Johnston Press faces region-wide technology revolt

Journalists working on Johnston Press newspapers in the Midlands and the North of England, including the flagship Yorkshire Evening Post, have indicated that they would be prepared to take industrial action to defend jobs and editorial standards.

National Union of Journalists members from 13 chapels working across daily, weekly and free titles owned by Johnston Press took part in what the union called a “consultative ballot of members’to show their opposition to planned changes in working practices at the regional publishing group.

Union members are unhappy with Johnston Press’s introduction of the Atex content management system to its centres, fearing it could lead to a fall in quality as reporters write directly into page templates with less scrutiny by sub-editors.

There are also fears that a swathe of sub-editing positions could be made redundant as a result of adopting a technology which has already upset staff following its introduction on other titles in the group.

Independent of the consultative ballot, journalists at the Johnston Press-owned Blackpool Gazette and Herald have already voted in favour of industrial action in protest over possible subbing cuts following the adoption of the new technology.

Eighty seven per cent of those that took part in the region-wide consultative ballot indicated that they would be prepared to join their colleagues in Blackpool and take industrial action over the planned changes – however the union was unable to tell Press Gazette how many of the 300 or more members across these chapels took part in the vote.

Chapels which took part included those at Yorkshire Evening Post’s centre in Leeds, Sheffield Newspapers, Doncaster Free Press, Lancashire Evening Post, Scarborough Evening News along with others in Burnley, Sunderland, Mansfield, Chesterfield, Hartlepool, Mid Derbyshire, Worksop and the chapel of Yorkshire Weekly Newspapers.

Union officials told Press Gazette yesterday the unofficial consultative ballot was conducted as a “mood indicator”, adding that the union wanted to hold talks with Johnston Press over the planned introduction of the new technology.

A similar consultative ballot is expected to be put to union members working on Johnston Press newspapers in Scotland in the coming weeks.

Any formal ballot of staff would be needed before industry action could be legally taken, that would include the adoption of a predetermined timetable of events and official notification of the union’s intentions to Johnston Press.

Johnston Press declined to comment.

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