Newsquest has ordered journalists to declare all “personal” calls made from company mobile phones, with the cost docked from their wages.
Staff at Newsquest, which is owned by giant US publisher Gannet, are expected to mark calls as either “business” or “personal” at the end of each month using a new software system.
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In an email to staff, the regional publisher said: “From 1 July all calls must be tagged, and non-business calls will be deducted from your salary. This means that if you do not tag a call at all it will be deemed to have been personal, and be deducted from your salary automatically.”
The new measure has already been introduced in Newsquest Scotland and is understood to be rolling out across the rest of the UK. It comes after Newsquest switched mobile provider from Vodafone to Alternative Networks, part of O2.
It is understood most reporters use their own mobile phones to make personal calls, but an inside source told Press Gazette: “It’s a very heavy-handed, nanny-state type measure.
“Most people have their own mobile phones so will rarely, if ever, use a work phone for personal calls yet they still have to go through this clunky system every month – which defaults every call to personal, meaning you have to go through every one individually changing them to business – to ensure their wages don’t get docked.
“People are too busy to deal with this. There have been so many staff cuts that people simply do not have the time to deal with unnecessary admin. The feeling is that the company is hoping people will forget to do this so they can get money out of them.”
Regional publisher Newsquest has been making cuts at its newsrooms across the UK in the face of industry-wide decline in revenue from sales and advertising – both in print and online.
In September last year, 27 out of 29 journalists working on 11 Newsquest weekly newspapers produced in south London were placed at risk of redundancy, prompting strike action from members of the National Union of Journalists.
The source added: “Why, when they have lost so much goodwill among their staff after years of job cuts and frozen wages, can they not find it in their hearts to let people off with the odd 50p phone call if they do find themselves in a position where they have to use their work phone?
“Are they going to start charging people if they call to make a dentist’s appointment from their desk phones? Is this the best way to go about saving money?”
“A firm the size of Newsquest must surely have done a deal with their telephone provider that means their mobile calls are essentially free – and if they haven’t then why not? Why are they penalising their journalists for their own financial mismanagement?”
Press Gazette has approached Newsquest for comment.
Picture: Reuters/Phil Noble