Closure of High & I office shocks staff

 

The Islington office of the Highbury & Islington Express – the High & I – is being closed in August and the staff moved to the headquarters of its sister paper, the Ham & High, in Swiss Cottage.

There are to be no job losses and the paper will remain separate, said CML (Herts and London) regional director Garry Matthews.

The weekly spin-off from the Ham & High opened in 1996 and has been a sales success, with circulation up 31 per cent on last year.

Staff are bewildered at the decision to operate the paper from another London borough. Their editor Ross Lydall went to head office last year to take over the Ham & High when Matthew Lewin was sacked. He has continued to edit the Islington paper as well.

Matthews said "Production of the paper will remain exactly as it is, the same print slot, same schedule – the one slight change will be that the arts and leisure section will be an amalgamation of the two papers.

"We’ll be making it more comprehensive, giving it a broader base. Readers will be getting more information rather than less."

Savings would be made on the office closure, he acknowledged, but said there was a very small team at Islington and insufficient people for holiday cover.

"Moving to the core centre enables Ross to cover more easily, rather than use freelances, but they will remain two separate teams. We will be able to use synergies across the group," Matthews explained. Asked about staff having to travel to their beat, Matthews said: "I don’t think they will be travelling much further. They can go straight out to the areas in the morning and we are covering those costs. It will improve the staff position for them. They will have more facilities based at Hampstead." The move puts the paper on the same level as the rival Islington Gazette, which also does not have an office in the borough.

"We at least had the advantage of being based in the area. We were coming to the situation, five years after launch, where we were the first port of call for people coming in with stories," said one staffer.

Last week, the High & I front page had a dramatic picture of the fire at City University taken by a bystander and brought into the office.

Some journalists have been told they will be reassigned to different roles at Swiss Cottage. There will be fewer news reporters, the arts and features editor David Ryan is leaving to freelance and the news editor, John Dunne, will become deputy editor.

Matthews told staff between £500,000 and £1m had been invested in the paper since launch but it was not making enough money from advertising.

By Jean Morgan

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