We’re only weeks into a new Tory government and predictably local newspaper bosses have been attacking journalists’ jobs. The industry has never been slow in making staff pay the price to maximise profits.
Newsquest Media Group, one of the big four regional newspaper firms, plans a new restructure that would see jobs cut across a range of papers in south London.
A letter to Newsquest bosses from London Assembly members warned that their cuts to newsrooms would have far-reaching consequences.
It said, “We need local papers of a reasonable quality to ensure democratic scrutiny, accountability and encourage an informed and active citizenship.”
In Croydon in south London, with a population of 342,000, only one reporter would be left.
This is a familiar story to those working in big groups like Johnston Press and Trinity Mirror.
Johnston Press slashed thousands of jobs as workers paid the price for the company’s spending spree in the 1990s to rapidly expand in Britain and Ireland.
The firm owes hundreds of millions to the banks, and journalists in Yorkshire are among the latest to feel the axe.
Newsrooms have been merged in an experiment called the Newsroom of the Future, a real piece of Orwellian Newspeak.
This tries to paper over the cracks of dwindling staff by having one team doing lots of video to entice readers onto websites to make money from online advertising.
Teams of community news “curators” deal with “user-generated content”—in other words, the readers filling space for free.
Trinity Mirror, which owns regional titles as well as the Daily and Sunday Mirror, has just doubled cuts to £20 million—blaming poor print revenues—putting more jobs at risk.
The firm had already announced cuts at the Birmingham Post and Mail. Wages are terrible, a legacy of years of derecognition of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) following attacks by the likes of Rupert Murdoch in the 1980s.
At Newsquest many staff working in the capital do not earn the London Living Wage.
All this is crying out for a fightback by the union, which will also have to defend the BBC from fresh attacks by the Tories.
There have been good initiatives such as the Local News Matters campaign and a national summit earlier this year for reps in the sector.
But if we are to defend jobs and conditions more needs to happen quickly, including coordinated industrial action.
This will be most effective if it can unite NUJ members in the big firms.
NUJ should call a national demo to defend local news, the BBC and in solidarity with Newsquest workers.
The victory over the threat to make me redundant at Rotherham Advertiser shows a way forward.
South Yorkshire NUJ mounted a huge solidarity campaign, using social media and mass letters of complaint to management.
A demonstration of 250, ahead of a planned one-day strike, built up pressure and meant bosses backed down. It was a clear attack on the union.
Of course there are problems—constant cuts have their effect on members’ morale and undermine workplace organisation.
But a determined campaign to oppose further cuts, bringing together leadership and the grassroots, could get members’ heads up again.