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Former Selby MP condemns Johnston Press 'vandalism'

Darts champion Dennis Priestley, reporter Liam Hoden, Mexborough councillor Sue Phillips, sports hero Tommy Joyce MBE and journalist Alex Vessey

Darts champion Dennis Priestley, reporter Liam Hoden, Mexborough councillor Sue Phillips, sports hero Tommy Joyce MBE and journalist Alex Vessey  -  © Private

20 July 2011

John Grogan, the former MP for Selby, has voiced his support for striking reporters at the Selby Times.

Journalists on the Johnson Press-owned paper – along with colleagues at the Doncaster Free Press, Epworth Bells and South Yorkshire Times – are taking indefinite strike action in a fight to save jobs, prevent office closures and defend quality local journalism.

The Goole Courier office has already been closed, with the workload being transferred to Selby, where reporters fear their building could be the next to face the axe, with work being transferred to Doncaster.

John Grogan said:

"I'm dismayed at the actions of Johnston Press. When I was an MP, they wrote and spoke to me many times about how committed they were to local papers. For a profitable company to indulge in the vandalism of our local media in Yorkshire is deeply worrying.
"One of the strengths of Goole and Selby has been the competitive local newspaper market. Local offices with eyes and ears on the ground are the basis for this and I hope JP will think again."

Earlier, embarrassed Johnston Press bosses told a teenager, who they were using to try to break the indefinite South Yorkshire Newspapers strike, to stay at home.

The 16-year-old had come to the Selby Times for work experience but, when the strike to protect jobs and quality journalism began at the South Yorkshire Newspapers titles on July 15, management cynically extended his engagement to get the paper out.

He was then put to work writing news stories – despite having originally asked the paper to do his work experience on the sports desk.

However, following storms of protest after the management exploitation of the youngster was revealed, he has been asked not to return to the Selby Times office.

Lawrence Shaw, NUJ negotiator, said:

"Our strikers have every sympathy with young people who want work experience because they're interested in pursuing a career in journalism. But management at the Selby Times was exploiting that interest so the experience the young man was being offered was in strike-breaking. We're glad that exploitation has now stopped."

John Healey, local MP for Wentworth and Dearne and shadow health secretary, has also declared his support for the striking journalists. He said:

"The South Yorkshire Times has a proud, 134-year history of providing people in the Dearne with in-depth news about our local area. It is a trusted voice known for running passionate, thorough and committed campaigns.
"It is often first to break local news, and make its readers aware of important issues which might otherwise fall under their radar – giving people a chance to have their say before it's too late.
"Local newspapers like the South Yorkshire Times play a vital role in the local community and in the community's ability to hold authorities to account.
"If the proposed redundancies go ahead, the Times will have to do that with one hand tied behind its back and it could put the newspaper's long term future under threat. The journalists are fighting for their jobs and the future of the paper."

Labour leader Ed Miliband has praised the work of the striking South Yorkshire Newspapers journalists. In a message to the NUJ strikers, the MP for Doncaster North said:

"I hope the issues facing staff at the Free Press and the South Yorkshire Times are solved soon.
"They are great local papers and I have always appreciated the work they do, with their campaigns and local stories. A strong local press is a big part of our community in Doncaster."

The striking journalists have produced 'bootleg versions' of the Doncaster Free Press, South Yorkshire Times and Selby Times for readers as part of their industrial action against management decisions to cut jobs and close offices.

The journalists say they have made the move because they do not want their readers and communities to miss out on the real news while their indefinite strike continues. The first issues of all three newspapers focus on news about the strike, but the next editions will bring readers all the important news from the streets of their towns.

One of the NUJ members said:

"We are determined to win our strike, but we feel a real responsibility to our readers and are determined to give them the best service they can get.
"We also want to show management – whose slogan, ironically, is 'Life is Local' – that we are willing and more than able to produce quality journalism under the most difficult of circumstances. We just wish our bosses would give us the opportunity to do that while we were at work."

Johnson Press journalists have already scored a bullseye with the support of former world darts champion Dennis "the Menace" Priestley who joined the picket line at the South Yorkshire Times Mexborough office to support the NUJ campaign for jobs and quality journalism.

Dennis Priestley said:

"I am very concerned the newspaper will lose its local identity in this move. I'm a loyal Times reader".

He was joined in his protest by Mexborourgh councillor Sue Phillips – whose defection from LibDem to Labour recently stunned local politics. She said:

"The South Yorkshire Time is the voice of Mexborough ane I fear that we are going to lose our voice. We don't want a newspaper edited from Doncaster – we want our own newspaper."

Two North Yorkshire county councillors presented a united front to protect their local paper. Labour member Brian Marshall joined Conservative Mike Jordan on the picket line at the Selby – one of four South Yorkshire Newspapers titles on indefinite strike following the recent announcement of 18 job cuts and a subsequent deterioration in working conditions.

Mike Jordan said:

"We both serve the interests of people living in Selby district and this newspaper benefits everyone in this area. Politics just doesn't come into this."

Brian Marshall, who spent several hours on the Gowthorpe picket line on Tuesday, added:

"I've been in regular contact with the paper during the 40 years I've served as a councillor. We may be having problems with our national press, but I'm a strong supporter of our regional press, especially the Selby Times."

Tags: , newspapers, regional newspapers, local newspapers, strike, south yorkshire newspapers, south yorkshire times, doncaster free press, epworth bells, johnston press, cuts, closure, labour party, conservative party, goole courier, selby, doncaster, work experience, mexborough