Three days of industrial action called at Northern Echo

Journalists at Newsquest's north-east papers are to stage three days of industrial action next week in protest at a series of job cuts and a pay freeze.

The National Union of Journalists chapel at Newsquest North East confirmed today that it was planning to stop work at noon next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for mandatory meetings.

The Darlington-based publisher employs around 100 editorial staff and produces the daily Northern Echo, the paid-for weekly Darlington and Stockton Times and the free Advertiser series.

About 90 per cent of the journalists in the NUJ chapel, which the union claims has a membership of 74, voted in favour of industrial action in a secret ballot earlier this month.

The move comes after management at Newsquest announced plans in November to cut 17 journalists jobs' from the Echo and its associated weeklies – almost a fifth of the editorial staff.

The publisher is also closing five district offices, in Stockton, Redcar, Barnard Castle, Richmond and Thirsk.

Northern Echo editor Peter Barron told staff in a memo in November that the cuts were needed due to the "rapidly deteriorating economic outlook, and the severe impact on advertising revenues across all our titles".

He added: "We appreciate how hard staff are working in the most challenging times for the local newspaper industry, and how difficult it is going to be to implement these changes."

In a statement this morning, NUJ assistant organiser Jenny Lennox said: "The Newsquest chapels in the North East had both been offered pay rises during negotiations before the company snatched them away and imposed a pay freeze.

'At both centres there have been big job cuts and the heart has been ripped out of papers that played a significant part in the distinctive cultural life of the region - and helped to hold the communities together."

In the first six months of this year, circulation of the Northern Echo fell 1.5 per cent year on year to 50,427. Data for the second half of 2008 will be published by ABC in February.

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