24 July 2014

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North-East daily newspapers’ offices to be closed

Regional publisher Johnston Press is planning to close two daily newspaper offices in the North-East and create a new editorial hub in Sunderland.

Staff at the Hartlepool Mail and the Shields Gazette were told yesterday that their offices were to close in the next two months.

In future journalists and advertising staff from both titles will be based at the offices of JP sister title the Sunderland Echo -17 miles away from Hartlepool and five miles away from South Shields.

There are expected to be six editorial redundancies and nine advertising redundancies as a result of the move.

The announcement was made to staff yesterday morning in a statement by Stuart Birkett, managing director of the company’s North-East publishing unit.

It said the proposed changes followed “a detailed review of office accommodation in the North-East, and the requirement to ensure that the business needs continue to be met.”

The company proposes to create a single business unit centred on the head office of Northeast Press Limited at Pennywell Road in Sunderland, where South Shields and Hartlepool editorial and advertising staff will be based.

As well as the South Shields and Hartlepool offices, the existing newspaper offices at Berwick, Kelso and Selkirk are also set to close.

However with the exception of Kelso, the company proposes to retain a presence in each of those communities, with the establishment of what it called “smaller customer-facing offices with hot-desk facilities.”

The statement also made clear that all Berwick and Selkirk editorial and advertising staff will continue to be based locally.

It continued:  “Should these proposals go ahead, we anticipate that there would be a reduction in the number of staff within the combined business of 6 FTE within editorial and of 9 FTE in advertising.  However, it is hoped that this can be achieved through voluntary redundancy and transfer to alternative positions.

“Should sufficient volunteers not be achieved, the company can not rule out the use of compulsory redundancies.

“Prior to any implementation, we will consult with affected staff and their representatives during the consultation process we will explain the business rationale, answer any questions and address any other issues that may arise.

“We anticipate that this consultation process will be completed by 17 May 2012.”

Earlier this week, JP chief executive Ashley Highfield said in a presentation to investors that there would be “regional editorial hubs where relevant.”

However in the same presentation he also said the company would continue to have “journalists on the ground on every town,” citing this as the company’s unique selling point.

36 Comments

  1. House Rules

    Wow. Just wow. How long before they are weeklies then?

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  2. WearyCynic

    Glad to see your commitment to keeping journalists in the heart of their communities wasn’t just PR guff, Mr HiPad!

    Report this comment

  3. obmiJ

    Brilliant. I pity the poor reporter who has to write the obligatory “our newspaper’s going to be even better now we’re holding weekly surgeries in the local Starbucks” article.

    Report this comment

  4. Corporal Clegg

    Way to go JP!
    Enthuse the staff with plans for relaunches giving a hint of enthusiasm for the future.
    Then change dailies to weeklies, create more centralised hubs, lose more staff and take away InDesign, the tool with which we do our jobs.
    Result: Frightened, demoralised, resentful staff expected to work twice as hard on relaunched papers and expanded digital services.
    Can anyone see the problem here?

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  5. Dirk van der Werff, Hartlepool

    No surprise at all .. weeklies next.

    Still plenty of fat salaries and bonuses for management of JP who have overseen the huge decline in the fortunes of local, family newspapers over the past 12 years

    Sub-standard management from the school of ‘blue-sky-out-of-the-box-thinking’ bollox ..

    The one thing the internet does really badly is local news, but for them it was the holy grail. Why follow the path of business where no-one is prepared to pay?

    If newspaper management had INVESTED in staff and INVESTED in people and more importantly REALLY INVESTED in their readers, then ‘the future’ may have turned out so much brighter, but in my years with JP, and I left almost 9 years ago, that NEVER happened.

    Que sera.

