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STV boss says cuts to news team necessary ‘to avoid going the way of the newspapers’

By Charlotte Tobitt

STV’s chief executive has told MSPs that the broadcaster’s plan to cut 34 jobs from the news team is necessary “to avoid going the way of the newspapers”.

Simon Pitts said the company wanted to embrace digital and invest in “bigger, better, fewer programming” on the main STV channel.

The Scottish broadcaster announced proposals last month for a three-year growth plan which, as well as sweeping changes to the news team, will see the STV2 channel close at the end of June with the loss of 25 jobs.

STV will see a “significant investment” of £15m over the next three years, “far more than we are saving in any cuts”, Pitts told the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee yesterday.

He added that STV plans to spend £9m on news per year after the changes, which he said was more than double the other genres of programming put together and just £1m less than last year.

Pitts (pictured) said: “Our news team deliver the best news service in Scotland and we’re very proud of it, but TV news audiences are in decline, and if we want to avoid going the way of the newspapers we have to properly embrace digital, just as our competitors have already done.

“That’s why we are making changes. Our intention here is not to ask the team to do more with less, we’re asking them to do things differently.”

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STV News Tonight, which airs on STV2 at 7pm on weekdays, receives just 1,800 viewers, MSPs were told. News at Six on the main STV channel gets more than 200 times that – around 350,000 viewers.

STV2 magazine show Live at Five receives 2,100 viewers while the channel’s News at One is watched by just 1,300 people on average.

Pitts said: “It’s not that we just have to be patient and the audiences will grow, unfortunately. In the last year alone our news bulletins on STV2 lost over 75 per cent of their initial audience when they launched. It simply isn’t a sustainable model.

“We can’t justify asking our teams to make shows that are extremely good and well put together that no one is watching.”

Journalists will now have to create content for both digital and broadcast, but have been told to “concentrate on doing fewer stories in the future”, according to an internal email sent by STV director of channels Bobby Hain which was shared with MSPs by the National Union of Journalists.

Hain said STV currently creates 50 to 60 stories per day across different platforms, but will aim to do 30 to 40 in future with an “emphasis on doing more stories in a detailed and different way and using those stories across both television and digital”.

Responding to concerns that STV will no longer have a digital news desk, Pitts said: “Everyone will be a digital journalist – that is the big change here.”

Pitts said there would be more cameras in the field across Scotland, going from 30 to 40, despite the number of higher quality craft cameras reducing.

He added that the company expects the workload of individual journalists to be comparable to what they currently experience.

MSP Ross Greer pointed out that Pitts is on a reported salary of £400,000 with total potential earnings of £1.2m this year, while there are journalists in the STV newsrooms on £18,000.

In response, Pitts said: “Do I understand that these decisions are difficult for the people concerned? Of course I do. But they are necessary in order to build for the future.”

NUJ members at STV are currently part-way through a ten-day ballot over whether to hold industrial action, including a strike, primarily on the issue of compulsory redundancies.

Pitts said he was unable to rule out compulsory redundancies but that he was hopeful to minimise them through voluntary redundancies.

He said: “Obviously we hope to avoid industrial action if at all possible, I don’t think that’s what anyone wants.

“We are engaged in an extensive consultation with our teams and with the unions, we are providing lots of information in order for the team to make informed decisions.”

NUJ Scotland organiser John Toner said: “Simon Pitts showed no response when a committee member pointed out that he earns 22 times more than some STV journalists. This does concern our members. He provided inaccurate information to the committee on job descriptions and salary information being given to staff.

“In the absence of a clear detailed plan from management on how they propose to maintain the quality of STV News output with fewer journalists and craft cameras, NUJ members cannot get on board with the restructuring. Once again we call on STV to take the proposals off the table and to enter into meaningful negotiations with the NUJ.

“We are committed to continuing talks with the company to obtain the information our members require.”

Pitts told MSPs job specifications had been given to staff for the following roles: assistant editor, multi-media journalist, assistant producer, production journalist, multi-skilled tech operator, SNG engineer, and multi-media graphic co-ordinator.

However the NUJ claimed only one job description had actually been provided, for the multi-media journalist role, and said no salary information had been given to staff.

The voluntary redundancy period ended today, and Toner said staff had not been given sufficient information to make their decisions.

Toner also said staff had been given conflicting information on whether those who remain at the broadcaster may receive pay cuts, although Pitts said it was not the company’s intention to reduce salaries.

Picture: Scottish Parliament TV

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