A Johnston Press memo has revealed that editors have been asked to stop ‘the old practice of reading every story’.
The National Union of Journalists has written to the Press Complaints Commission claiming that the way the new Johnston Press Atex content management system has been introduced is leading to journalists breaking the Editors’ Code of Practice.
Clause one of the Editors’ Code is accuracy. The introduction of the new system at Johnston Press titles has been linked to a number of production errors appearing in print.
In its evidence to the PCC the NUJ has submitted a memo sent by Paul Bentham, managing director of South Yorkshire Newspapers, to journalists on papers including the South Yorkshire Times and the Doncaster Free Press.
In it he says that best practice is now for all editorial pages to be templated, rather than designed around particular stories.
He says that editors should not “continue with the old practice of reading every story”, adding: “Editors should evaluate the risk for each story based on content and the seniority of the journalist and act accordingly.”
Bentham also suggests that page proofs be viewed as PDFs by the editor and that they should not be printed out as ‘this creates a further strain on the network speed”.
Northern Organiser of the NUJ Chris Morley said in a letter to the PCC: “The memo from the managing director contains a number of extremely worrying developments which strike at the heart of an editor’s responsibilities.
‘I believe it is important for the PCC to take a formal view on this as the PCC’s code is written in to JP employees’ contracts. I’m hopeful that the company will think again, in light of the seriousness of our concerns.
“But if employees were to carry out these instructions of the company, it is entirely possible that editors and other journalists will be in breach of the code and therefore their contracts, not to mention the NUJ Code of Conduct if they are a member.
“This is an intolerable position for our members to find themselves in and if a case arose where the fault for a substantial inaccuracy lay with inadequate checking (as directed by the aforesaid memo) where would the PCC put the blame – on the individual editor or the company whose procedures had created the conditions for the complaint to arise?”
Journalists across Johnston Press, which is the UK’s second largest regional newspaper publisher, were due to hold a group-wide strike on 19 May in protest at staff cuts and the introduction of the new content management system.
But the one-day stoppage was called off after a legal challenge from Johnston Press head office which argued that it does not employ any journalists, saying instead that they were employed by autonomous local companies.
The NUJ balloted some 550 journalists across 50 Johnston Press chapels and 70 per cent of the 60 per cent who voted said yes to industrial action.
Chapel officials are due to meet in Leeds on Saturday to discuss holding a series of individual strike ballots at the various Johnston Press centres.