GMG commitment to Observer questioned as sections cut

The National Union of Journalists’ national press organiser has questioned whether Guardian Media Group is committed to the long-term future of The Observer after a series of cutbacks were announced today.

Editor John Mulholland told staff that a new look Observer, to be unveiled early next year, will be a less substantial package than that currently on offer.

The business and cash supplements will be dropped and instead those sections will be included in the main news section. The Escape section will be dropped and instead included in a new travel section of Observer magazine.

Three of The Observer’s rotating monthly magazine supplements are also to be dropped: Observer Sport, Woman and Music Monthly. But Observer Food Monthly is being retained.

The new-look Observer will comprise: news, sport, review and the Observer magazine. The company said today that the review and magazine sections will be expanded.

Back in July Guardian News and Media decided to drop The Observer’s TV listings section.

Today’s news follows a publishing review across GNM aimed at curbing pre-tax losses for the company which for the financial year to end of March totalled £36.8m.

The company had considered closing The Observer altogether – prompting a public campaign to save the 200-year-old title which was backed by Press Gazette.

In September, the company stated its commitment the future of The Observer. GNM editor in chief Alan Rusbridger said: “we will be publishing a formidable weekend package – with two papers that complement each other, each retaining a distinctive tone and voice”.

But NUJ national newspapers organiser Barry Fitzpatrick told Press Gazette that the latest changes to The Observer package were “an act of bad faith and something which will make it far less competitive on a Sunday”.

He said: “It’s extremely worrying and I think it suggests they don’t have a genuine commitment to the long-term future of the title.”

According to GNM, staff working on sections of the paper which are going will have the opportunity to apply for jobs on sections which are expanding.

They can also apply for voluntary redundancy under a scheme which runs until December. According to The Guardian more than 60 GNM journalists have so far taken voluntary redundancy this year. This reduces the total number of journalists currently working on The Guardian, Observer and Guardian.co.uk to around 670.

The vast majority of GNM staff are members of the NUJ, and the union’s chapel has said that any compulsory redundancies would trigger an automatic strike vote.

Observer editor Mulholland said: “Like all newspapers we had to make changes both to the way we work and to the products we publish. It has been a difficult few months for staff while we have worked through these changes as part of GNM’s publishing review, and some hard decisions had to be taken given the extremely challenging economic environment for newspapers.

“The paper we have created as a result of this review will continue to uphold the proud tradition of Observer journalism. It will remain a serious, high-quality, multi-section Sunday newspaper, independently edited, and with its own distinct voice.”I am confident that the new-look paper we will launch early in the new year will continue to be a venue for exciting, robust and authoritative journalism of the type which our readers rightly expect.”

According to The Guardian there is also to be further integration of Observer journalists with The Guardian and online leaving only a ‘core’team dedicated soley to the Sunday title. Press Gazette understands that currently around 70 editorial staff work solely on The Observer.

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