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Newsquest south London staff back, but on a work to rule

© Beowulf Mayfield

31 October 2016

Journalists on Newsquest south London titles returned to their office following ten days' strike action and will be working to rule.

The dispute followed the company putting all but a handful of the 29 staff at risk of redundancy and proposed a "restructure" resulting in 12 reporters covering news, sport and leisure across 11 newspapers and associated websites under a single content editor.

The company said it wanted the per-page cost to drop from £109 to £53 and it axed a contract with a photographic agency.

The strike action won huge support from local MPs, the London Assembly, local councils, readers and NUJ branches who have been donating generously to the strike fund. See campaign page.

A chapel spokesperson said: "We demonstrated to the company our rejection of their proposed structure. Spirits were high over both weeks and we had phenomenal support from other journalists, as well as our readers and elected politicians.

"We went out to our patches to let readers know what exactly Newsquest is going to do to their beloved local papers.The paradox is that getting on patch will be a thing of the past under the new system. We are still as determined as ever to roll back these severe and unnecessary cuts. We will assess our options and everything is still on the table."

The Newsquest  managemnt said it would shelve a new shift system which they had intended to roll out this week.

But as Gannett, the American parent company released its third-quarter results, there was a clear sign that more cuts for the company are down the line, as it said it needed to make $30 million savings. Key points from the announcement were:

  • Net loss for the third quarter of $24.2 million primarily due to $31.6 million of after-tax restructuring, acquisition costs, severance and other related items.
  • Operating revenues for the third quarter $772.3 million up 10.1% (but mostly due to big acquisitions).
  • Robert J. Dickey, president and chief executive officer, said, " While we saw signs of improvement late in the third quarter, we were disappointed with our performance, and as we expected, it was our most challenging period in 2016. We have implemented initiatives that will result in $10 million of additional cost savings in the fourth quarter to align our cost structure with the current industry environment. We are taking these actions to ensure we can remain nimble in the face of ongoing industry challenges while we continue our digital transformation."
  • $14.3 million of unfavourable foreign currency exchange rate changes
  • John Zidich, president of Domestic Publishing, said: "To combat the continuing challenges in print advertising trends, the company is implementing cost saving initiatives, which include reductions throughout our operations as well as in corporate support and related functions. We expect to recognize approximately $6 million of payroll related savings and $4 million of non-payroll savings in the fourth quarter of 2016. On an annual basis, we expect the payroll-related savings to total $30 million and impact approximately 2 per cent of our workforce."

Chris Morley, NUJ Newsquest group coordinator, said:

“The warning lights are clearly on that Newsquest’s American masters intend to carry on with the ruinous policy of trying to hack jobs as their path to growth. It has failed for the past eight years, so why they think such a deeply unimaginative strategy will work now is beyond me.

“Gannett chiefs were handed a golden legacy of a debt-free business following last year’s group demerger now but look in danger of squandering it with short-term, kneejerk reactions to slash jobs rather than to invest in people. They should recognise that quality counts for a sustainable business.

“The fall in the value of the pound against the dollar post Brexit is clearly having an impact on the repatriation of revenue and profits from the UK Newsquest business to America with a $14.3 million negative exchange rate in just the last three months.

“But it cannot be the hard-working and scandalously low paid Newsquest journalists that are sacrificed to make this good. For years, the advantage was the other way round and the UK business was used as a cash cow.

“Our members will take no more of this so it is time to take a long hard look at the boardroom largesse in both the States and UK to align the failure of directors with the wilting balance sheet.”

Tags: , local newspapers, local news matters, newsquest, strike, newsquest south london, gannett, cuts, work to rule