Cuts by the back door at Newsquest South London
3 August 2016
Managers at Newsquest South London have cancelled job interviews for the second time in five months, as part of an unofficial hiring freeze that has left the newsroom short eight members of staff.
Interviews for senior reporter and content editor roles were arranged and then cancelled without explanation by managing director Tony Portelli. Since March two content editors, four senior reporters and one trainee have resigned because they were disillusioned by the company's practices, and are yet to be replaced. A digital editor has also left, without replacement.
It has emerged that every hiring decision must now be signed off by Newsquest chief executive Henry Faure Walker.
Journalists have been left without any guidance, or any communication whatsoever, from Portelli, regarding the future direction of a newsroom where staffing is at dangerously low levels. Repeated requests for clarification have been ignored.
Amid this by-the-back-door restructuring, two newspapers were recently produced written largely, or entirely, by an unpaid intern and students on work experience.
In a recent stress survey, the results of which went unremarked upon by Portelli, two-thirds of staff said they did not have sufficient opportunity to ask managers about change; 96 per cent said they disagreed that they were always consulted about change; and 92 per cent were not clear how change was designed to work out in practice.
An NUJ chapel spokesperson said:
"It is the not-knowing that takes its toll; our team, which works incredibly hard, is only just treading water.
"Newsquest's digital-first strategy is in tatters here. Reporters and content editors are at full stretch to produce quality newspapers, with little time left over to truly serve our readers online. Stagnating or falling web traffic has been masked by the use of picture galleries, which log one page view per image the reader sees.
"We work for a company that only implemented mandatory training for online reporting in the second half of last year.
"Journalists who love local news are paying the price for years of poor management by Newsquest.
"Managers who watched the opportunities of the internet sail past them have distracted the accountants not by innovation - in sales departments or in newsrooms - but by burdening their dedicated staff with feelings of helplessness and dread.
"Everyone is thinking, 'Who will leave next, and will I have to do their work as well?'"
Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said:
"We are urging Newsquest to address the acute and harmful pressures they have put on the newsroom and our members.
"These constant and relentless cuts are making local journalism in South London unsustainable.
"Newsquest senior management have adopted a cavalier, bunker mentality and they must now take urgent action to improve the dire working conditions they have created."
Newsquest South London is based in Sutton, employs four news content editors, 16 reporters, three sub-editors, an editorial assistant, a leisure editor and a web editor, plus a sports content editor and two sports reporters, to cover 14 south London, Surrey and north Kent boroughs. They are overseen by a group managing editor and his deputy. Together they produce the Croydon, Epsom, Kingston, Richmond, Sutton, Wandsworth and Wimbledon Guardians (free), the Richmond & Twickenham Times (part-paid), the Surrey Comet (paid) and the News Shopper (Bexley, Bromley, Dartford, Gravesend, Greenwich and Lewisham editions; free), as well as their associated websites (two of those senior reporters have resigned but have not yet left).