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Annus horribilis for photographers ends with yet more job cuts

10 December 2014

Reuters news agency is reducing its number of staff photographers from 18 to 15 as their colleagues at local newspapers in north London and the Midlands become the latest to lose their jobs.

Newsquest is cutting photographic staffers at its north London papers by half, from six to three, hard on the heels of news that photographers Richard Doughty and Andy Lamb have left the Northern Echo in Darlington, but will continue to work on a freelance basis.

It has also been reported that The Times picture desk has told staff they will have to reapply for their jobs.

This week Newsquest is consulting on a reorganisation which will mean staff leaving by the end of the year, with further cuts in the Midlands. Four photographer jobs (one full-time and three part-time) will be reduced to one full-time equivalent. A new 30-mile patch will be created from Dudley in the West Midlands to Alcester in Worcestershire. 

Three photographers in Worcester will go on titles which include one daily and several weeklies, including the Bromsgrove Advertiser which is in culture secretary Sajid Javid's constituency.

NUJ members will meet to decide what action to take.

A letter written by Tim Jones, Newsquest North London group editor, said Newsquest's move to cut staff photographers was due to "reduced space in our titles, the improvement in the quality and quantity of mobile devices used extensively throughout the department and an increase in the number of pictures submitted to the news desk from external sources."

The timetable the business is working to is so tight that a reasonable request to extend a deadline for submitting alternative proposals led to an offer to extend it by just five hours.

Newsquest's plans are part of an alarming trend in local papers which is making the staff almost an endangered species, according to NUJ Northern and Midlands organiser, Chris Morley.

Johnston Press has cut photographers in Yorkshire and in the North West the photographic department has become a mostly freelance operation, with only three photographers remaining across Wigan, Preston and Blackpool, affecting The Gazette in Blackpool, Preston’s Lancashire Evening Post and the Wigan Evening Post. In October JP said 13 jobs would be put at risk of redundancy in its southern titles, including the Portsmouth News, Chichester Observer, West Sussex County Times, and Hastings and St Leonards Observer.

In June, more than 10 photographers working for Local World in the West of England were told they faced redundancy and were asked to accept zero-hours style contracts if they want any work from the company in future.

These companies have been using trainee reporters to take picture without providing them with technical or health and safety training. One Newsquest title is regularly using a nine-year-old boy to provide sports photographs. Already mistakes are being made: one reporter asked to take a picture of somebody leaving a court snapped the wrong person.

Chris Morley said:

“The all-out assault by newspaper companies against their staff photographers is in danger of wiping out a whole, critical and valuable skillset from the newsroom as we know it. One company’s crazy willingness to purge some of its greatest ambassadors to the public is being picked up and copied with indecent speed by another, all greedy for short-term savings at the fag-end of the year.
“In the latest mania, Newsquest has reached new levels of brutality in the supposed season of goodwill. It has put livelihoods to the sword in the space of a fortnight, from the first shock staff announcement to the letter telling our members they are getting their P45.
“As we defend our members against this onslaught, the true value Newsquest places on the loyalty of its long-suffering staff becomes clear: a news photographer who is refused even the tools of the job and has to operate with their own camera kit; hours of processing of pictures after a full shift, flouting of rules on having a break during the shift and the common use of personal mobile phones to carry out business calls. Instead of the vital reinvestment and raising of morale that is so badly needed after six straight years of slash and burn in Britain's media, the reality is still more attacks on the last bastions of quality journalism.”

 Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said:

"Scroogequest is back with a vengeance. They and others should recognise the critical role photographers play in recording our public and community life. Who will be there to do it when they're gone? An over-stretched reporter or an unpaid member of the public simply whipping out a smart-phone to take a quick snap smacks of exploitation.
"Intervention is needed to stop the yawning democratic deficit caused by systematic cuts like these which are being pushed through at speed and will lead to the extinction of a whole job category. This race to the bottom will alienate readers and is completely short-sighted and unfair."

Tags: , photographers, cuts, redundancies, reuters, newsquest, local world, johnston press, newspapers, the times, local newspapers, regional newspapers, blackpool gazette, lancashire evening post, wigan evening post, portsmouth news, chichester observer, west sussex county times, hastings and st leonards observer