Staff backlash at Yorkshire Evening Post over digital newsroom plans

Staff at Johnston Press’s flagship regional newsroom are refusing to begin digital journalism training until they are told how it will affect their working lives.

Journalists at the Leeds-based Yorkshire Evening Post and Yorkshire Post, which between them have 160 journalists and a joint NUJ chapel, voted overwhelmingly in favour of refusing to start digital training at a meeting before Christmas. The chapel agreed on Tuesday to extend the ban until an “enabling agreement” is finalised, outlining exactly how digital media would affect journalists’ working hours and conditions.

Two drafts of the agreement have been rejected, because they lacked details such as health and safety regulations. Leeds is thought to be the first NUJ chapel to refuse digital training.

Johnston has announced it will have recruited a digital editor and digital community editor at the YEP by February.

Father of chapel and veteran YEP reporter Pete Lazenby said the union was not opposed to new media, but wanted to know exactly what it would involve. He said: “We are entering a new era and we have got to ensure our members’ interests. This means enormous changes to the lives of journalists.

“Because we have no agreement, we felt it was inappropriate to proceed with the training.” Lazenby stressed the union was “not trying to block” the change to digital and was expecting a revised third draft of the agreement some time in the next week.

Tim Bowdler, chief executive of Johnston Press, plans to convert every “significant” Johnston newsroom to new media this year.

He told Press Gazette: “I’m very confident that the digital newsrooms will roll out by the middle of the year and if not, by the end of 2007.

“All journalists see the importance of grasping the digital technology. We have no alternative — it must happen, and I’m confident that it will.

“Journalists looking to get on are going to have these skills under their belt.” Bowdler rejected claims that YEP staff have not been involved in plans to transform their paper.

He said: “I’m surprised anyone in Johnston Press would say that. There has been extensive consultation and training has taken place, and that includes people in Leeds.”

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