NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet has urged Johnston Press chief executive John Fry to ‘show some leadership’and begin negotiations with striking journalists in South Yorkshire.
Union members on the South Yorkshire Times, Doncaster Free Press, Selby Times and Epworth Bells have been on strike since 15 July in protest at jobs cuts, office closures and increased workloads.
They claim to have “won massive support from local communities’since their action began, and last week handed a petition signed by more than 3,000 readers to Fry following a group financial meeting in central London.
‘Now is the time for John Fry to show some leadership,’said Stanistreet. ‘He claimed not to understand why journalists in South Yorkshire are out on strike, so what better reason to sit down and discuss the major issues at hand.
“Thousands of readers in South Yorkshire are appalled at what’s happened to their local papers under his watch.
‘If quality journalism is as important to him as he said to us outside the Johnston financial meeting, John Fry needs to get his journalists back in work and doing what they do best, serving their communities.
‘That can’t happen until common sense prevails and a commitment to meaningful talks is made.’
Last week the company revealed that in the first six months of 2011 its operating profit fell by 25.7 per cent and its profit before tax was nearly halved, dropping from £26.1m in the first half of 2010 to £13.8m.
Turnover was down 7.5 per cent to £191.8m during the same period and advertising was down 10 per cent.
It also claimed that losses in Scotland and the north of England were greater than in the South and the Midlands, but did not provide a breakdown of the figures.
According to the NUJ, at last week’s meeting the group’s finance chief Grant Murray said the company had ‘sought to protect the quality of our products”, adding that ‘only a small element of our cost savings relate to editorial.”
“Those comments show two very worrying aspects of the mismanagement of Johnston Press,’said NUJ northern and midlands organiser Chris Morley.
‘First, if managers really believe they are protecting the quality of their newspapers, then they are completely out of touch with their readership.
‘If they read the comments from the thousands of readers who have signed our petition in support of the NUJ strike, they will see only too clearly that what is sinking Johnston Press titles is the strain being put on quality journalism by inept management changes to the papers and their production.
“It is equally disturbing that a senior manager can say that savage cuts to editorial jobs and financing amount to ‘only a small element’ of the company’s cost savings.
‘If that is the case, then the obvious way for the group to reverse the slump in quality which is affecting its papers is to restore those ‘small savings’ and improve the performance of the South Yorkshire and other Johnston Press titles.”
Fry was unavailable for comment.