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DM2014: Subbing hubs - the sweatshops of journalism

Bob Smith: "subbing hubs are sweatshops"  -  © mark dimmock

12 April 2014

The NUJ has committed itself to continue to campaign to fight newspaper closures, the proliferation of user-generated copy and the outsourcing of editing in "disastrous" subbing-hubs, many miles from the local communities they serve.

Conference heard how cost-cutting newspaper owners are undermining the professionalism of journalists by bumping up content with readers' copy, sacking photographers and making the staff remaining following year-on-year job losses experience huge, stressful workloads.

Delegates were told that The Mansfield and Ashfield Chad newspaper had no budget for copy and none for photographs.

Papers owned by David Montgomery's Local World are being encouraged to "skim" for stories and pictures without paying for them. One photographer found a picture of his in the Nottingham Post without a credit. It was only after intervention of the union that the paper reluctantly paid up.

A motion from Nottingham branch noted that the staffing levels of the Post have plummeted to just 48 journalists (there had been 249 when the paper was owned by Northcliffe), yet pagination was increasing.

Newsquest titles in York, Darlington and Bradford went on strike in protest against the decision to move production of the North-east titles to a subbing hub in Newport, Wales. Bob Smith, FoC of the Newsquest group chapel, said the hubs were becoming the equivalent of sweatshop call centres and were severing the link between newspapers and the local communities they were meant to serve.

He said an article by former editor Steve Dyson had enumerated mistakes and cock-ups in copy produced by the Newport hub, because the software was faulty and staff were working shifts of up to 12 to 14 hours.

James Doherty, chair of the NUJ in Scotland, said as someone working in PR he found it shameful that some papers were cutting and pasting press releases without checking them or altering a word.

Martin Shipton, father of the Media Wales NUJ chapel, speaking to a Welsh Executive motion, said that, while there has been a lot of hand-wringing about the crisis in local newspapers, now was the time to take action. He called for the national executive to seek the establishment of media forums charged with devising strategies of maintaining a "vibrant and diverse media landscape" under the auspices of the UK Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The motion was passed by DM.

Conference also instructed the national executive to create a negotiating group that would seek out new buyers and consortiums to take over newsapers that have been closed.

Tags: , local newspapers, trinity mirror, newsquest, local world, dm2014, newspapers, cuts, parliament uk, mansfield and ashfield chad, northcliffe, media wales, assembly northern ireland, assembly wales, nottingham post