BARJ Docks at the RRM

The BARJ logo on the Association’s tie.

29 January 2018

By Chris Dodd

The international rowing journalists’ association BARJ, formerly known as the British Association of Rowing Journalists, was wound up at the end of 2017 and its assets donated to the River & Rowing Museum to support projects involving the media and the sport. The museum’s first use of this endowment was for technical back-up for last November’s Rowing History Conference “Backsplash”. Chris Dodd, the last serving chairman of BARJ, outlines the history of the ‘trade union’ for writers, broadcasters and photographers, and the reasons for its demise.

The CUBC press conference at Thames Rowing Club during Tideway Week, 2014.

BARJ was born in 1986 from frustration among practising rowing journalists in Britain over the poor facilities and services available to those trying to give editorial exposure to local, national and international events. A questionnaire was devised which showed a clear wish among the practitioners to develop an organisation to address these issues.

The original aims were ‘to encourage rowing organisations to communicate better with the media; to encourage media owners to be more aware of our sport and to seek improvements in facilities and services to the press’. The most recent version was drawn up in 2014:

  • Encourage and maintain high standards of journalism and promote coverage of rowing in the media.
  • Lobby for good conditions at regattas and events for reporters, photographers and broadcasters; dialogue with regatta organisers.
  • Maintain BARJ awards for Journalist of the Year, Hammer Smith Award, special awards, Friends of BARJ.
  • Maintain a social programme including the annual awards dinner.

In its early years, BARJ was kept busy tackling regattas to improve their services and facilities, both in Britain and on the international circuit, and its membership extended to other nationalities. But during the 30-odd years of its existence, two big changes occurred.

By 2012, it was rare to take up issues with regattas, although the committee continued to make its views known where appropriate – for example, at this time BARJ discussed provision for Regatta Radio at HRR and petitioned FISA over poor facilities at Lucerne Regatta.

Over time regattas have heeded the message and improved facilities and press relations – in some cases by using BARJ members as press officers and in others by appointing professional agencies. Federations, notably FISA, now have professionals to carry out press and PR. FISA and British Rowing have both taken the accreditation vigilante work that used to be done by BARJ ‘in house’, and the world body has professionalised its media commission which used to work closely with BARJ.

In the press launch, left to right: photographer Peter Spurrier and journalists Chris Dodd and Martin Gough. The late Dan Topolski (right) also joined the group.

After an extraordinary general meeting to discuss its future, BARJ’s 2014 annual general meeting voted to suspend all activities because:

  • The general media landscape had changed significantly
  • Rowing specialists working in the mainstream media have markedly diminished in number, and not all of them attend events as regularly as formerly
  • Working conditions and technology have both changed for the better, in some instances through direct intervention by BARJ
  • Types of journalism and other media activities specific to rowing have changed, and BARJ’s ‘trade union’ role is less pertinent for those involved in technology-based writing and publication.

In addition, the committee was growing long in the tooth while younger members appeared unwilling to put themselves forward for office.

The suspension of activities was accompanied by an invitation to the membership to suggest ideas for developing BARJ. However, this bore no fruit by the time the officers met during the Rio Olympics in 2016 (at their own expense!). After much discussion they decided to initiate talks with the River & Rowing Museum Foundation to explore closing BARJ down and donating its remaining funds to projects that involve both the media and the sport of rowing.

The museum duly suggested five uses for the BARJ gift, which are:

  • Enable RRM archive film content and new rowing related content to be shared online via the purchase of equipment to include: a video camera, hardware encoder, High quality Mic(s), wiring and audio
  • Hold, promote, record and share an annual BARJ Lecture (possibly incorporated into the Rowing History Forum) for as long as funding allows but with a minimum of 3 years
  • Preserve, by digitisation, some of our perishing 1948 Olympic footage
  • Enable RRM staff time to capture and put new and existing content online
  • Enable the generating of website content and potentially a separate, but linked, website.

The BARJ committee are satisfied that these meet their requirements, and consequently BARJ’s funds (£10,000) have been donated to the RRM Foundation.

The Daily Telegraph’s Rachel Quarrell casts an eye over Cambridge, Tideway Week, 2015.

Launch of BARJ
BARJ’s predecessor was the Newspaper Press Boat Fund (NPBF). This was set up after the Second World War to provide a launch for members of the press to follow the Boat Race in the days before the Boat Race enjoyed sponsors.

