIMS: Automated Internet Management Solution.

AIMS gives the owner of a website the power to publish anywhere, anytime where they can get web access with absolutely no technical knowledge required.

The Easy Shift Through the Publishing Gears
How it works is pretty straightforward: the user gains password protected access to a maintain area of their website and chooses to either add, edit or delete a document to their site.

To perform the selected operation is dead easy. For publishing or editing it's just a matter of copying and pasting the text into a form on your web browser with the option of selecting an image for upload with your story. Then you get to preview your story with the opportunity to make any changes before clicking a button that publishes your story to the site fully wrapped in all the graphics and menu items that brands your site and fully indexes your sites.

So the beauty of this software is that you can publish to the web using the web itself, without any technical knowledge whatsoever of web programming languages like HTML. Indeed this very site, Workers Online, is published each week by Peter Lewis, a self-confessed "web-dummy" using AIMS software.

Creating a News Network
AIMS allows the NSW Teachers Federation staff to run a continuous, live news channel direct to its membership and to a wider audience, bypassing the filtering of mainstream media. Visitors to the site soon realize that it is the best source of the latest teacher related news in Australia with its various newsfeeds from interstate and national sources. Repeat visits to the site are locked in via subscription to a regular email newsletter that summarises all the latest updates to the site and provides links back to these articles.

Performing the same content publishing without software like AIMS would take many times longer and be prohibitively expensive. To publish one document in AIMS takes minutes, to publish the same document using a web publishing house means a minimum charge of one hour and these houses start charging at $100 per hour.

But AIMS isn't just a one way publishing engine: it's a potential news network waiting to happen. Because the publishing entry point of AIMS is the web, any organisation can develop a network of correspondents around the globe to contribute stories. This means that your that your audience can help grow the site's content for you - giving them a sense of poarticipation and ownerhsip in the site and thus ensuring a more loyal and regular audience.

The classic example of this is LaborNET. The majority of the content for the the Live Newsfeed that appears on the front page of LaborNET is not produced by LaborNET staff, it's drawn from LaborNET's network of 80 or so Labour correspondents from around Australia and overseas.

Online Community
The web though isn't just magazines or newspapers sitting online for people to read. It's about people engaging with a network of others, forming relationships that build into online communities. If the broadcast media of TV and movies was "That's Entertainment" then the new media of the Net is "It's Interaction".

Without this two way interaction, members will switch off from their union, which is just as true in an offline sense as much as it is in an online sense. Here the Teachers Federation has made a good start with a discussion forum allowing members to hold a continuous online conversation on issues of concern to Teachers. Also there's multiple points entry points for users to submit feedback or request information from the Federation.

But this isn't enough to fully sustain an online community and thankfully the Federation are committed to a plan of expanding their range of community building applications with:

  • Issue specific web forums

  • Email discussion and announce lists dedicated to special interest groups and campaigns actions.

  • Online polling and special guests leading online discussions

  • Teachers Media Watch that will be exposing the misinformation spread by tabloid media and;

  • A "Get Active" content area that will automatically drive letter to the editor and email a politician pages.

So the lesson is clear, to be a success online a union needs firstly needs to be doing something well offline. Then you need a website that allows the free flow of information three ways:

  • union to the member with continually updated content

  • member to union contact that empowers the site userand;

  • from members to members themselves

Unions that try and be a gatekeeper of information for fear of critical content appearing on their site are unlikely to succeed with this sort of approach. Surfers demand diversity of options and information on the web: a union not providing them with these options will miss the wave and will be soon left behind.

Mark McGrath is a Union Sector Consultant with Social Change Online


*    What to get AIMS for your site? Drop Mark a line!

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 61 contents

In this issue
*  Technology: Union Rep for Global Net Body
The godfather of unions and the Internet, Eric Lee, is seeking your support to give labour a voice on the net's governing body, ICANN.
*  Interview: Downloaded and Done Over
In the wake of the TV Networks' digital TV victory, Internet industry chief Peter Coroneus rues a missed opportunity for Australia.
*  Legal: The Global Millennium Project
The International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR) has developed a draft proposal for a comprehensive revision and modernisation of international labour standards for the new millenium.
*  Unions: Sandgropers Get Serious on Stress
The Australian Services Union in Western Australia in conjunction with the University of Western Australia, is surveying workers across the state's call centre industry.
*  Politics: New Work for a New Millennium
View in full the ALP's Draft Industrial Relations Policy to be taken to the National Conference at the end of the month.
*  Solidarity: Korean Hotel Workers Seek Global Help
Striking Korean hotel workers at the Swiss Grand Hotel and the Seoul Hilton are worried they could be the next targets of escalating riot police violence.
*  History: Vince's Parable of the Sundial
How a working man survived WWII and ASIO blacklists to save a sundial.
*  International: Room for Optimism from African Poll
The performance of pro-Deomcracy groups in the Zimbabwean elections has given supporters hope for better days.
*  Environment: Mexican Wave Goes Green
American politics has taken on a Green hue with the left leaning National Action Party and the Greens in Mexico picking up nearly 40% of the vote in the recent elections.
*  Satire: Aussies Celebrate Centenary by Leaving Country
Prime Minister John Howard has defended his government's decision not to involve Australia in the centenary federation celebrations.
*  Review: A Building Sings of Lives Lived in Music
Mysterious shadows flicker in the windows of the Parramatta Town Hall. Strains of trumpet and sarod float outside. It's all part of the urban Theatre Project's latest work, 'The Palais'.

»  No Guarantees for Email Workers
»  Hotel Bosses Face Olympic Showdown
»  Aussie Bosses Embarrassed in NZ
»  Labour Hire Task Force Begins Work
»  Costa to Stay at Labor Council
»  Lockout Sleight of Hand
»  Owner Drivers Unite to Save Industry from GST
»  The Future Starts Now for Youth Charter
»  Volleyball Stadium Accident - Questions Remain
»  Telstra - Making it Queasier for You
»  MUA Helps Deliver Rice for Timor
»  Reith Puts Boot into Health and Safety
»  Biko Backer Tours Australia
»  Unchain Your Mind at Melbourne Forum
»  Union Stalwart Honoured

»  The Soapbox
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  Congratulations on the Email Rally in Orange
»  Dissident Site
»  Tax Workers Defended
»  A Reluctant Brown-Tongue

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