Journalists blow the whistle on their own bosses as NUJ starts week-long strike

nujJournalists working for Newsquest South London today begin a week-long strike over an attempt by bosses to make nearly all newsroom staff redundant.

As the strike begins, the union has shone a light on the “barbaric” work practices and conditions journalists suffer at the company that have led employees to leave before they are pushed out of the door.

A reporter working for Newsquest in South London said: “No one goes into local journalism thinking it will be lucrative or easy, and as a trainee at Newsquest I was fully prepared for a hard slog, being flexible with my hours to break news stories and having doors slammed in my face.

“What I wasn’t expecting was that the buzzing newsroom I joined would become full of empty chairs and dejected, burnt out staff. The constant battle between the editorial staff, who are pushing to produce quality journalism even though everyone is overstretched, and the management, who have openly said that we will need to cut corners and sacrifice investigating local stories and holding local government to account, is emotionally exhausting.

“Most of the reporters are living pay cheque to pay cheque in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and are willing to do so to contribute to local news that serves the community it reports to. What I’m not willing to do is work for a company that says it values its staff and communicates with them when in reality there is so little communication that I wouldn’t recognise Tony Portelli or Henry Faure Walker if I saw them walking down the street. It’s one thing to not respect your staff, but it’s another to not respect the tenets of the industry you’re operating in – and Newsquest’s management have shown that they don’t care about local journalism.”

Another reporter working for Newsquest said:

“I was under no illusions about the company when I joined Newsquest; when I started last year, I was filling a junior reporter vacancy created in the flames of cost-cutting, redundancies, and industrial action. But I never thought I would work for a company that treated its employees with such abject disrespect.

“To hear Newsquest top brass shamelessly crowing about the company’s commitment to ‘sustainable local journalism’ in public, while attempting to impose completely unsustainable and unworkable cuts on our newsroom, has been infuriating and depressing. The company categorically does not care about journalism – the ‘news’ in its name has become a sick joke. The quest, it seems, is simply one of asset stripping – degrading newspapers, newsrooms, journalists, until there is no more ad revenue to be sucked out of local communities abandoned by a company that claims to tell truth to power, but actually just tried to bully its hard-working employees into submission. It is only my colleagues (more accurately my friends) that have made working here bearable.

“Newsquest is toxic, there was no way I could stay any longer.”

A Newsquest editor has said: “Being a journalist at Newsquest has felt like tackling an endless obstacle course designed by the company and its management. Highly respected editors with decades of experience have been made redundant and gone unreplaced, the number of reporters has been slashed annually, professional photographic coverage has been all-but-abolished, and sub-editors have been laid off and replaced with a barely functional computer programme. Year after year, changes are implemented which make simply publishing our papers – let alone quality journalism – harder to do.

“In the past few months, though, things have reached a nadir. A steady stream of editorial staff have left and without exception their positions have remained unfilled, leaving some papers without any reporters and others with no editor. The entire newsroom is at breaking point; stressed, overworked, underpaid and completely demoralised. Newsquest’s response to this is to cut staffing levels further.

“I am appalled by the company’s complete disregard for the health and well-being of its employees, indifference towards quality or public-interest journalism, and lack of respect for readers and advertisers, who Newsquest simply hope will not realise the dwindling amount of relevant local content that is published in its papers. I can no longer work for a so-called news organisation that sees its journalism as nothing more than, in the words of one senior manager, ‘information to sell adverts’. I am fortunate that I am able to leave, but I fear for my hard-working colleagues and friends who have no choice but to remain behind. Some of them moved the length of the country to begin first jobs as trainee reporters, have dedicated many unpaid hours to covering patches they genuinely care about, and are being treated shamefully by managers with utter apathy – if not contempt – for their efforts.”

NUJ national organiser Laura Davison said: “The NUJ is fighting against the cuts at Newsquest – our members want to stop the redundancies and produce quality journalism for the local communities they serve. If you care about journalism and local democracy then I would urge you to show your support for our members going out on strike.”

In South London, Newsquest owns newspapers and websites including the Croydon, Epsom, Sutton, Wandsworth and Wimbledon Guardians, the Richmond & Twickenham Times, the Surrey Comet and the News Shopper in Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich and Lewisham.

Staff have been left with no option but to take strike action tomorrow and will stay out on strike until Wednesday 19 October. The company want to make job cuts this month. They want 12 reporters and four editors to produce 11 newspapers and eight associated websites. The latest cuts announcement came one week after the company announced that no South London newspapers would continue to have professional photographers.

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