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April 3, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:08am

Archant furloughs ‘small number’ of staff as local publishers hit by pandemic

By Charlotte Tobitt

Archant is putting a “small number” of staff on furlough, following in the footsteps of rival publishers Newsquest and JPI Media, in a bid to cut costs during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The local news publisher said in an email to staff this week that furloughed staff would be those whose work had “disappeared” or had been “radically reduced” by the crisis.

It did not confirm what departments would be affected, but other publishers have furloughed sales staff, sports journalists and photographers.

Archant also told staff it could not rule out the number of furloughed staff being increased at a later date, but added: “The reality is we still require the majority of people to keep the business operating.”

Chief people and transformation officer Dee Willmott wrote that although “revenues have been affected across our business… there are lots of extremely positive stories that come through each and every day”.

She referred to an internal company survey earlier this week that showed “many hundreds of you talked about the amazing community spirit that has developed across Archant over the past few weeks”.

“It’s vital everyone does all they can to keep up this momentum.”

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Staff going onto furlough will do so starting on Monday for an initial period of four weeks, receiving 80 per cent of their basic salary.

The Government’s scheme is capped at £2,500 per month, per person, but Archant has pledged to pay the difference so everyone on a leave of absence will receive 80 per cent of their salary no matter how much it is. Newsquest has done the same.

Archant also said no-one’s salary will go below £18,000 per year.

Earlier this week Archant told staff it was raising all trainee reporter salaries to £18,000 from 1 April, ending a disparity which saw those based at its Norwich headquarters (pictured) paid more than those in London.

The publisher also launched a campaign to ask readers for voluntary contributions towards the cost of its local journalism, saying it was something it needed to do “to stay in the game”.

Newsquest has furloughed about ten per cent of its 650 staff, mostly in advertising, while JPI Media is putting 350 employees on furlough including about 60 journalists.

Georgina Morris, lead rep for JPI Media’s National Union of Journalists group chapel, said today that the union is concerned for the “wellbeing and financial security” of its members and is working to support the hardest hit.

“With the serious financial pressures facing the regional media and everything that’s happened with our own employer in recent years, it feels like we’re always braced for the possibility of job cuts or pay freezes,” she said.

“The announcement by Newsquest about putting staff on furlough and cutting pay was the first alarm bell for us though as we tend to find that where one publisher goes, the others soon follow.

“Seeing colleagues elsewhere being furloughed has done nothing to lessen the upset felt by us all on Wednesday when the company briefings were made.

“There’s been panic for those being furloughed in particular as the initial news sinks in and we’re all still trying to understand the finer details and what this means.

“It’s certainly heightened the fears that everyone already held about the prospect of redundancies further down the line.”

Other publishers confirmed to have furloughed staff so far include PA Media, City AM and the Evening Standard.

Read all Press Gazette’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and the news industry here.

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