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September 8, 2016

27 out of 29 journalists at Newsquest’s south London newspapers put at risk of redundancy

By Freddy Mayhew

Some 27 out of 29 journalists working on 11 Newsquest weekly newspapers produced in south London have been placed at risk of redundancy, according to the NUJ.

The union said that the regional press giant is proposing to cut 11 editorial staff at its offices in Sutton: four reporters, two content editors, three sub-editors, an editorial assistant and the deputy managing editor will be cut by mid-October.

The managing editor and web editor are the only journalists not at risk of redundancy, the union has revealed.

If the cuts go ahead the NUJ said it will leave 12 reporters and four content editors producing 11 newspapers and eight websites.

The news comes days after it was announced Newsquest was ending a 10-year deal with picture agency Deadlinepix, leaving the Sutton newsroom without any professional photographers.

Staff there are already balloting for strike action over staffing levels, workloads, pay, the health and safety of employees and the reduced quality of newspapers.

Eight members of staff who have left since April have not been replaced, said the NUJ.

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Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said: “These plans are designed to tear the heart out of the local newsroom yet somehow Newsquest expects the staff to carry on as if nothing has happened, producing content for exactly the same number of titles and websites.

“It’s appalling – where is the duty of care to staff over workloads and health and safety.  Where is the care for quality and readers?

“Morale in the newsroom has gone through the floor and while this bombshell was in the offing the MD was heard having a laugh in his office; he didn’t have the courtesy to address staff about these plans and is in the same bunker as his CEO.

“Their slash and burn proposals expose the shabby reality of Newsquest’s drive for soul-less savings at the expense of absolutely anything else.”

The titles affected include: the Croydon, Epsom, Kingston, Richmond, Sutton, Wandsworth and Wimbledon Guardians, the Richmond and Twickenham Times, the Surrey Comet and the News Shopper (Bexley, Bromley, Dartford, Gravesend, Greenwich and Lewisham editions) as well as their associated websites.

The company has cited “difficult trading conditions with sustained pressure on the profitability of the group” for the latest round of cuts, according to the NUJ.

The new-look newsroom would comprise 18 editorial staff and be expected to cover all of south London and parts of Essex.

The London Assembly is considering holding an inquiry into the crisis in news provision in the capital, the union has revealed.

Newsquest Media Group made a pre-tax profit of £58.7m in 2014 (the latest figures available) on turnover of £279m.

An NUJ chapel spokesperson said: “Once again, Newsquest have shown flagrant disregard and contempt for their employees, their products and their readers.

“These new proposals will not only destroy our already struggling news room and ruin the brands we have worked hard to build up, but they are quite simply unworkable.

“Senior management refuse to meet the union or acknowledge our attempts to meet with them. Running a business in this way would be farcical if it wasn’t so tragic.

“We would like to repeat our invitation to managing director Tony Portelli to sit down and speak to his employees. As of yet, he remains hidden in his office.”

A spokesperson for Newsquest said: “We are undertaking this restructuring of the free newspaper portfolio in south London in order to put the business on a more sustainable footing.

“Regrettably, this proposal puts a number of roles at risk of redundancy.”

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