NUJ claims Newsquest is 'addicted to cuts' as Northern Echo journalists hold strike ballot

A series of redundancies at Newsquest newsrooms across the UK has led the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) to accuse the regional publisher of being “addicted to cuts”.

In Darlington, where regional daily the Northern Echo is produced, staff have agreed to ballot for industrial action this week.

Three newsdesk positions will be cut down to one under proposals, while one of two copy editor roles working on weekly titles the Darlington & Stockton Times and recently relaunched Despatch series are also under threat, according to the NUJ.

The union said Newsquest had also undertaken the following cuts:

  • Three staff jobs, including arts editor, in York where The Press, Gazette & Herald, York Herald and Yorkshire Living are published
  • Five roles, with three newsdesk jobs to be cut to one, and an edition dropped at the Bradford Telegraph and Argus
  • The number of journalists on the Craven Herald and Ilkley Gazette will be reduced from three to two
  • In south London a sub-editor and freelance photographer have recently been cut (while the staff’s work-to-rule is one year old)
  • In Glasgow, several long-serving staff have agreed to leave, with some negotiating freelance contracts with Newsquest
  • The Herald and Evening Times will be run by a single editor-in-chief, Donald Martin after both editors step down this month
  • Newsquest plans to shut the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard’s office in Cirencester with two editorial roles at risk of redundancy
  • The number of sports editors working at the Standard, Gloucestershire Gazette and Stroud News & Journal are to be cut from three to two
  • Newsquest has called for voluntary redundancies four months after it bought out the Isle of Wight County Press
  • Twelve redundancies on news and production teams across Oxford Mail, Swindon Advertiser, Wiltshire Gazette & Herald and the Wiltshire Times
  • The publisher said it will stop offering extra pay to staff who work on bank holidays or weekends under new money-saving proposals.

Chris Morley, Newsquest NUJ group co-ordinator, said: “Newsquest is addicted to cuts in a way that gamblers are to fixed odd betting machines. This is no strategy for the short-term – never mind the long-term. Savage cuts have not worked in the past 10 years, so why do they think it will turn the company’s fortunes around now?

“We strongly urge senior management to take matters in hand. Give long-suffering staff the break they so desperately need and reverse the strategy into one of investment. With no debt, the company can clearly afford this, but what it can’t afford is a broken and demoralised workforce that is driven into the ground.”

A Newsquest spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the NUJ has taken this stance. Our proposals are regrettable but form part of our plan to continue to invest in frontline reporters and ensure our titles have a sustainable future.”

In an NUJ survey of Newsquest staff held in August/September, which was completed by 115 union members, some respondents highlighted that the pressure and stress had taken a toll on their health.

One said: “I often feel stressed, under pressure and don’t take enough screen breaks, or breaks in general. Even taking holidays, because of lack of staff, is a stressful business. I work very long hours. Because I often work remotely, as they closed our office, I am alone and isolated.”

Another said: “I am concerned that cracks are appearing in my health that are directly linked to the job.”

The Newsquest NUJ group chapel said: “The cuts are relentless and pitiless and are potentially hazardous to health – both physically and mentally – as the comprehensive NUJ stress survey completed just a few months ago showed.”

Picture: NUJ (staff in south London on strike last year)

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