More than 500 reasons why Johnston Press should see sense and reinstate Whitby Gazette editor


It is far from ideal that the editor of the UK's fifth best-performing fully paid-for weekly local newsaper was told he was at risk of redundancy the day after news came out of a bumper ABC sales result.

But giving Johnston Press the benefit of the doubt we can perhaps see it as an oversight from beancounters at head office who hadn't fully thought the proposal through.

Hopefully now the craziness of making Whitby Gazette editor Jon Stokoe redundant has been highlighted they will use the consultation period to have a rethink.

In the space of 24 hours more than 500 people have signed a petition (see above) calling for Johnston Press to return Stokoe to his job (he is currently understood to be on gardening leave).

By way of background it is worth noting that it is almost impossible nowadays for print newspapers to grow their sale and readership without big price cuts or massive marketing. Readers are moving from print to digital for their news across Britain and around the world – and the growing use of smartphones and tablet computers is only accelerating this.

So any editor who manages to buck that trend is doing something very special. Only 13 paid-for weeklies out of 373 increased circulation in the second half of 2012 and in some of those cases the rises will have been down to more free copies or changes to edition structures.

The Whitby Gazette grew its 100 per cent paid-for sale by 2.1 per cent year on year to 9,540 in the second half of 2012 despite the cover price increasing from 55p to 90p.

Stokoe is a local man born and bred who is evidently doing a great job. The proposal on the table is for the Whitby Gazette to come under the control of Scarborough News editor Ed Asquith based 20 miles away.

It is no criticism of group editor Asquith (who has overseen a big increase in the per issue sale of his own flagship title since its switch from daily to weekly) to say that he will not be able to give the Whitby community the same service that their own dedicated editor embedded in the local community can. No criticism of Asquith is intended at all.

With more than 200 titles Johnston Press is the third biggest local newspaper group in the UK. Chief executive Ashley Highfield last year outlined an ambitious long-term plan to return the group to profit growth and pay back its debts.

If he really does believe in the long-term future of Johnston Press and local journalism he has to hang on to talented editors who are doing remarkable things. Otherwise he sends out a terrible message about the group's commitment to editorial quality and to the long-term future of its journalism.

Johnston says it can't comment about this matter while consultation is ongoing – which is fair enough. Unless there is some other side to this story that I am missing, I think it will be astonishing if they don't see sense and reinstate Stokoe in the weeks to come. 


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