Devastating media cuts in Black Country and Shropshire announced
Midland News Association proposes to cut more than 20 per cent of entire workforce.
The Midland News Association (MNA) has announced it plans to carry out extensive jobs cuts across the company.
The MNA's main local newspaper is the Wolverhampton Express and Star which is the UK's largest paid for regional title and its sister title is the Shropshire Star.
Company accounts in 2018 showed the total workforce was 439. The NUJ does not have a full picture of the cuts programme, but the current details include 90 job cuts across the business: 45 in advertising, 15 in production and operations, 14 in editorial, seven in transport, six in circulation and three in finance.
The company said:
"Specifically, our proposed changes would result in a reduction in the number of content manager roles on newsdesk, a reduction in the number of content manager roles on the sports desk, together with a reduction in the number of roles on the features and weeklies teams. We will also be reviewing the numbers in our reporting and photographic teams."
The union believes nearly half of the current staff have already been furloughed and the current proposals, based on the 2018 staffing figures, represents more than a 20 per cent reduction to the entire workforce.
The company are seeking journalists to volunteer for redundancy by 26 May and they have indicated they will move to identify compulsory redundancies if they do not have sufficient numbers of volunteers.
The cuts will impact on the free weekly newspapers – the Chronicle and Journal series – which circulate throughout the Black Country in the West Midlands, Shropshire and the Welsh border.
If the plans are implemented they will devastate the local news landscape – the titles provide news to many smaller communities where there is little other journalistic coverage or media competition, and the proposals will also have a disproportionate impact on lower income readers who are among the 1.1 million people who live within the four metropolitan boroughs in the Black Country.
The union continues to call on the UK government to provide urgent assistance and support to the media industry to ensure the future viability of local public interest journalism across the UK.
Chris Morley, NUJ northern and midlands senior organiser, said:
"It is deeply troubling that Midland News Association is looking to shed almost a quarter of its entire staff, including a significant number of its already extremely hard-pressed editorial department.
"It is the least worst option that the company is seeking to achieve such big reductions by voluntary means. But the magnitude of the cuts is such that this needs to be done over a longer time frame and with greater consultation to arrive at the best possible outcome for the business to survive after the Covid-19 crisis has passed.
"As the government has extended the Job Retention Scheme at current rates to the end of July, this gives the company the latitude to do this. Morally this should be done because of the huge payments that the public purse has already made in supporting jobs at MNA and those leaving face one of the hardest job markets for decades.
"It is disappointing that the company has made this announcement without giving greater clarity on the true extent of the problems it faces. No one doubts that the advertising market is difficult but loyal and hard-working employees are entitled to be satisfied that such drastic action is fully justified.
"I sincerely hope that MNA's actions do not fundamentally weaken the core news business and are not a harbinger of similar savage cut-backs in the industry – this would be totally unacceptable with all the public money that has been pumped in.
"What we do know is that communities throughout the Black Country and Shropshire face having less local news as edition structures are condensed and weekly titles have fewer journalists with local knowledge working on them."
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, added:
"These cuts will harm the local economy as well as local media coverage, they will also have a significant impact on the communities that are currently served by the titles.
"That is why the NUJ is calling for the government to offer urgent support and assistance for the media industry. The global health crisis has shown the vital role of quality journalism within the spectrum of essential public services and at the same time the crisis is pushing many media companies to the brink.
"Our News Recovery Plan, From Health Crisis to Good News, contains a series of realistic measures that would secure additional funding to rescue and renew the news industry for the future."