National newspapers each had a share in the NPBF and the fund was administered by an annual meeting of rowing correspondents, held afloat at Putney or in the smoking room of the Putney Constitutional Club (now Winchester House Club). From memory, the principal shareholders were The Times, the Telegraph, the Guardian, Daily Mail, the Sunday Times, Observer, the Sunday Telegraph and the Press Association.

In effect the NPBF held a time-share in a launch for the three weeks leading up to the Boat Race. Its function ceased when Oxford and Cambridge attracted sponsors in the 1980s and the race engaged press agents. The NPBF was in abeyance, but possessed a bank account in the black.

In the late 1980s, a discussion among rowing correspondents in the press box at Henley suggested that the NPBF should be wound up and its funds transferred to a new association (BARJ) to promote the interests of the media and improve press facilities at regattas, as described above. Thus the British Association of Rowing Journalists was born.

The Geoffrey Page Memorial Quill Trophy awarded to the BARJ Journalist of the Year.

BARJ awards
The Journalist of the Year Award was initiated in 2003 and awarded each year until 2014, marked by the handsome Geoffrey Page Memorial Quill trophy donated by member Jan Willem Landman. With Landman’s agreement, the trophy has been donated to the RRM’s collection. Other annual awards comprised the Hammer Smith Award (for amusement during the year) and Friends of BARJ (for people who help BARJ beyond the call of duty).

For several years the annual awards dinner at the River & Rowing Museum enjoyed sponsorship from Camelot and Aberdeen Asset Management. Friends and winners of the Hammer Smith Award were presented with pens courtesy of Parker.

BARJ’s logo was designed by Geoffrey Page and depicts an oar, a quill pen and a camera body, although in keeping with the traditions of the media, some contend that the camera looks more like a pint pot.

From time to time BARJ arranged informal social gatherings, notably the Geoffrey Page Memorial G&T at Hotel des Alpes during the Lucerne Regatta, dinner for members and guests at Lucerne’s Rebstock Hotel and a Boat Race supper. Who knows, these may continue?

The late Geoffrey Page: historian, journalist, author, artist and bon viveur.

BARJ Award Winners

Journalist of the year
2003 Rachel Quarrell for Rowing Info Service)
2004 Barry Davies (for BR commentary)
2005 Peter Spurrier (for international pics)
2006 Chris Dodd (for Water Boiling Aft)
2007 Mike Rosewell (for local paper reporting)
2008 Chip Davis (for Rowing News)
2009 Robert Treharne-Jones (for FISA commentary)
2010 John Shore (for pictures)
2011 Mike Haggerty (for media coverage in Scotland)
2012 Daniel Topolski (for television commentary)
2013 Martin Cross (for rowing coverage)
2014 Andrew Longmore (for rowing coverage in Sunday Times)

Hammer Smith Award
2003 Geoffrey Page
2004 Patrick White
2005 Hugh Matheson
2006 Peter Spurrier
2007 The Eton Mess
2008 FISA for its expansion programme
2009 Garry Herbert for commentary enlightenment
2010 Denis Oswald for being upstaged in Posnan
2011 Alan Campbell for ageism remarks to Marcel Hacker
2012 Andrew Laing (Aberdeen Asset Management) for his attendance record at dinner
2013 Regatta Radio
2014 Robert Moore for Regatta Radio gaff

2016: Chris Dodd, 2006 BARJ Journalist of the year, and Peter Spurrier, recipient of the 2006 Hammer Smith Award.

Friends of BARJ
2003 Keith Osborne; James Maxwell; The GB Olympic coxless four 2000
2004 Aberdeen Asset Management; Caroline Searle; Camelot
2005 Robin Williams; Mike Sweeney; Dr John Marks
2006 Richard Goddard; Maggie Netto; Sean Bowden
2007 Pam Cole; Jan White; Chas Newens
2008 Cora Zillich; Andrew Ruddle
2009 Peter Drury; Dianne Thompson
2010 Lucy Williamson of the RRM
2011 John Collard of Sports-impact
2012 Paul Mainds of the RRM
2013 Patrick Kidd of the Times
2014 Stan Collingwood, for live commentary at regattas

Lifetime achievement
2005 John Shore
2006 Mike Rosewell

One comment

  1. When I became the rowing correspondent for the Surrey Herald (a local paper that was really supportive of rowing Staines/Burway/WeybridgeWalton area for many years) in the mid 1990s, I wrote to the address given for BARJ in the Almanack, keen to learn from the seasoned professionals, and asking how I could join. Sadly, I never got a reply.

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