The Local Radio Company has announced plans to produce the local news on 10 stations from a central ‘hub’ in Portsmouth – with the potential loss of up to 12 jobs.
The group – which owns 20 local radio licences around the UK – has begun a consultation period with affected staff, who were told of the proposed restructuring last week.
The changes apply to TLRC’s 10 southern stations – which cover a 160-mile stretch from Hastings in the east to Dorchester in the west and Aylesbury in the north.
Under the proposed new structure, each station will employ one locally-based “content manager” who will cover local news and gather audio throughout the day.
A central team of five reporters, two sports reporters and a news editor based at The Quay in Portsmouth will produce the hourly bulletins, which will last between 45 and 90 seconds.
The bulletins will then be read by an on-air presenter locally at each station – after the two-minute national news bulletin from Independent Radio News each hour.
The Local Radio Company argues that the move will make the local news sound more closely integrated with the rest of the stations’ output.
But the National Union of Journalists has said local radio news in the south of England will be “totally gutted” as a result of the changes.
TLRC managing director Jason Bryant told Press Gazette that the restructuring had yet to be finalised and the company was listening to alternative options.
“We are in a consultation period – we’re getting feedback from the local staff,” he said.
“The company will decide its final course of action over the coming weeks and months.”
The National Union of Journalists, which is not officially recognised at the Local Radio Company, has formed a chapel for journalists affected by the changes.
NUJ deputy general secretary Michelle Stanistreet called on TLRC to rethink the proposed restructuring which she said would be “disastrous for democracy and debate”.
“This plan represents more than cutbacks. The news service across the south is being totally gutted,” she said.
“Loyal staff – who work long hours for low pay – are being forced to reapply for what are effectively their old jobs while listeners are being short-changed by radio stations they regard warmly as part of the local community.”
Supporters of the “news hub” system say it gives local journalists the freedom to leave the office and bring in more off-diary stories.
Operating a shift system with several reporters also means that local news can be provided on stations for more hours in the day.
There is currently only one officially recognised NUJ chapel in the commercial radio industry – at Signal Radio in Stoke-on-Trent.