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Newsquest called to review "flawed" production system

19 January 2016

Newsquest must address problems with working practices at its production hubs to protect the quality of journalism on its titles and to safeguard staff.

A motion passed by the Newsquest group chapel said the system set up by the company was flawed and put stress on staff working in the hubs and those on individual newspapers because of the huge volume of work and lack of communication between them and the regional centres.

The union said a review was needed if the company wanted to improve productivity and to prevent mistakes getting into print. It said those working in the hubs were put under huge pressure and that Newsquest needed to adopt a more caring approach with its staff.

On January 4, Hold the Front Page reported that Newsquest group production director Leighton Jones had emailed regional editors and managing directors to say that headline writing, subheads and straplines would “no longer be written in the copy-editing hubs” and instead go back to local centres to be completed.

This was, he said, “in order to create a more efficient workflow and address the concerns of some of you that you change 80 per cent or more of the headlines that are supplied.”

A week later, other reports indicated there had been a rapid U-turn on this edict and the proposal had been shelved so that the hubs would continue to write headlines, although the company has not made an official announcement.

NUJ members in Newsquest have had many complaints about the system the company created to transfer editorial production work from its publishing centres to the hub. Chapels are concerned that friction is being generated between the staff involved, but with no sign that the company is seeking ways to reduce this.

The worrying situation was discussed by at a meeting at the weekend of Newsquest NUJ group chapel, made up of representatives from individual chapels around the country.

Reps felt that the company was fostering a divisive atmosphere between staff in the hub and colleagues working in the regions – something made worse by the great distances between them, the huge volume of work and inadequate resources at either end. This was leading to great stress as deadlines neared for stories to be subbed with little or no time available to proof pages to ensure quality. This was not helped by poor communication between the hubs and individual titles.

A motion passed by the group chapel said:

“This group chapel expresses deep concern at the lack of communication between regional centres and the Newport hub. This is an inherent flaw in the system established by Newsquest and calls on management to address this urgently to safeguard the quality of the products and the journalism produced. To be clear, the criticism made is of the system, not the people having to work within the system. Unnecessary pressure and conflict is being caused to all as a result.”

The group chapel said contact between staff at the hubs and their colleagues in the centres was actively discouraged by managers apart from very specific reporting lines, for instance, hub staff would have to go through newsdesks to raise a query about a story and not talk to the reporter. Often the communication was only by email.

The union will be seeking to raise these concerns with the company and urged senior management to review the system to relieve pressures on all production staff and tackle all the issues which are building tension and conflict between the two sets of workers as part of its duty of care as an employer. Chris Morley, NUJ Newsquest group coordinator, said:

“The creation of the hub system was done in a very heavy handed way by the company and it has done and continues to do little to help smooth the relationship between its staff. This has been extremely hard on all those who work incredibly hard with insufficient resources to try to make this work.
Newsquest needs to adopt a more caring approach and ease the burden on those at the sharp end of a very difficult process. We are calling on the company to recognise the problems that have arisen from its operating model and work with staff to tackle significant problems in a wide-ranging review that will benefit staff but also aid productivity.”

Tags: , local newspapers, local news matters, newsquest, subbing hub, review, stress, group chapel