Redundant: Johnston Press sacks editor who increased print sales against the odds

Johnston Press has confirmed a proposal to make one of its most successful weekly newspaper editors redundant.

Whitby Gazette editor Jon Stokoe was placed on gardening leave at the end of February just days after figures released by ABC revealed that his paper was the fifth-best performing fully paid-for weekly newspaper in the UK. Sales rose 2.1 per cent in the second half of 2012 to 9,540 despite a cover price increase from 55p to 90p.

The move prompted a local campaign called Save Our Stokoe with a Facebook Group which attracted more than 600 members. An online petition started by Press Gazette attracted nearly 1,400 signatures.

Johnston Press is also planning to close the Whitby Gazette office and operate a smaller office in Whitby on a 'hot-desk' basis used by staff equipped with laptops and smartphones.

Press Gazette understands that the paper will now be left with a sports editor, three senior reporters, an editorial assistant and a photographer.

Scarborough News editor Ed Asquith will now also edit the Whitby paper in addition to his role as editorial director of the Johnston Press East Yorkshire titles.

Stokoe has lived in Whitby since 1980 and began his career as a journalist on the Whitby title in 1995.

He said: “I’m disappointed for the town that there isn’t going to be someone there all the time to give after-dinner speeches, hand out trophies, go to schools and talk to youngsters about being a journalist.

“Ed will be able to do some of that, but there is only so much you can do in the two days a week I understand he is going to be able to spend here.”

Stokoe described the redundancy consultation process as “horrible” and said he was now anticipating that he would need to move his wife and young children away from Whitby in order to find work as a journalist.

He said: "The Whitby Gazette makes money. With more resources we could have made it even better. I was extremely disappointed that I’ve been relieved of my duties. I’m disappointed because I lived and breathed the job – and after growing up here I had so many contacts.

“It is important that local papers have some people in the building who have so many contacts so they can really reflect the feelings of the town. I like to think we’ve been able to do that.

“We’ve grasped all the challenges that have been thrown at us – with more emphasis on the website as well as Facebook and Twitter. We were fitting the bill for the way that [Johnston Press chief executive] Ashley Highfield wants the business to go.”

Stokoe said that securing the sales increase in Whitby was “a real team effort”. He said: “We made sure that if anything happened in Whitby we got it up on the website, in the newspaper and on Facebook and Twitter.”

The campaign against him losing his job started locally and caught fire nationally with the likes of Jeremy Clarkson and James May voicing their support. It was the lead story on an edition of the BBC Look North local TV news. 

Talking about the campaign he said: “I would like to say thank you to Press Gazette for the support, to local people in Whitby and the support I have had further afield from people who have lived in Whitby.

“There has also been great support from people I really respect in the industry, people who have a lot more experience than myself. It just goes to show the importance of local newspapers.”

The cuts at the Whitby Gazette come as part of an ongoing drive to reduce costs at Johnston Press through redundancies and office closures. Last year the company, the UK’s fourth biggest regional newspaper publisher, cut 1,300 staff (one in four of its total).

A Johnston Press spokesperson said: “During the consultation process we fully explored a number of options which Jon eventually decided not to pursue.

“We wish Jon all the best for the future and thank him for his work at Yorkshire Regional Newspapers.”

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