Newsquest journalists in Cumbria walked out today in protest at “poor pay” and redundancies, some of which are taking place days before Christmas.
The “severe cuts” affect four newspapers, according to the National Union of Journalists – the Carlisle News and Star, the Cumberland News, the Workington Times and Star and the Whitehaven News.
Staff from these newspapers started picket lines in Workington and Carlisle (pictured) just after 7am today with placards showing slogans including “Scroogequest”, “Stop the cuts”, and “Local news matters”.
The NUJ said Newsquest has made more than 100 people redundant since taking over CN Group in March. It said the company is making staff redundant this week.
It also said journalists at Newsquest Cumbria have received just two pay rises in the past 11 years, and none since 2015.
Jane Kennedy, NUJ Northern and Midlands organiser, said: “We’ve had a great turnout on the picket lines this morning.
“People really do care about local journalism because news is a public service, people need to know what is going on in their communities and we all need local, accurate and timely information.
“Newsquest are making severe cuts again and again. They are slashing front line journalism, jobs and paying out thousands in perks to those at the top of the company.
“Newsquest are systematically asset stripping local journalism in this country and they must be stopped.”
A Newsquest spokesperson said: “It is disappointing that the NUJ has taken this stance.
“The NUJ pay dispute dates back to before Newsquest acquired the loss-making CN Group in March this year. As a result of Newsquest’s involvement, all staff are now in a far more secure position than they were beforehand.
“Since the takeover, Newsquest has secured the staff pension benefits, we have invested in new state of the art technology and we have actually increased the number of reporters serving the respective communities in Cumbria.
“We’re focused on doing all we can to address the challenging financial situation that the company found itself in before our involvement and are taking steps to put the business on a much surer footing for the future so that it will be able to sustain quality local journalism for many years to come.
“This will ultimately benefit all stakeholders, including members of the National Union of Journalists.”
A petition set up asking CN Group managing director Jonathan Lee to reverse the editorial cuts has surpassed 520 signatures in just over a day.
Journalists received cross-party support from local politicians expressing the importance of “strong, vigorous” local newspapers.
Tim Farron, former Lib Dem leader and MP for South Lakeland, said: “Our local reporters here in Cumbria aren’t just writing about our communities, they are part of those communities – they are the glue that keeps our community together. That’s the key to a good local newspaper.
“We are lucky to have so many excellent journalists writing for fantastic papers and they deserve to be fairly rewarded for the work that they do.”
Rory Stewart, Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border, said: “Strong, vigorous local newspapers are a vital part of local democracy. Journalism is extraordinarily important. We will only keep it alive if we reward journalists properly.”
Expressing support for the industrial action Stewart Young, Labour leader of Cumbria County Council, said: “Skilled and experienced local journalists are a key part of our democratic structures.
“Whilst I’ll be the first to say they don’t always make our lives easy, I’ll clarify that by saying nor should they. They disseminate information to the public, organise campaigns, and in the finest examples of work they hold organisations like ours up to public scrutiny.
“To lose such a crucial link is a major loss for us all.”
And Helen Davison, Carlisle Green Party chair, said: “Local journalism is really important for reporting real news as it happens and highlighting important issues.”
Press reform campaign group Hacked Off also spoke out in support, raising concerns that the UK cannot claim to have a truly free press “without a strong, thriving and well-funded local journalism industry”.
The International Federation of Journalists also said it stood by the striking journalists “because colleagues are being made redundant just days before Christmas”. “Shame on you Newsquest,” it added.