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Campaign launched to save Wakefield Express city centre office

3 April 2009

Journalists at the Wakefield Express have launched a campaign to keep the historic paper close to its community after owners Johnston Press announced plans to sell its home of 150 years.

Managers are understood to be close to signing a deal to sell Express House, on Southgate, Wakefield. They are seeking the cheapest alternative premises and are likely to move the paper to an out-of-town location due to high city centre rents.

NUJ members believe that moving the award-winning paper from the city centre would be a disaster. There are fears the move could start the centralisation of other Johnston Press-owned titles in the Wakefield district at an out-of-town "news factory".

The Express NUJ chapel have said they won't let this happen without a fight and is urging Johnston Press to keep the paper at a city centre location.

Journalists have launched a campaign called Keep the Express in Wakefield, and organised a public meeting at Wakefield Labour Club on Thursday, April 23 at 7.30pm.

David Hinchcliffe, former Wakefield MP, will be in the chair and there will be a screening of the 1952 documentary Wakefield Express, which was made to celebrate the paper's centenary by the legendary film maker Lindsay Anderson. His later work included cult films If and This Sporting Life.

The Wakefield chapel are urging supporters to write to Johnston Press chief executive John Fry.

Chris Morley, NUJ Northern Organiser, said:

"The Wakefield Express has been rooted in the very fabric of the city for more than 150 years and has proudly stood in Southgate as an accessible champion of its people during all that time.
"If the bosses of Johnson Press have their way, it will be shunted off to the cheapest out-of-town site they can find. Its ability to stand up for the city will surely diminish as it becomes marginalised by its own owners.
"They have seen an opportunity to grab some cash by disposing of a prime city centre site – but this will be a drop in the ocean of the £470 million the company owes because of reckless management mistakes. The management's strategy of a dash for growth fuelled by debt has turned out to be as bust as the banks that lent them the money.
"But the company still generates huge amounts of cash and has just announced an operating profit of £125 million with profit margins of 25 per cent – that's 25p for each £1 the company brings in when the likes of Tesco get by on less than 10 per cent.
"By continuing to hack away at the number of journalists they have to produce newspapers such as the Wakefield Express, Johnston Press is undermining its own future by attacking the very core of its business.
"By moving newspapers out of town, they are taking the heart out of the city – and leaving a key element of local democracy to shout from the sidelines."

Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, said:

"Every regional journalist knows that the best stories come from personal contacts with people who nip into the front office, or contacts you bump into around town at lunchtime.
"Yet again we have a newspaper management demonstrating that to them property speculation is more improtant than tradtion, good journalism or the role of local papers in scrutinising civic leaders.
"The NUJ nationally is right behind the Wakefield Express chapel's campaign."

Tags: , newspapers, johnston press, wakefield, relocation, wakefield express, chapels, southgate, local newspapers