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Local legend and shadow health secretary backs South Yorkshire strike

11 July 2011

The Shadow health secretary and a local legend are among those who have declared support for the striking South Yorkshire Newspapers (SYN) journalists. The Journalists are continuing an indefinite strike over threatened editorial redundancies.

The NUJ members have also unanimously declared no confidence in their editor-in-chief Graeme Huston for his role in the planned job cuts. The threatened cuts would cause particular damage to the weekly South Yorkshire Times title at its office in Mexborough.

Hundreds of South Yorkshire Times readers have been signing a petition condemning plans by the paper's owners to halve its Mexborough editorial staff and remove the editor of the title through redundancies.

The angry readers are being led by Mexborough legend, ex-boxer and marathon man, Tommy Joyce MBE.

Tommy Joyce, who was awarded an MBE in 2007 for his unstinting charity work and was also named Yorkshireman of the Year in 2003, turned out immediately as news of the redundancy plan was made public in the South Yorkshire Times itself.

He took to the town's High Street at the weekend to sign up shoppers to the petition, after the NUJ journalists at SYN began their strike against the proposals.

63-year-old Tommy Joyce said:

"The Times is a great paper and the voice of our town. I will do anything to help it that I can. We must save it".

He then emptied his pockets into a South Yorkshire Times strike bucket to help the on-the-street journalists.

NUJ pickets at the Selby Times
  NUJ pickets at the Selby Times ©Private

Shadow health secretary John Healey, who is MP for Wentworth and Dearne, said:

"The South Yorkshire Times has a proud, 134-year history of providing people in the Dearne with in-depth news about our local area. It is a trusted voice known for running passionate, thorough and committed campaigns.
"It is often first to break local news, and make its readers aware of important issues which might otherwise fall under their radar – giving people a chance to have their say before it's too late.
"Local newspapers like the South Yorkshire Times play a vital role in the local community and in the community's ability to hold authorities to account.
"If the proposed redundancies go ahead, the Times will have to do that with one hand tied behind its back and it could put the newspaper's long term future under threat. The journalists are fighting for their jobs and the future of the paper."

Under the redundancy proposal, South Yorkshire Times editor Jim Oldfield will go, along with another reporter. The paper's newsdesk secretary was paid off, even though the consultations over the proposal have not yet ended.

The plan is to have the title edited from Doncaster, once more by Graeme Huston, editor of the Doncaster Free Press - who took some 2,500 off its sales of 6,500 in three years when he last ran it.

Jim Oldfield took over the title in 2009 and reversed circulation losses of up to 30 per cent, making the paper South Yorkshire's best-performing paid-for title in 2010 with losses of just 3.3 per cent.

As part of the cuts, the sports editor of SYN's flagship Doncaster Free Press has already left his job - which will now be performed by the news editor. An editor at the Goole Courier is also proposed for redundancy.

The South Yorkshire Times is widely recognised as delivering an excellent service to its local community, whose MP is Labour leader Ed Miliband. The striking journalists have been shocked at the threat to the job of the paper's editor Jim Oldfield, whose commitment to local campaigning journalism has helped to make the paper the best-performing Johnston Press weekly in the region.

The NUJ parliamentary group of MPs tabled an early day motion in the House of Commons supporting journalists in Yorkshire "who are leading the fight for quality journalism and local news" and endorsing the NUJ campaign to defend the quality of news service that journalists bring to their local communities.

The MPs are calling on the paper's Johnston Press group proprietors to withdraw the proposals "which will cost jobs, undermine the future viability of the affected titles and damage the provision of local news in South Yorkshire".

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"At a time when the quality of journalism is in the public spotlight, it must be noted that our members at South Yorkshire Newspapers are taking action to defend the quality of the news service they bring to their local communities.
"This is a battle about an important public resource – the information that people need concerning events in their local communities – and in fighting for their livelihoods our members are defending the future of their industry. Journalists in Yorkshire are leading the fight for quality journalism and local news."

Chris Morley, NUJ northern and midlands regional organiser, said:

"Our members at South Yorkshire Newspapers are saying in the strongest possible way that they are willing to defend not only colleagues at risk – but also the crucial ingredient of good journalism which has been placed in jeopardy by the narrow financial considerations of the company.
"The chapel has got to the point where there can be no compromise with a miserable strategy of cheese-paring decline that members believe will finish off their titles in a slow death. Our members believe good quality journalism has a future and is, in fact, the future. It can be the only way for the company to build a successful and sound business amid the current crisis of journalism and the media.
"The company plans to halve the team producing the best performing weekly paper in the region – the South Yorkshire Times. This is a paper that has maintained its circulation, influence and readership which shows that if you offer people top quality local journalism in print, they will still pay for it.
"The NUJ is completely committed to fighting these proposals and saving our members jobs. We hope the company now wakes up and withdraws the cuts proposals."

Tags: , south yorkshire newspapers, strike, mexborough, south yorkshire times, doncaster, doncaster free press, goole courier, edm, cuts, redundancies, quality journalism, local newspapers, regional newspapers, newspapers