1 February 2015

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North East papers in turmoil as editor quits and print plant is axed

The editor of a North-East regional daily has today dramatically quit his job after the closure of its print plant was announced.

Rob Lawson, left, has announced he is leaving his post as editor of the Sunderland Echo and editorial director of its sister titles in North-East Press.

The move comes after parent company Johnston Press announced it was closing the Sunderland print plant with the loss of up to 81 jobs and moving most of its work to Sheffield.

As a result of the closure, it is understood that senior editorial staff at the Echo and other titles in the region have been told they may be forced to bring forward their deadlines.

Rob’s departure after a decade at the helm of the Echo was announced to staff this morning in a brief statement by North East Press managing director Stuart Birkett.

It read:  “Rob Lawson, editorial director of Northeast Press Ltd and editor of the Sunderland Echo has decided to leave the company to pursue outside business opportunities.

“Rob has made an outstanding contribution to Northeast Press, and latterly the Group in his role as chairman of the Editorial Review Group, and we wish him well for the future.”

Stuart added that a further announcement would be made in due course regarding the vacant role.   Deputy editor Richard Ord has made been acting editor of the Echo in the interim.

Reacting to the news on Twitter, Rob’s former Newcastle Evening Chronicle opposite number Paul Robertson said he was a “great editor” who would be a “big loss to the industry.”

Rob tweeted in response: “Tough decision to take, but I feel the time is right to go!”

Sunderland-born Rob joined the Echo as editor in August 2002,  having previously been editor of the Shields Gazette.

The news of his departure this morning followed the announcement of plans to close the Sunderland press hall with the loss of up to 81 jobs and transfer most of its work to Dinnington, near Sheffield.

Titles currently printed at the plant in Pennywell include the Echo, the Gazette and the Hartlepool Mail, along with a series of sister weeklies.

Chief operating officer Danny Cammiade said: “A strategic review has been undertaken of the Johnston Press print capacity. As a result of this review it is proposed to close Sunderland Web and transfer the majority of printing to Sheffield Web, with some external contract print support.

“We have, therefore, commenced consultation to TUPE transfer staff to Sheffield Web, in Dinnington.   Should this proposal go ahead up to 81 roles would be affected.

“The Pennywell Northeast Press Ltd site would remain the base for nearly 300 editorial, commercial and support.  It is anticipated any changes to printing would take effect towards the end of October 2012 following a full and meaningful consultation process.”

Sunderland is now set to become the third JP print plant to be axed this year following the earlier closures of the Leeds and Peterborough operations.

It means the company will have just two remaining print plants in England – at Dinnington, near Sheffield, and Portsmouth where 16 jobs are currently under threat due to a reduction in workload.

The Peterborough plant was closed in June with the loss of 35 jobs while the axeing of the Leeds printing centre in March saw 25 jobs go.

The Leeds closure subsequently led to the scrapping of several district editions of the Yorkshire Post.


  1. Cherrywonder

    Another day, another load of jobs axed by Johnston Press.

    You get the feeling the management’s perpetual cull will only come to an end when there’s literally nobody left for them to make redundant.

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  2. Old hack in me prime

    Wouldn’t it be easier just to run a JP ‘Daily Closure and job losses’ satellite site to keep it all nice and tidy for readers’ ‘Strategic review?’

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  3. sutler

    Dear Johnston Press,
    I am the managing director of a printing company operating out a remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. We have just enough spare capacity to print your dwindling numbers of newspapers at out highly efficient plant. Our staff are flexible, abominably paid, and, of course, non-unionised.
    Slight adjustments may be required in your deadlines – our fastest delivery time by tramp steamer is eight weeks – but I am sure when you realise the savings you could make on plant and staff costs, this will not be an insurmountable problem.
    I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
    Yours faithfully
    P R Interman
    PS My brother happens to operating a typesetting and pagination business. I can put you in touch with him as soon as he gets out of prison.

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  4. John Bull

    Well done, Rob. So many editors have become yes men, sitting back and doing what they were told to do, despite knowing that the quality of their product (and with it readership) would suffer.

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  5. Sub be good to me

    Watching Johnston Press operate is like watching a car crash in slow motion.

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  6. Onlooker

    They used to say that every politician’s career ends in failure. I’m beginning to think that no matter how successful senior journalists manage to be in the current, dire climate, the outcome remains just the same. Good luck to Rob.

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  7. Ritch

    Thing is John Bull, it’s impossible to stand up to the directors these days. You make a stand, you’re out of a job and the decision will be made regardless.

    One of JP’s biggest problems now is that editors have so little respect and their power has been undermined so much that bad decisions are going unchallenged.

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  8. Curious

    John Bull is right to applaud Rob but wrong to castigate other editors who he brands as `yes’ men.
    Rob may have something else lined up but he hasn’t left the company with both barrels blazing.

    It sounds like he’s quit on principle but wouldn’t the staff be better off if he stayed and fought their corner from within?
    Other editors have to toe the line as they have mortgages to pay and children to feed. They can’t all walk out on principle. Most do the best for their staff that they can (but there are some who would slit their own granny’s throat without a second thought if it gave them advancement).

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  9. Corporal Clegg

    Good for Rob Lawson. JP has no respect for its editors or journalists in general. Shame on them for driving away talented and previously highly-committed editorial staff.

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  10. Matthew Kilburn

    External print support… More contract work for Trinity Mirror in Newcastle? CN in Carlisle?

