Editor's plea fails to head off MEN strike vote

Journalists on the Manchester Evening News and its associated weekly titles have voted to hold a strike ballot despite a warning from editor Paul Horrocks that industrial action could only cause more damage.

Horrocks and deputy editor Maria McGeoghan addressed a meeting of the National Union of Journalists chapel on Friday to outline how a new reduced editorial set-up will work after 78 editorial jobs have been cut.

But they failed to persuade journalists to draw back from a strike vote.

A strike ballot is expected to get underway next week. The NUJ is hoping to get a result by 30 April, when the first compulsory redundancies are due to be made.

The proposed job cuts are to be split evenly between the Manchester Evening News and its sister weekly titles.

Under plans outlined by Horrocks, the first stage of the process will be to close all the weekly offices and bring the journalists into the main MEN building.

Then, over the next few months, journalists on the weeklies and the MEN will be moved on to one editorial system.

By the end of the year it is planned that the MEN and weekly paper editorial teams will be completely merged under one system.

Journalists are particularly concerned that those being made redundant on the MEN will be expected to stay on in order to get the new editorial system up and running.

According to the NUJ, those who take voluntary redundancy at MEN Media are being offered four weeks’ pay per year of service – up to a maximum of 76 weeks.

MEN Media journalists were further aggravated by the fact that this morning they were told that a photographer would be in the building taking photos for parent company Guardian Media Group‘s annual review.

MEN mother of chapel Judy Gordon said: “How insensitive is it to have someone taking pictures of people, large numbers of us won’t be here when the review comes out.”

Of the decision to hold a strike ballot, she said that the editor and deputy editor could not dissuade the chapel, which she said “had no option but to ballot on industrial action”.

“It’s a crazy scheme and we don’t think it’s going to work,” she told Press Gazette.

“Apart from the fact that we don’t want anybody to lose their jobs, we don’t want any compulsory redundancies.

“We will have people from the weeklies moving in to our office and settling in and at the same time we will be retraining our people on a new IT system.

“Then, in theory, by the end of the year we will all be working as one big happy team producing all these different papers.

“For the new system to work they say they are going to need all the MEN people who are being made compulsarily redundant to stay on, retrain on the new system and to work three, four or five months extra.

“They are going to have to work with full commitment to this company knowing that they are going to get the sack at the end of the year.”

As well as explaining the mechanics of the proposed new set-up for MEN Media, Horrocks is understood to have told journalists that he believed that industrial action would only cause more damage.

On Friday, journalists on the Guardian and Observer titles passed a motion saying they would support their colleagues on Guardian Media Group’s regional titles.

And they urged GMG to make more time for consultation and to bring redundancy terms for regional press journalists into line with the enhanced terms given to colleagues on the national titles.

Some 35 editorial jobs are to be cut on GMG’s local papers in Surrey and Berkshire – where the Reading Evening Post is going from five days a week to twice a week and paid-for weeklies the Esher News and Mail and Aldershot Mail are to close.

NUJ members on the southern titles are to meet this week to decide their response to the cutbacks. The Surrey Advertiser is the only one of the southern titles to have official NUJ recognition.

Explaining the need to make the cutbacks on its regional newspapers, GMG said in a statement on Friday: “We understand that staff have concerns and that these changes, especially the job losses, are unwelcome news.

“However, they are essential if we are to continue to publish newspapers and websites in the North West and the South, and if this business is to have a future.

“We will continue to talk to the union and look to work with them as constructively as possible to bring in these changes with the minimum of disruption to staff and the business.

“It’s true that GMG cannot afford to sustain a substantially loss-making regional media business while pursuing the Scott Trust’s core purpose of securing the future of the Guardian.

“But GMG Regional Media would have to make these changes whoever owned them.

“Given the long-term structural changes in the market and now the devastating impact of the recession, it’s become a straightforward matter of survival.”

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