Archant is looking to make almost a third of the journalists at its Norfolk titles redundant as it merges the newsrooms of two dailies, 15 weeklies and their websites.
Staff were told on Friday afternoon of plans to cut 54 jobs from the 179-strong editorial department working on the Eastern Daily Press, Norwich Evening News and their associated local weeklies.
The National Union of Journalists has called a chapel meeting for Monday to discuss potential industrial action.
The announcement is the result of a review of editorial processes at the publishing centre, and follows a similar review at Archant Suffolk – publisher of the Ipswich Evening Star – which has already led to job losses.
Every journalist at Archant Norfolk has recently been asked to complete an “activity audit”, providing a detailed breakdown of the work they do and how long it takes.
In a memo to staff, seen by Press Gazette, Archant Norfolk managing director Stephan Phillips said staff would receive extensive training on a new “integrated editorial system”.
The new software is designed to enable journalists to work more productively across more than one title and create and publish copy both online and in print.
Phillips said the creation of a single news team working across the titles was “a practice which is widely becoming the accepted method of running a modern, multi-channel newsroom”.
And he told staff that, despite the cuts, Archant remained “committed to the editorial quality” of its newspapers and websites.
In a statement, he added: “The newspaper sector is not immune to the general downturn in the economy and we have to make tough decisions about staffing levels like many other businesses.
“We have reduced staff numbers in our other departments such as marketing and advertising sales recently and editorial has not been subject to any major review in the last two years.
“We regret we now have to look at our editorial numbers and will enter into a consultation period with the staff involved.
“The commitment to a new editorial system, which is an investment in the region of £2m, was started by Archant over a year ago.
“It will provide a new way of working, enabling greater online interaction with our readers and it will improve productivity across all our titles.”
According to the NUJ, news reporters are not among the 54 facing the axe – and the cuts will come from the rest of the editorial staff.
NUJ chapel spokesman Pete Kelley said: “We thought possibly 20 to 30 might be affected, but the scale of the announcement has left everybody stunned.
“Decimated is an over-used word. But all our subs know it actually has a technical meaning. The Romans used to take out one in 10.
“Romans themselves would have been shocked by the scale of these proposals, which wipe out almost one third of our editorial department, and we – as journalists – will over the coming weeks be asking why very loudly.”
He added: “It is difficult for my members not to feel the current economic downturn is being used as an excuse to slash staffing levels – and this at a time when loyal, long-serving journalists will find it extremely difficult to find work elsewehere.
“The NUJ will be working hard, in talks over the coming weeks, to bring these figures down. We hope local communities will support us.”