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Jobs massacre at Newsquest

© Jason Harris

29 April 2015

More than 30 jobs have been made redundant or put at risk on Newsquest titles in the north east, London, the  Home Counties and Wales.

The cull was described as a massacre by the NUJ and follows year-on-year cuts at the titles, which include The Press in York and the Northern Echo in Darlington.

The news came as Gannett, Newsquest's parent company in the USA, held its AGM, which included the rubber-stamping of a decision to spin off its publishing arm from its broadcast and digital operations.

The NUJ believes that on the Northern Echo nine weekly and daily production journalists and a graphic designer will be at risk of redundancy. Two chief subs jobs will be retained at Darlington, on the Echo and Stockton & Darlington Times. Four production subs' jobs will be transferred to Bradford. The editor of the Stockton & Darlington Times is also to go.

In York, those at risk of redundancy are the Gazette & Herald's editor and deputy editor, its internet editor, digital communications editor, newsroom assistant and deputy sports editor. Jobs to be transferred to Bradford are the chief sub, night production editor, features editor and communities editor.

In Bradford the editor of Craven Herald, editor of the Keighley News, editor of the Ilkley Gazette/Wharfedale Observer are at risk of redundancy as are: one job on multimedia content features/supplements, one commercial features writer, one features writer, one deputy sports editor and one graphic artist. Five jobs will be created at Bradford.

The company wants to end consultation by 31 May and the new system to start from 1 June.

Chris Morley, Northern and Midlands organiser, said:

"The words used by our members following today's announcements are 'shell shocked' and 'job massacre'. After so many casualties and waves of cutbacks at Newsquest centres, it does seem that the company is at war with its staff. There may be jobs for some at Bradford, but who would trust the company enough to move home with the real risk the post will disappear in the near future?

"At a time when the company's US bosses are wallowing in obscene, mega-handouts and patting themselves on the back, staff at their UK outpost have been hung out to dry.

"These potential job cuts came from nowhere and they take the company nowhere. I suspect this is just a sacrificial appetiser for the US moneymen on the day parent company Gannett announces its big demerger. Our members in the affected centres are devastated and once again morale has sunk to new levels. If this is supposed to be the bright new future under the new debt-free publishing business, it has got off to the worst possible start."

Last year, Gannett's top five executives received £15.9m. Gracia Martore, president and chief executive officer, received a £7.5m pay packet (an increase of 56 per cent) and in the unlikely event she becomes a casualty of the demerger, she would be comforted with a parachute worth £15.5m. Gannett owns 82 daily US newspapers, including USA Today.

This week it also emerged that nine editorial posts, including two deputy group editor roles, are to be cut as part of a management shake-up in London and the Home Counties. Eighteen Newsquest titles in North London, Essex, Herts and Bucks were recently placed under a single group editor, Tim Jones. The company has now decided to centralise four newsdesks into one, to be based at the Watford Observer. A memo to staff from Newsquest North London said nine posts were to be placed at risk of redundancy from 22 May, although three new posts will be created.

Ian Murray, Newsquest Hampshire editor-in-chief, announced that production jobs will be lost in Southampton because sub-editing is to be moved to the subbing hub in Weymouth. He said some sub-editing and design functions would also transfer to the Newport subbing hub.

The jobs massacre extended to the South Wales Argus, where the news editor has been made redundant and photographers jobs are at risk. They could be left with only two photographers to cover five counties and three titles. Three newsroom assistants will be reduced to two.

John Toner, NUJ organiser said:

"These job cuts will hit an already stretched editorial staff, and those who are left when the smoke clears are fearing for the pressure they will be under from increased workloads. We have to ask the question, how can the staff trust this employer to offer them any kind of job security? They will live in constant fear of the next round of cuts. No-one should have to work under such conditions."

The job losses in the UK are small beer to Gannett. The smugness and lack of awareness of its management is manifest in a crass, cringe-inducing corporate video, which includes Gracia Martore and her executives singing Everything is Awesome, the theme tune of The Lego Movie, plus some toe-curling rapping ("Turn that frown Upside down/ Hey folks, Gannett's in Town").

The words of the song include: "Everything is cool when you're part of a team/ Everything is better when we stick together. Side by side, you and I gonna win forever/We're the same, I'm like you, you're like me, we're all working in harmony. Lost my job, it's a new opportunity/More free time for my awesome community… Everything is awesome/Everything is cool when we're part of a team/Everything is awesome/When we're living our dream."

But, it seems the irony of the original was lost on Martore and her team.

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said:

"It's Gannett which is living in a dream if they think everything is awesome at Newsquest. Gannett's rapacity has been driving deep cost cutting at the expense of Newsquest's core asset, local journalists producing quality local journalism for their readers. It remains to be seen what the day to day impact of the demerger will be but Gannett's race to the bottom by downgrading jobs, sacking editorial staff including subs and photographers, paying peanuts and hoping readers won't notice the difference is totally unsustainable.

"NUJ members are asking Newsquest readers to back our Local News Matters campaign for a short sharp government enquiry into the local press to look at alternatives. Gannett may not care about sustaining quality local journalism, but NUJ members who actually do the work, do."

Tags: , local newspapers, newsquest, northern echo, york, bradford, darlington and stockton times, darlington, gannett, hampshire, cuts, redundancies, subbing hub, local news matters, the press, stockton & darlington times, gazette & herald, craven herald, keighley news, ilkley gazette, wharfedale observer, usa today, watford observer, south wales argus