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Newsquest’s reverse ferret on subbing hubs evidence of “disastrous” policy

18 August 2016

The National Union of Journalists has raised serious concerns about the failure of Newsquest’s policy of moving production to subbing hubs, as the company has announced it is to cut 20 jobs in its centres in Newport and Weymouth.

Newsquest is the UK’s second-largest publisher of regional and local newspapers.

According to Press Gazette, the company is looking to reduce 59 full-time equivalent posts to 40. It quotes a Newsquest spokesperson as saying: “Improvements in work flow have reduced the need for as many copy editors in the editing hubs, and therefore a consultation has been started about a possible reduction in staff numbers.”
The consultation is said to end on 15 September.

The cuts appear to signal a change of direction, with a move to return production to local newsrooms. Titles in York are no longer using the Newport hub and the Northern Echo has brought production back in-house. There is speculation that subbing may also be brought back to Glasgow.

The company’s management has conceded that the “one size fits all” does not always work and that headlines often had to be changed when the copy was sent to local titles. It has now instituted a Write to Page system. This involves reporters having to fit their copy into a pre-determined template, which adds to their workload and the time taken for the story to be filed.

On some newspapers the consequence has been that stories are uploaded after the page layout has been completed, adding an hour to the newsdesk’s day.

The change in policy threatens the jobs of those in the hubs and moves the work back to newspapers – which have sacked most of their experienced production staff. This leaves reporters and copy editors in already-understaffed newsrooms taking on the extra work.

Newsquest management said there was still a role for staff in the hubs but, as Write to Page is rolled out, it looks as if their days are numbered.

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said:

“The consequences of Newsquest’s failed experiment could be disastrous.  After the deliberate destruction of subbing jobs in local centres, Newsquest is now taking an axe to its hubs, expecting copy editors to bear the pain for its mistakes. In a triple whammy, reporters and newsdesks are now being expected to pick up the work as it shifts back to local centres with no extra resources. Short staffing, heavy workloads and stress are simply ignored right up to the top of the company. Newsquest’s reverse ferret should be biting the top brass on the bottom, not their overstretched, low-paid staff.”

Chris Morley, servicing officer for the Newsquest Group chapel, said:

“This latest devastating announcement for journalists’ jobs in the UK shows just how much loyalty Newsquest has to its staff. When it was creating the hubs only two years ago, it destroyed production jobs extremely painfully in local centres. To those it put at risk it said that there were jobs available for all should they care to move to take them – in some cases hundreds of miles.Some did take the offer, so what a cruel blow to now put the skids under them.
"Controversially, Newsquest last year obtained an Investors in People award for the Newport hub – now we know why people were sceptical of its worth given the company’s sad history of job losses around all its centres. These cuts must not result in the dumping of further unrealistic and unsustainable workloads elsewhere. Local chapels around the group will be seeking to discuss with managers what the implications for their members will be and challenging unfair and unhealthy workloads.”

A statement from the group chapel said:

"The announcement of job cuts at Newport and Weymouth appear to mark the beginning of the end for a strategy that was misconceived from the get-go. Since the implementation of central copy-editing the casualties – skilled production workers throughout the UK, readers and advertisers and the latest staff facing redundancy – have far outnumbered the benefits."

Tags: , newsquest, local news matters, local newspapers, subbing hub, newport, weymouth, redundancies, cuts