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3,000 sign Yorkshire strikers' petition for quality local journalism

Sacked South Yorkshire Times editor Jim Oldfield confronts Johnston boss John Fry at group financial meeting

Sacked South Yorkshire Times editor Jim Oldfield confronts Johnston boss John Fry at group financial meeting  -  © Peter Arkell

26 August 2011

More than 3,000 readers have now signed a petition backing the indefinite strike by journalists at South Yorkshire Newspapers in defence of jobs and quality journalism.

The petition was close to breaking the 3,000-reader barrier when it was presented by striking journalists to outgoing Johnston Press chief executive John Fry at a meeting in London on Thursday (August 25).

The journalists have won massive support from local communities since their action began on July 15 at the Johnston Press-owned South Yorkshire Times, Doncaster Free Press, Selby Times and Epworth Bells over job cuts, office closures, increased workloads and a lack of faith in management.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"Now is the time for John Fry to show some leadership. He claimed not to understand why journalists in South Yorkshire are out on strike, so what better reason to sit down and discuss the major issues at hand.
"Thousands of readers in South Yorkshire are appalled at what's happened to their local papers under his watch. If quality journalism is as important to him as he said to us outside the Johnston financial meeting, John Fry needs to get his journalists back in work and doing what they do best, serving their communities. That can't happen until common sense prevails and a commitment to meaningful talks is made."

The readers' petition had been handed over to chief executive John Fry at a Johnston Press financial meeting called to present the company's interim results for the six months to last July. Johnston Press is the UK's third biggest local newspaper company.

However, shares, which reached a peak of 423p in 2005, are now worth only 5p and the interim figures for the first 26 weeks of 2011 show total revenue down by 7.5 per cent to £191.8m. The group's own website calculator shows that £1,000 worth of shares bought in 2005 would now be worth £10.82.

The striking journalists said the grotesque mismanagement of Johnston Press newspapers was exposed when the group's finance chief Grant Murray told a questioner at the financial results meeting:

"We have sought to protect the quality of our products. Only a small element of our cost savings relate to editorial."

Chris Morley, NUJ northern and midlands organiser, said:

"Those comments show two very worrying aspects of the mismanagement of Johnston Press. First, if managers really believe they are protecting the quality of their newspapers, then they are completely out of touch with their readership.
"If they read the comments from the thousands of readers who have signed our petition in support of the NUJ strike, they will see only too clearly that what is sinking Johnston Press titles is the strain being put on quality journalism by inept management changes to the papers and their production.
"It is equally disturbing that a senior manager can say that savage cuts to editorial jobs and financing amount to 'only a small element' of the company's cost savings. If that is the case, then the obvious way for the group to reverse the slump in quality which is affecting its papers is to restore those 'small savings' and improve the performance of the South Yorkshire and other Johnston Press titles."

The NUJ Yorkshire strike was provoked by redundancies among key staff at Johnston Press in Yorkshire including the editor of the South Yorkshire Times (the title with the best performing circulation in the company) and the sports editor of the flagship Doncaster Free Press.

Johnston Press executives, on the other hand, have enjoyed huge payoffs and grossly distorted remuneration. For example, outgoing chief executive John Fry will leave next October after 30 shambolic months in charge on an annual pay package worth £1.2m.

Hundreds of journalists across the Johnston Press group have lost their jobs, local editorial offices have been shut and the remaining staff have been left with impossible workloads that have brought about failing editorial quality and flagging circulation.

Tags: , johnston press, south yorkshire newspapers, newspapers, local newspapers, regional newspapers, cuts, redundancies, profits, shares, shareholders, quality journalism, strike, south yorkshire times, doncaster free press, selby times, epworth bells, closure