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Johnston Press board questioned as journalists strike

Picket in Scarborough

Picket in Scarborough   -  © Andrew Higgins

1 May 2010

Journalists bombarded directors of the Johnston Press Group with tough questions at the company's annual shareholders' meeting in Edinburgh.

At the meeting on Friday, NUJ members bombarded the company's board with questions about executive pay, staff morale and the pressures on journalists to continue to produce quality newspapers in the face of 12 per cent staff cuts, a pay freeze and inadequate training on the Atex editorial production system.

Directors said they had not considered linking their salaries to those of average pay for staff. They said remuneration such as £1 million paid to the chief executive in 2009 was 'market value'. Trainee reporters at the Johnston group take home no more than £11,000 a year.

As the meeting was taking place, Johnston Press journalists working for the Scarborough Evening News were on strike and picketing in Scarborough.

Colleagues across the beleaguered newspaper group delivered a 70 per cent vote for industrial action to combat job losses and increased levels of stress and workload caused by the introduction of the Atex content management system. The new system threatens to make many Johnston local newspapers a laughing stock in their communities, through a catalogue of blank spaces and other technical errors.

Among those at the shareholders' meeting was Lawrence Shaw, NUJ assistant organiser, who said:

"Staff have had enough, and now we must carry our campaign on. If we don't do something to stop this crazy approach by the directors, they will kill off the newspapers which are so important to journalists and local readers."

Jeremy Dear, NUJ general secretary, added:

"The Scarborough journalists and their colleagues are in the vanguard of a massive wave of discontent across the Johnston group over management's implementation of Atex, cutting staffing levels and increasing workloads.
"I'm confident our members' action will attract massive support from across the union and among readers. Their fight is for jobs, but it is also for quality. Johnston Press is damaging the newspapers our members produce, creating a product which can only fail to satisfy readers. That is an attack on local communities and local democracy."

Tags: , newspapers, johnston press, agm, pay, executive pay, quality journalism, scarborough, scarborough evening news, atex, local newspapers, stress, cuts, redundancies