As Johnston Press slashes more jobs in Yorkshire, Ashley Highfield says growth will return in 2015

Johnston Press has announced there will be up to 19 job cuts across 19 titles in Yorkshire, according to the National Union of Journalists.

The union has said staff across the Yorkshire Publishing Unit were told their editorial budget is to be reduced by 8 per cent, with between 15 and 19 jobs to go by the end of March.

The announcement comes after Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield told staff this week that his "Vision for 2020" was moving forward to 2015. This was his plan announced in 2012 to pay back £350m of debt and return the company to growth. Under the plan, editorial content will be produced 50/50 between journalists and readers and revenue will also be split half and half between print and digital.

He said on Monday that there would be redundancies across "one or two" publishing units as the company faces a "rapidly changing environment".

He said: “The reality is that, whilst revenue decline is slowing, as a result of the hard work and measures taking place across our business, we still face the challenge of offsetting print revenue decline through digital and mobile growth and, while we are beginning to make great inroads here, the challenge remains. We are not quite at the tipping point.”

In 2012, Highfield predicted the publisher's digital audience would grow from 10m to 20m, while its print audience would shrink from 11m to 8m over the same period. He also predicted that by 2020 all sites would be "digital first" and that "few daily print products" would remain.

Speaking of his "Vision for 2020", Highfield told staff he was describing "a world where our consumption came from mobile as much as anywhere else, where digital audiences outnumbered print, and where as much as half our content was contributed or submitted".

He said: "This would be a world where our business would need to be leaner, reflecting that digital revenues – whilst growing fast – were still going to be smaller than print, and we would need our workforce to be of a sustainable, lower level."

Highfield added: "Well, while every one of those predictions has been realised, they are actually coming true now, or will in 2015, not 2020. And this incredibly fast pace of change has meant that we too have has to make necessary changes, which have often included reducing the number of people in our teams."  

He revealed that in 2015 as much as 25 per cent of advertising revenues will come from digital in certain publishing units, up from 7 per cent three years ago.

He also spoke of the Newsroom of the Future pilot in the north Midlands, in which there are “two teams in the newsroom to deliver content”: “A news team – tasked with seeking out and developing stories, and a communities content team, which cultivates and takes the stories that are submitted to us from the community”.

He said: “Within the pilot we have grouped certain titles where there is a local connection, usually geographical, bringing local teams together.

“This allows us to have larger teams, potentially working from different locations, that are much better placed to manage workload across multiple titles and, of course, to provide cover for one another during holidays and absences – there is less pressure being one journalist down in a team 10 than in a team of two.”

According to the NUJ, the 19 job cuts across 19 Yorkshire titles – which include the Yorkshire Post, Yorkshire Evening Post, Scarborough News and the Halifax Courier – are part of plans to share more content between those titles. It also said there would be more investment in improving websites.

The NUJ said these cuts would be in addition to seven photographer positions put at risk of redundancy across Yorkshire titles.

The NUJ’s Johnston Press group chapel said members were “shocked” by yesterday’s announcement of up to 19 job losses.

It said: “It's difficult to see how further job losses, which leave newsrooms struggling to function, are the way forward. Staffing is already at crisis point, leading to excessive hours and workloads and rock-bottom morale, as evidenced in a recent stress survey by the NUJ.  We are seeking meaningful negotiations with the company to explore ways of avoiding job losses."

In his address to staff on Monday, Highfield added: “We have great journalists and trusted brands, and we must not lose sight of how proud we are of the service we provide for our communities and our customers –  day in, day out.  Our digital audiences are growing rapidly, and we are getting better at monetising them. We have really successful digital products, and the right people to develop these further.  And new content tools will make life easier for journalists. And while no doubt there will be some difficult times ahead, we are on the way to creating a sustainable multimedia business…

“We do not have all the answers right now, but I am confident that, led by our Senior Leadership Team, we will work together to get back to overall growth in 2015. We will emerge from this time of transformation as a stronger, modern multimedia business, well positioned to serve our communities and customers.”

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