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July 3, 2020

Newsquest’s furlough scheme was a ‘waiting room for redundancy’, says NUJ as at least 38 journalism jobs put at risk

By Charlotte Tobitt

The furlough scheme turned into a “waiting room” for Newsquest sports and photography staff who are now being axed over heavy declines in ad revenues, the National Union of Journalists has said.

Newsquest has said it is making redundancies principally in advertising sales, adding that although some will be in editorial “we believe we can maintain the vast majority of journalist jobs and sustain front line reporter resource in particular”.

But the NUJ said it has collated detail on the scale of the cuts that “contradict” this claim.

It appears that more than 38 editorial roles have been put at risk of redundancy across Newsquest newsrooms in England, Wales and Scotland, according to a rough breakdown from the NUJ.

Many of the roles at risk are in sports and photography – two of the biggest editorial areas that saw people furloughed under the Government’s Covid-19 job retention scheme in March – but reporting and features staff are also affected.

Newsquest furloughed about 10% of its 650 editorial staff, alongside many more advertising staff. The NUJ has now said the scheme appeared to have turned into a “waiting room” for redundancy.

According to the NUJ, the editorial roles at risk of redundancy include:

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  • Scottish newspapers: Four reporters on The Herald/Herald on Sunday, two sports staff, one job on the picture desk, one journalist from the National, one administrator and four staff on the weeklies
  • Scottish Farmer magazine: One photographer and one member of editorial staff
  • Newport, Wales: 23 of 164 employees to be cut, although editorial breakdown unclear
  • North Wales: Two of five reporters
  • Darlington: One chief football writer, one deputy sports editor, one Teesside editor and one lifestyle features writer. One new head of sport role to be created
  • York: Chief features writer
  • Lancashire: One photographer, one Asian Image editor and one sports role
  • Cumbria: One business editor, one photographer, one features editor and the head of sport
  • Hereford: One Ludlow and Tenbury Advertiser journalist
  • Stourbridge: One out of three chief reporters and one of two audience content editors
  • Stroud: One sports editor (Ash Loveridge, pictured left, said he was “gutted”)
  • Essex: One reporter and also cut a number of feature writers
  • Oxford: One sports role and closed vacant roles
  • Brighton: One reporter
  • London: Two sports roles and one content editor

The NUJ said the scale of the cuts was “substantial partly because Newsquest already operates with very small editorial teams”.

Chris Morley, Newsquest NUJ national coordinator, said it was disappointing that “the hope by the company to keep the reporting capacity of newsrooms intact has not been met in all cases and local managements are looking to take out reporter roles at a time when the demand for trusted news is soaring”.

He added: “Constant cuts will not help deliver the quality news publishers will need as they seek to re-orientate their businesses to build sustainable digital subscriptions to beat the cyclical downturns in advertising. The NUJ will be pressing to retain as many journalists as possible so that the company retains skills and knowledge in its rebuilding battle.”

Fed Bedendo, mother of the NUJ’s Newsquest chapel, said she hoped there would be astrong plan” for remaining newsroom staff who are “already stretched to the maximum and as professional journalists we neither want to see the quality of our work drop nor our stress levels go through the roof”.

A Newsquest spokesperson said: “Like many other local media groups, our business has been hit hard by Covid-19. Although, we have seen phenomenal growth in online audiences to our websites as people seek out trusted local news, we have experienced heavy declines in our advertising revenues.”

They added: “Unfortunately, there will be some redundancies, principally in advertising sales. Whilst some editorial roles are likely to be affected, we believe we can maintain the vast majority of journalist jobs and sustain front line reporter resource in particular.”

Staff who kept working through the pandemic and took a temporary pay cut will have their earnings fully restored by October.

Picture: Ash Loveridge

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