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April 11, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:14am

Features team at Newsquest’s The Herald saved after strike threat

By Andrew Kersley

Update 19/4/22: Newsquest has reversed its decision to lay off the entire six-person features team at The Herald newspaper.

The reversal follows a decision to ballot for industrial action among staff at several Scottish Newsquest titles.

The National Union of Journalists said an indicative ballot showed “overwhelming support” for a strike.

The union said Graham Morrison, managing director of Newsquest’s Glasgow-based titled, informed the six affected Herald staff by email that their jobs had been saved, and that the company “will hold discussions with the features writers in regard to current vacancies and realigning content”.

The formal ballot has now been called off.

Original story, 11/4/22:

Scottish national newspaper The Herald is planning to make its entire six-person features team redundant in a move that could lead to a strike at multiple Newsquest outlets in protest.

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In a move branded “callous” and “fundamentally damaging to The Herald brand” in a letter by the Scottish newsbrand’s National Union of Journalists chapel, the features desk is in the process of being laid off at the end of the month.

The features team has a combined 140 years working for the newspaper, with the shortest-serving member of the team having written for the Herald for 19 years.

A Herald spokesperson confirmed a “small restructuring of the features team was progressing” but said it expected to “offer alternative roles to anyone affected”.

According to NUJ insiders familiar with the situation, the alternative roles mentioned refer to giving those affected the chance to apply for already existing job vacancies in other parts of the business.

Members of the NUJ chapel for The Herald plus sister Scottish titles The Glasgow Times and The National have now taken part in an indicative ballot that was strongly in favour of strike action, which means journalists at all three papers could take part in a protest against the plan.

A staffer at The Herald, which is owned by regional news giant Newsquest and is believed to be the world’s longest-running national newspaper, told Press Gazette the move has left the newsroom questioning “who’s going to be targeted next?”

They said: “Apparently, the justification is because features don’t generate as much web traffic and subscriptions online as news and politics stories.

“But that’s not a problem that’s unique to The Herald. Feature stuff, which is long-form content that takes longer to read and write, is never going to generate the bulk of your traffic. Everyone’s quite confused about the specific reason behind targeting features.”

They added: “No self-respecting newspaper runs without any feature staff, even local papers all over the country with much smaller readership and much less budget still have features staff.”

“Where we’re at now is there’s nothing left to cut. We’re really at a level of staff where it’s uncomfortable if people are off sick or are on holiday or on leave. Everyone’s already working far more than they have been contracted to do,” they went on.

“There’s always this sort of nervous feeling… Now, everyone’s just thinking, who’s going to be targeted next?”

The NUJ chapel has written to the newspaper’s leadership, in a letter seen by Press Gazette, to “express our dismay at the decision to sack our entire features team.

“Not only do we believe the decision to be callous and ill-justified, we also consider it extremely short-sighted and fundamentally damaging to The Herald brand.

“The staff who are at risk are some of the most experienced in our industry. Between the six of them, they have an incredible 140 years of service, with more Scottish Press Awards under their belts than most people could dream of. In short – they’re the cream of the crop.”

The letter went on to question the strategy behind the decision, asking how cuts to the features team would increase subscriptions and loyal readership and whether it made the newspaper look like it had “one foot in the grave”.

It also accused the newspaper’s leadership of having a “lack of a coherent digital strategy” thanks to an “incredibly high turnaround of digital staff”.

Last month the NUJ published findings from a survey of its Newsquest members that found more than 55% of respondents were actively looking for jobs outside the publisher.

In February, Newsquest, the UK’s second-biggest regional publisher, bought Archant, the fourth largest in the market. Several Archant employees expressed concerns about the move with one claiming Newsquest “does not care about journalists or journalism”.

Picture: The Herald

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