More than 80 journalists at the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post today greeted the arrival of John Fry, the new chief executive of parent company Johnston Press, with a demonstration.
Fry was due to arrive at the papers’ Leeds offices at midday. Between midday and 1pm, journalists – supported by local politicians – took to the street with placards to demonstrate against a pay freeze and threatened job cuts.
The demonstration was planned as a two-hour walkout – but, after discussions this morning, it took place during journalists’ lunch hour.
Passing cars tooted horns, and leaflets were handed out to passers-by.
Peter Lazenby, joint National Union of Journalists father of chapel at the Leeds titles, said: ‘We’re taking advantage of the visit to express our anger at what’s being done.
‘Through their financial mismanagement they have a £450m debt, and we are expected to pay for it through wage cuts and job losses.”
Lazenby said the dispute was with head office, rather than their line managers. ‘All these decisions are made in Edinburgh,’he said.
Lazenby had said he did not know how many journalists would take part in the demonstration: ‘To be quite frank, there are fears among editorial staff that, if they are seen to be taking any action, they might be picked for redundancy.
“That’s the atmosphere Johnston Press have managed to spread.”
Through natural wastage, and five voluntary redundancies, Leeds lost 20 editorial staff last year, from 184 to 164, according to the NUJ. Management is now seeking more voluntary redundancies.
The NUJ has warned that a strike ballot will be held if any chapel member is given compulsory redundancy.
Vonnie Morgan, a Labour councillor on Leeds City Council, said: ‘I notice that the cost of the newspaper has gone up while your pay is being frozen.
“The newspaper is a really important part of life in Leeds because everybody doesn’t have a computer and for them the local paper is their number one source of news about the world, not just the city.”
Matthew Lobley, Conservative city councillor and prospective parliamentary candidate for Leeds North East, said: ‘It’s of great concern to people in the city that the Yorkshire Evening Post could suffer a loss of reputation in any way.
‘It’s absolutely crucial that elected councillors are held to account by a local paper. It’s part of our democracy.”
Former Labour Euro MP for Leeds, Michael McGowan, said: ‘Leeds is an important European and international city and it needs to have an efficient and effective media news service.
‘It is tragic that things at the local papers have been run down so far. The deadlines on the Yorkshire Evening Post are now so early it is ridiculous.
‘I used to be able to attend an event in Brussels ring the news desk and have it published that afternoon. Not any more.”
Chris Morley, northern regional organiser of the NUJ, said: “These papers are at the cultural heart of the city and of Yorkshire.
“NUJ members want the new boss of Johnston Press to understand that they will not stand by and let these great institutions be destroyed by the chase for excessive profits.”
Fry, who took his new job on Monday, is due to visit the Sheffield Star after Leeds.