STAFFING AND JOBSThe commission survey found that in 45% of offices there had been editorial redundancies since web operations were introduced. But most respondents felt that the redundancies would have happened with or without online working as part of general cost saving measures. In the case of provincial newspapers this was attributed to the controlling groups being anxious to retain their high profit margins at a time when sales and advertising revenue were in decline.
But the paradox of redundancies at a time when companies seek to introduce multi-media working is particularly striking. It appears many companies are looking over their shoulders at the business online strategies already in place, however ill advised these might be.
The most severe losses, though, were at the Telegraph group in London, where the 54 journalists’(and 50 other) jobs lost last year appeared to be part of a company strategy to restructure the workforce for multi-media working. A similar path now looks about to be followed by management at Trinity Mirror’s papers in South Wales
Evidence from the BBC, ITV, Johnston Press and some other TM titles, however, suggests that new positions are being created for internet work. Many posts are for the role of co-ordinating online publishing efforts – with titles such as Web Editor becoming commonplace. Some larger local papers are also taking on dedicated video reporters.
However, the reality is that in many other cases companies are doing it on the cheap. A great deal of the day-to-day work updating the websites is being taken on by current staff on top of their existing workloads. For example, subs on regional papers are having to upload stories to the web and write different headlines, in addition to subbing pages for print.
At the Guardian in London, for example, ambitious plans to expand the new media operations include no increase in the headcount, and since many new recruits will be web designers or technicians, this suggests an overall drop in the number of journalists delivering the content.
Some provincial papers are expecting reporters to make a video report on a story as well as writing two different versions of a story for print and the internet. On others, reporters are being transferred away from the print edition to put together video reports for the website.
While some employers do ask for volunteers to take on the work, the majority are simply demanding that online working is carried out by the existing staff. One Johnston Press union rep said:
“The company asked for volunteers. They said no existing staff would be forced to change the way they work if they didn’t want to, and the union was happy with this. But in reality, nobody wants to be left behind or get left out or be less useful. Everyone embraced the online working because they will do anything to keep the business alive, even if just for another 10 years to make sure their pensions are safe. Nobody wants to be a Luddite.”
Yet the principle of voluntarism is important. Journalists often carve out their careers by concentrating on their strengths. Photographers for instance choose their careers because they have a good eye for a picture, and have significant training and experience to produce high quality images. When employers require everyone to do everything they put this work at risk. Losing specialisms in favour of generic journalism also risks overloading the journalists and leads to burnout as they strive to maintain quality in every field.
At another Newsquest title, the Lancashire Telegraph in Blackburn, two new jobs have been created for the website, and a new member of the news desk works half the time on the web. Half the subs upload to the internet. Overtime is compensated by time off in lieu, leaving colleagues to fill in the gaps when this time off is taken, creating what the chapel calls a“vicious cycle”as insufficient staff try to cover the bases.
OUTSOURCINGPayrolls are also starting to be cut by the spread of outsourcing, a phenomenon that has been widespread in broadcasting for 20 years but has come relatively recently to newspapers and agencies. Those specialising particularly in financial information – firstly, Reuters, the national UK newspapers – began shifting certain routine work on statistics and financial reports to Asia about five years ago, taking advantage of skilled and relatively cheap workforces. The NUJ has no objection to this practice provided the local journalists doing the work are employed on decent wages and conditions and are able to organise themselves in unions and negotiate agreements; the NUJ will always support them in these endeavours.
But in 2007 for the first time a major newspaper group, Independent News and Media in Dublin, decided to outsource all sub-editing work, to newly set up companies. There are consequences for both the pay and conditions of journalists, with such a strongly focussed and traditionally well-unionised element of the staff removed, and for standards of journalism.
Digital technology lends itself readily to outsourcing – and homeworking on the part of staff – since copy can so easily be transferred by email. It is an area the union must watch carefully.
WORK EXPERIENCEAn increasing number of casual journalists are not paid at all. The abuse of “work experience”trainees is becoming a scandal, with large numbers of new jobless graduates offering themselves for free to publishers in the distant hope of getting, if not a job, then at least a line for the CV. The NUJ hears of cases in which “workies”have worked for as long as two years, full-time but unpaid.
Many young journalists are enthusiastic about new media and keen to get experience of working in them. Employers argue to them – and, the Commission has been told, to qualified journalists who are employed but badly paid – that an expertise in new media will make them marketable and is thereby an acceptable substitute for a decent wage. We are approaching the world of independent TV production, where people routinely work for free on a programme in return for a name check in the credits.
The NUJ has produced guidelines
to attempt to regulate the practice, which all chapels should seek to ensure are implemented in their workplaces.
The Commission recommends that
- Each title, however small, should have an experienced web editor to oversee internet operations.
- Chapels fighting against the overloading of journalists’ work or against the direct uploading to the web of unedited material should be backed forcefully on the grounds of defending professional standards
- Chapels should seek to ensure the replacement of staff transferred from old media to work full-time on the internet operation.
- The union should give support to any member not wishing to “volunteer” or be forced into online working.
- The outsourcing of inhouse departments should be carefully monitored by all chapels where it leads to a deterioration in the quality of work or of the terms and conditions under which journalists are employed.
- Chapels should make sure the guidelines on work experience are followed in their workplaces, and journalism colleges should be asked to warn students of the dangers of unpaid, unregulated work.