by Jon Petty A former weekly newspaper editor has told an industrial tribunal he was unfairly selected for redundancy because of his age.
This week he took his case to a tribunal, accusing the paper’s owners Anglia Newspapers of age-related discrimination and unfair dismissal.
After a two-day hearing at Bury St Edmunds the tribunal was adjourned, with a decision to be announced at a later date.
Mr Hart had spent his entire 32-year career with the Echo, joining as a trainee in November 1976 and spending the final three years as editor.
He told the tribunal he had been nominated by Haverhill Town Council for the freedom of the town on the same day he was told that his £32,000-a-year job was to disappear.
The positon was combined with that of Bury Free Press editor under Anglia Newspapers’ group editor, Barry Peters.
But while the company said the decision was taken because the paper was the smallest in the group, Mr Hart claimed it was because he was the oldest editor.
He told the hearing: “They decided to make me redundant to save money and then tried to work out how to cover my job”.
The tribunal was told that no other editors within Anglian Newspapers, a subsidiary of Johnston Press, were considered for redundancy at the same time.
Mr Hart said: “It is my view that the course of action taken was to avoid any sort of selection process in which I might have been involved.”
He added: “The Echo has been my whole working life. I have not spoken to one person who did not consider the decision was completely mad.”
Managing director of Anglia Newspapers Ltd, Richard Parkinson, told the hearing that the decision followed a 23pc fall in advertising revenue in 2008.
“This decision was not to do with the importance of an editor. It was about trying to find more efficient ways of working in an extremely difficult set of trading conditions,” he said.
Mr Parkinson said the Echo, which has a circulation of 4,658, provided an “extremely small” part of Anglia Newspapers’ income and at one point looked as if it might start making a loss, although that had not happened.
Explaining the loss of the editor’s job, Mr Peters added: “The main reason for this proposal was that had the Haverhill Echo been a stand-alone business it would not have been sustainable”.
Mr Parkinson said that Mr Hart was informed in August that his job was at risk and three consultation meetings were held.
Redundancy was confirmed in September and Mr Hart was given 12 weeks notice, although he did not work the full notice period, the tribunal heard.
Both Mr Peters and Mr Parkinson denied that there had been any link between Mr Hart’s age and the decision to make him redundant.
They said Anglia Newspapers had detailed equality and diversity policies and Mr Parkinson pointed to a member of staff who had been recruited as a manager in the newspaper sales department at the age of 59.
JP Fun (12/08/2009 12:23:37)
Welcome to the world of Johnston Press…jumped-up ad reps-come-managers and accountants. No room for journalists.
Nik Kelly (12/08/2009 15:10:21)
Good luck, Mr Hart. Finally, someone willing to stand up to JP and for journalism.
JP Grind (12/08/2009 17:38:32)
The people making these decisions know nothing about local papers – or even local communities. The whole concept of “local” is alien. What they are creating are shoe string-run offices which have become a joke to the readers and advertisers. But hey cash is saved – and that can be used for the snazzy management pool cars and big fancy closed-off offices. Johnston Press – doing the right thing for journalism.
SebastianFaults (12/08/2009 17:51:10)
Elsewhere within the JP group, these small titles no longer have an editor, but are subbed centrally under a group editor. I’m not saying that’s good for local papers, but I’m surprised nevertheless that a JP paper with a circulation of under 5,000 still had its own editor on that sort of salary.
dave (12/08/2009 18:08:56)
Hey SebastianFaults, don’t fret. Plans are afoot to get rid of subbing altogether in JP, I hear. John Fry’s tactics at Archant will soon be used by him at JP. That’s why all JP jobs are temporary contracts, to give those poor subs a job when their subbing roles are made redundant. Hurrah! At least with no subs, the papers are losing a vital line in defence against being sued. If JP has lots of libel cases, perhaps the company will fold and the directors leave with their heads held high. Good work.