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Industrial unrest spreads at Johnston Press Group

25 March 2010

Journalists at Johnston Press Group titles in Scarborough and Sheffield are to vote on strike action as industrial unrest spreads across the group's newspapers. Management efforts to impose a new production system that threatens jobs and the quality of journalism in local newspapers without negotiation has led to the action.

The journalists' colleagues at the Johnston Press-owned Blackpool Gazette and Herald have been taking industrial action after a successful strike ballot. On Monday, NUJ members at the troubled title worked strictly to contract and held a mandatory chapel meeting.

The industrial action is the latest step in their campaign to force Johnston Press Group management to negotiate over the company's attempts to force through the use of the ATEX content management system.

Chris Morley, NUJ northern and midlands organiser, said:

"Johnston Press has used up all the reserves of goodwill among its journalists and it is now running on empty. This means a lot more than mere terminology: successful local newspapers depend to a great extent on the goodwill of professional journalists to produce a publication that is informative and meets the needs of readers.
"At the Blackpool Gazette and Herald, NUJ members are putting exploitation of that goodwill into sharp focus with a day of protest to show that they are reaching breaking point.
"The introduction at breakneck speed of the ATEX production system in other parts of the Johnston Group empire has been a shambles. We have seen enough of the way the employer has forced through changes in working practices to know that the group is sacrificing quality journalism and creating sky-high stress levels for our members.
"At a critical time for the survival of local newspapers, the apparent indifference of Johnston Press Group to the service it should seek to provide to readers is recklessness of the worst sort. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that management just doesn't care about driving away readers and advertisers.
"There is only one sensible way forward in the interest of readers, journalists and the Johnston Press Group itself. If the company sits down with the union to discuss the implementation of the ATEX system properly, a damaging dispute can be avoided. I urge the management to start talking."

The company's introduction of the ATEX system will see reporters writing into templated pages, with some stories going "straight to page", or direct to the printing process, without the work being overseen by sub-editors for checking and other purposes.

In a successful consultative ballot on the issue among NUJ members working across the entire Johnston Press Group, a massive 87 per cent of voters said they would be prepared to take industrial action over the proposed changes.

Tags: , strike, johnston press, newspapers, ballot, local newspapers, scarborough, sheffield, blackpool gazette, atex, quality journalism