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  11. Ed T, Sunderland

    AS a reader of the Sunderland Echo since I was a kid, this is a big shame. Rob is passionate about the City and the paper that covers it. I see it going to a weekly, like the rest of the local dailys, full of ads and a couple of pages of copy. Sad, very sad for Rob, all staff and the people of Sunderland who – over 250,000 strong, need to be better served than this.

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  12. Whocares?

    So Johnston Press continues to lose its best Editors and local Managing Directors while the senior Group Management structure remains virtually unaffected. The highest-paid top tier is incredibly top heavy for a company whose share price has shrunk by more than 90 per cent in recent years.

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  13. More to come

    It’s time for a small publisher to set up an evening paper there. Let’s be straight here, it’s down to international shareholders demanding big returns despite papers suffering sales declines. The result? The workers get booted out. Shareholders will just lose even more now.

    They can be halted if they focus on local issues and return to community roots. Rob was a great editor and I respect him for making a stand. Things come around in circles and I believe local papers will halt the decline eventually. But it won’t be the multi-nationals who’ll do this. It’ll be the smaller players who don’t need to make huge profits to pay directors and their shareholders.

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  14. Fresh Coriander

    This is serious for JP. Rob Lawson is chairman of the editorial review group, the one forum where the views of its journalists can be aired and shared with the people at the top. It sets policy and strategy. He is respected as an editor and as a person. For him to walk out in such a manner sends a shuddering message to the City, to shareholders, to all JP journalists and to readers of JP papers who care about what is going on. Ashley Highfield and his his inner circle will need to use all their skills to claw this back and explain why such a senior and respected figure has walked the plank. Change is much needed, but it can’t be done by sweeping away the foundations in a tsunami which ultimately has been masterminded not to improve the papers, as they say, but to cut costs, and cut them quickly.

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  15. Corporal Clegg

    Excellent comment from Fresh Coriander – shame there’s no retweet button here!

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  16. Tim Rich

    As a former journalist at the Sunderland Echo, I have to say this is simply horrifying. When I was at the paper, 20 years ago, the final edition used to be called the six o’clock, although actually it was printed at around 2pm. Now it will be printed on presses 125 miles away overnight and lugged up to Wearside. If they still run to a business editor, the question he has to be asked is why should anyone invest in Wearside when the Sunderland Echo positively disinvests. And if, God forbid, we have the shooting of two police officers in Sunderland, in the same way we did in Manchester, then they will look ridiculous. When a paper loses control of its presses, it loses control of its own destiny.

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  17. Scribbler

    Fresh Coriander is spot on. It’s a real Emperor’s New Clothes scenario – no one with authority has seemed prepared to stand up and say that this bloodbath is harming local newspapers across JP. Cutting costs – at all costs – and centralising operations will just alienate readers who want LOCAL news. It’s happening already; circulations are on the decline thanks to respected journalists being made redundant and poorly designed, templated papers which in some cases don’t look as good as before their revamp. What a terrible fall-out from some very bad decisions by Bowdler and Co.

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  18. Old-timer

    The suggestion that a smaller publisher should invest in a newspaper there makes me think that there is such a market in several towns (and cities) that have lost their evening paper.
    There is still a call for good local papers, covering local events and national news as it affects things locally.
    JP are killing the newspaper industry and I can’t see what is their aim. At best it is blind incompetence.
    Locals will still buy papers and, OK, times have changed with instant, rolling news. But there’s enough going on in every big town or city to fill a newspaper each day.
    Of course, I’ll come back to something I will never understand: why do papers give away their content for free on the web? There has never been a more ill-advised development in any industry, never mind teh newspaper business.

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  19. ShutterUpYerFace, Mars

    I typed “Johnston Axed” into the search facility of this website. The result was “About 223 results (0.17 seconds)”. Try it yourself if you don’t believe me.

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  20. Rob Lawson, Sunderland

    I’ve been overwhelmed by the support of readers and the folk of Sunderland since I made my announcement this morning. However, I think it only fair to say there is no connection between my departure and the proposed closure of the Sunderland Press. My leaving was agreed last week, and the Press proposal was revealed only yesterday.

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  21. Johnston De-Pressed

    Will the last one out please switch off the l……

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  22. hackette, north

    Wonder if JP will abandon its relaunches next year after they see the inevitable results of the second phase due very soon. Yawn-inducing business columns, facile vox pops, boring politics, are just a few of the brilliant “new ideas” (circa 1960) and nothing to interest the man and woman in the street, like space for real local news.

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  23. InTheClubStyle

    Spot on Hackette, more business news is being openly touted as one of the main things the readers want out of fresh content.
    Excuse me? The readers really said that?
    Translated into management speak, that means more free ad features for the remaining advertisers.

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  24. Mick Tems, Rhondda Cynon Taf

    Strangely enough, “Johnston axed” has shot up to about 286,000 results (0.25 seconds). Well I never…

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  25. Tog

    I’m not entirely convinced by Rob Lawson’s assertion that his departure had nothing to do with the press closure announcement. The closure may well have only been ‘revealed’ on the same day but I’m sure that as a senior manager he was fully aware of the situation when his departure was agreed. If not, the situation at JP is worse than anyone imagines.

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  26. Copyboy

    Sad day for Sunderland. Good luck to all the remaining staff – wherever they may be. And good luck to Rob – a top bloke.

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  27. bad press

    well in sheffield who going to repair the press they even laying off the engineers

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