Newsquest jobs cull tops 120 as sweatshop journalism marches on

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet on the picket line at the Northern Echo as members strike over job losses as production moved to Wales

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet on the picket line at the Northern Echo as members strike over job losses as production moved to Wales

by Tim Lezard

More than 120 jobs have been cut by Newsquest moving its production to subbing hubs in Wales and Weymouth in the past year.

As the Oxford Mail announced 25 jobs could go, as production moves to Newport from titles in the city including the Oxford Times, the toll of editorial redundancies has reached 120. The figure is much higher if non-editorial roles are included. Jobs have been lost at newspapers in Worcester, Darlington, Bradford, York, Southampton, Brighton, Warrington, Glasgow, Blackburn and Oxford. Members in the north east and north west took strike action in protest.

In addition to jobs being lost to the hubs, there are currently 8.5 jobs going at Blackburn and two photographers at the Keighley News and Craven Herald. The photographers going are the Newsquest joint chapel FoC Bob Smith and national multi-award winner Steve Garnett.

Bob Smith said: “Getting rid of two experienced editorial members and running the whole weekly stable of papers without staff photographers exposes Newsquest’s callous disregard for quality.

“Steve has numerous awards for his imaginative pictures and I’ve spent more than 31 years capturing images of the lives of the people of Keighley.  All this will now end and readers will have newspapers filled with reader-generated content and amateur photographs. I will miss my daily contact with the citizens of Keighley and its surrounding areas, but I won’t miss the myopic management madness Newsquest employees have to contend with. I am sure the chapel at Bradford and the Newsquest Group Chapel will continue to thrive and I’ll be thinking of all my former colleagues and supporting them whenever and wherever I can.”

At the NUJ’s Delegate Meeting in April, Bob Smith memorably said the hubs were becoming the equivalent of sweatshop call centres and were severing the link between newspapers and the local communities they were meant to serve.

Staff at Newsquest, which owns titles including the Herald, in Glasgow, Brighton Argus, Oxford Mail, South Wales Argus and Northern Echo have, for the most part, suffered for five of the past six years without any rise. They have often been pushed into taking unpaid leave and having allowances and other benefits axed as part of savage cost-cutting. Paul Davidson, the newspaper group’s chief executive signed off his final year with a 9.5 per cent pay rise, while his staff’s wages went down by almost £5 million. His salary was the equivalent of 25 journalists’ jobs.

Will Crossley, FoC of the Oxford Mail & Times chapel, said: “The editorial production team based in Oxford, who work on Newsquest’s Oxfordshire and Wiltshire titles, are dedicated to producing high-quality newspapers for the communities they serve. Key to this is local knowledge, of people, places and issues, which the company seems hell-bent on throwing away in pursuit of short-term financial objectives, without any regard for the inevitable impact on the quality of the newspapers. The chapel will strive to preserve as many jobs as possible and secure the best possible terms for those who face redundancy, while looking after the interests of the staff who will be left to pick up the pieces if the company presses ahead with these short-sighted and counter-productive proposals.”

The latest announcement comes as the Department of Culture Media and Sport is about to hold a summit with the newspaper industry on the future of local and regional press.

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said: “Newsquest’s previous cost cutting record speaks for itself and now more journalists are facing the chop. This is not building a sustainable future for the business. The announcement of these cuts was made a week before an industry summit called by the government to ensure a vibrant future for the local and regional press. Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey has called together industry figures and union representatives to discuss future strategy and this sends out a very poor signal.”

Chris Morley, Newsquest NUJ group chapel officer, warned there may be more cuts to come as this part of the year has become known as the company’s “sacking season”.

He said: “In December 2010, the NUJ labelled Newsquest ‘Scroogequest’ because of its determination not to pay staff decent pay. But in the years since, the name has been equally applicable given the misery our members go through with jobs axed in the run up to Christmas. The twin hubs experiment is providing a disaster for quality with a proliferation of howlers that are leading to ridicule among what remains of the local newspaper buying public. Only this week, the same full-page TV guide was printed twice on opposite pages in one Newsquest paper (Brighton Argus).”