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Substantial redundancies at Newsquest puts quality journalism in danger, say NUJ

3 July 2020

The NUJ is dismayed by the large round of job cuts and redundancies announced by Newsquest, the second largest publisher of regional and local newspapers in the UK.

It has been difficult for the NUJ to gather a comprehensive picture of the latest cuts programme as the company claims they do not hold this information centrally.

However the company are saying that those affected will be required to work their full notice of up to 12 weeks or if individuals are currently on furlough, they must take any accrued but unused holidays before they leave on 31 July 2020. In the case of furloughed staff being made redundant, taxpayers are going to foot 80 per cent of the bill.

The union has compiled the following information relating to the latest cuts:

In Scotland the job cuts include nine from the Glasgow operation and four from the weeklies. The Scottish Farmer magazine is planning to cut one photographer and one member of staff from the editorial team.

In Newport in Wales the plans include cutting 23 roles out of a total of 164 employees. So far the NUJ has been unable to clarify the specific breakdown of editorial roles affected. In addition, in North Wales the company plans to cut two of the five reporters currently employed.

The cuts in the North East of England fall in different sites. In Darlington the company intends to axe one chief football writer, one deputy sports editor, one Teesside editor and one lifestyle features writer. Alongside these cuts there will be one new role created entitled head of sport. In York the company are planning to cut the chief features writer.

In the North West the known job cuts cover two areas. In Lancashire Newsquest intend to make redundant one photographer, one Asian Image editor and one sports role. In Cumbria the cuts include one business editor, one photographer, one features editor and the head of sport.

In the Midlands in Hereford the company plan to axe one Ludlow and Tenbury Advertiser journalist. In Stourbridge one chief reporter (out of a total of three) and one audience content editor (out of a total of two) will be made redundant.

In the South West in Stroud the plans include cutting one sports editor.

In the South and East of England the company intends to cut one reporter and reduce the number of feature writers in Essex. In Oxford Newsquest plans to close vacant roles and axe one sport role. In Brighton one reporter has been targeted for redundancy and in London two sports roles and one content editor role will be cut.

The union believes the axe is falling heaviest on sports departments, photographic desks and features but also among reporters. The overall number of job cuts announced are substantial partly because Newsquest already operates with very small editorial teams.

Fed Bedendo, Newsquest NUJ group chapel MoC, said:

"Our members have done a brilliant job in adapting to the difficulties brought by the coronavirus and have been very understanding of the needs of the business, an example of this has been staff absorbing a painful temporary pay cut to help our publications survive through a very challenging situation.

"Our concern is not just for those who are losing their livelihoods at this dreadful time, but also for those who are left behind. Our newsrooms are already stretched to the maximum and as professional journalists we neither want to see the quality of our work drop nor our stress levels go through the roof.

"We need reassurance that there is a strong plan in place for us to continue to serve our communities properly and safely."

Chris Morley, Newsquest NUJ national coordinator, said:

"We recognise that the pandemic crisis has badly impacted the economy and businesses are struggling to overcome sharp falls in their revenue streams. The government stepped in to provide massive support to commercial companies and to provide a financial bridge to head off mass redundancies.

"It is really disappointing that the so-called Job Retention Scheme (furlough) now appears to be fast turning into a waiting room for redundancy. So many of those roles being selected for redundancy in Newsquest are those that have been recently furloughed, particularly sport and photography.

"What is equally disappointing, is that the hope by the company to keep the reporting capacity of newsrooms intact has not been met in all cases and local managements are looking to take out reporter roles at a time when the demand for trusted news is soaring.

"Constant cuts will not help deliver the quality news publishers will need as they seek to re-orientate their businesses to build sustainable digital subscriptions to beat the cyclical downturns in advertising. The NUJ will be pressing to retain as many journalists as possible so that the company retains skills and knowledge in its rebuilding battle."

The details of the cuts compiled by the NUJ appears to contradict the comments made by the chief executive, Henry Faure Walker, who said last month: "Whilst some editorial roles are likely to be affected, we believe we can maintain the vast majority of journalist jobs and sustain front line reporter resource in particular."

Tags: , newsquest, newspapers, local journalism, local new matters, job cuts, redundancies, furlough