NUJ reps from across Johnston Press’s main publishing centres have unanimously backed a motion of no confidence in the company’s senior management - and urged shareholders and communities to act to save their local papers.
As redundancies, recruitment freezes, budget cuts, title and office closures and the axing of freelances hit Johnston Press newsrooms across the UK and Ireland, the NUJ is to stage a co-ordinated, group-wide day of actions to highlight the damage being done to local papers. MPs will be urged to get involved in the day alongside community organisations and individual shareholders will be lobbied.
Union reps, who met on Wednesday to plan a campaign against job cuts and title closures, have also backed calls for industrial action across the group as part of the campaign against the effects of the latest cuts. Chapels across the UK and Ireland will be consulted over possible strike action in the coming days before final plans are drawn up.
The NUJ Johnston Press Group Chapel, representing all NUJ members across the company, will also seek meetings with the group’s management to urge a rethink on the cuts in a bid to avoid strike action.
NUJ members complain that job cuts and the widespread non-replacement of staff are putting intolerable pressures on remaining journalists or leading to situations where papers are unable to cover their local areas.
One title is restricted to just 12 photographs a week because of the lack of money to pay photographers, another cannot send a photographer to jobs after 5.30pm because of budget cuts. Another title has almost 25% of editorial posts currently unfilled and reps report that morale across the group is at rock bottom.
Cutbacks are affecting a range of papers, including the Scotsman and Edinburgh Evening News and the Sheffield Star. The latest cuts were announced earlier this week when Johnston Press said it intends to close down the Glasgow East News and the Ayrshire Extra.
The NUJ has also received countless complaints of overwork and under resourced newsrooms across the company and unrest isn’t just limited to those papers where cuts have been formally announced.
Last week the NUJ chapel at the Blackpool Gazette wrote to mangers at the company to complain about the "systematic destruction" of their newspaper through under investment. The memo details examples of people working far in excess of their contracted hours as a result of a recruitment freeze at the paper. The chapel is concerned that overwork has reached a point that it is endangering people’s health.
The memo states: "This fine hard working and historic newspaper now faces the worst crisis in morale, and conditions, in working memory of all involved. A recruitment freeze is redundancy by any other name and via the back door. It drives others out and engenders illegal working practices, in hours worked, and rest periods and shift breaks not taken."
NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said: "A tipping point has been reached - and the latest cuts are now threatening the very future of the papers. If you continue to deny resources for editorial you inevitably produce worse products and why would businesses advertise in or readers buy such products.
"The strategy of cut, cut, cut in editorial budgets has been shown to be a failure and it’s time it was reversed. Shareholders should be fearful for their investments and local communities should fear for the future of their papers.
"We won’t sit back and allow jobs and quality journalism to be threatened. The mood amongst our members is one of determination to actively oppose cuts which damage quality, lead to increased workloads, threaten the future of the titles and put at risk more jobs".
14 August 2008