News International prepares for massive redundancies

News International’s decision to axe nearly 100 jobs on its national newspapers represents one of the biggest single cuts in the company’s history. But opinion is split over why Rupert Murdoch, through the company’s executive chairman Les Hinton, decided to make almost seven per cent of his UK newspaper division redundant.

Company executives blamed a downturn in advertising and the need to invest in new media, while others have cited the company’s imminent move to all-colour printing presses.

The UK arm of Murdoch’s newspaper empire has said it plans to make ‘less than 100’editorial staff redundant.

In a letter to News International senior management, Hinton explained the cuts were ‘necessary because newspaper revenues are coming under pressure while other costs are rising and we are also investing in digital media”.

The cuts are not completely unexpected. Hinton warned staff ofpotential cuts in 2004 when the company announced its purchase of new full-colour printing presses in Enfield, Glasgow and Knowsley.

In a press release at the time heralding the £600m deal, he said: ‘Over this period inevitably there will be job changes and losses as the new automated technology comes online.

There will be no impact on jobs for at least two years and, wherever possible, reductions will be achieved through voluntary redundancy.

‘When this project is complete, our newspapers will be unsurpassed in the quality of their printing and the speed and efficiency with which we produce them.”

In an email sent last week, seen by Press Gazette, editor John Witherow told Sunday Times staff: ‘As explained at today’s presentation, we are having to change the way we produce the paper and make the operation more efficient.

‘The aim is to maintain the high quality of journalism… The reason for these cuts is simple: advertising is having a tough time, our circulation is down and the company is investing heavily in new printing presses and Times Online.”

However, Barry Fitzpatrick, national newspapers organiser for the NUJ, said the company’s move to allcolour printing presses in Enfield was a significant factor.

‘It’s more to do with the early stages of slimming down before they relocate,’he said. ‘There’s the new print site in Enfield and there’s an awful lot of speculation over where the editorial site will be.”

Fitzpatrick also expressed concern that redundancies might be ‘contagious”:

‘There is a frenzy almost, which is being justified by the so-called new media revolution and other commercial pressures, many of which were wholly foreseeable and should be dealt with.”

Fitzpatrick also claimed that the company may be breaching employment law

News International Staff Association chairman Chris Holmes said last week there would be a 30-day consultation period before any redundancies would be made.

But Fitzpatrick said that if the number goes over 100 – a final figure is yet to be announced – the consultation would have to be 90 days.

He said: ‘There is no sign of any of this being transparent. NISA should be making a more thorough disclosure of what’s going on.”

Staff journalists at News International titles expressed concern that the quality could suffer.

One senior journalist said: ‘Obviously you don’t want to see redundancies. There is always a danger that they could spread.

‘They have cut back on the use of freelances already, so if there are cutbacks in other areas it can’t be a good thing for the journalism.”

A News International spokeswoman declined to comment other than to say that individual papers may make statements when the figures are finalised or enough volunteers for the scheme come forward.

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