    Today I feel very sorry for ex-colleagues who put their heart and soul and up to 25 years into newspapers, and all the new, enthusiastic reporters who will lose their jobs

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  6. GladImOutOfIt

    “journalists on the ground in every town”? And then he closes two town centre offices? Either Highfield’s telling huge porkies or he expects the news staff to open up their front rooms for interviews etc (unexpensed, of course). Or perhaps he’s hoping that horrified councils will hand over a space in the town hall for free – as has happened elsewhere. Having read this story over the last few days I do not believe even his faint pledge to local print journalism. What he really wants is one “national” weekly with
    different mastheads and – possibly – a localised front page but carrying what is left of “national” advertising, with all the local advertising going digital. The journalists will be operating a call centre and the ones “on the ground” will be walking to the job centre.

    Report this comment

  7. Youngreporter

    Give it time and all three titles will be combined into one team. They did it in Newcastle with the Chron, Journal and Sunday Sun, which has worked but will definitely result in more job losses.

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  8. GDK

    There’s nothing like having a feel for what’s going on in your town – from 17 miles away. This is so incredibly crass. Even with “smaller customer-facing offices with hot-desk facilities” this move is going to rip the heart out of what these papers are supposed to be about. And what does it do for staff morale? People who have been in Hartlepool or Shields all their lives, now asked to produce their ‘local’ newspaper on an industrial estate in Sunderland. Laughable.

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  9. voice of reason

    Observing the destruction of the British regional newspaper industry is like watching a bath run away – slow at first, then a little more turbulent before finally going into a frantic spin and disappearing down the plughole. I’m so glad I was around when we still had a few ducks to play with.

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  10. Tog

    The Shields Gazette is the oldest provincial daily still in existence, but for how much longer?

    My Grandmother was a reporter on the Gazette before WWII – if she was still alive she’d be in a rage.

    There will be more to come: No mention made of the JP offices at Alnwick (Northumberland Gazette), Morpeth (Morpeth Herald) and Whitley Bay (News Guardian & News Post Leader). All of these papers provide an essential community service and rely heavily on their local presence and integration.

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  11. Jonathan Jones, Chester-le-Street

    I echo Tog’s comments, that the Gazette is the oldest provincial newspaper still going. I’m proud to have been a chief reporter on the Shields Gazette in the 1990s, before moving onto the Northern Echo.

    At the time I joined the Gazette, from a newspaper in the North West, it was a requirement of my employment that I lived in the vicinity. My wife and I continued to live in the town, when I got the job at the Northern Echo, despite it being a 70+ mile roundtrip to work every day.

    I wonder if the powers that be will demand that reporters still live in South Shields, or Hartletpool, and travel to work in Sunderland each day. With the price of petrol I’d be suprised if that was a popular move.
    However, by the looks of it, there won’t be many staff left at these titles to grumble!

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  12. In Cod We Trust

    Tog. I don’t think community service comes into it, does it?

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  13. Former newspaper reporter who bailed

    Very sad. But what can you do when ad sales are plumetting. Yes, JP are mismanaging it, but I know from my experience with the paper I recently left that this is inevitable. Get out, folks. I’m in PR now and freelancing. Much happier.

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  14. Carts

    JP, still putting the nit in community.
    Different boss, different strategy, different vision, same result.
    Centralise, cut, close, relaunch, rinse and repeat.
    You cannot run any sort of media business without having an affinity with your customers and an understanding of their needs.
    Yes, online platforms will be the future of regional and local publishers but only if they engage and connect with the issues that impact on the community.
    The problem with anyone that has developed their skills in an online market is they only understand communities of interest, not communities of geography.
    It doesn’t matter if JP are platform neutral if their content is also community neutral and, with every stroke, JP becomes less relevant to the communities they claim to serve.

    Report this comment

  15. Right Said Fred

    I don’t get the use of the word ‘neutral’ anyway. Surely it just means you’re going nowhere…. would something like platform-equal have been better? (still pretty dreadful though). Anyone got a better idea?

    Report this comment

  16. catkins

    Clueless jokers.

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  17. not surprised, North East

    What needs to happen is someone to set up in perceived opposition. The sudden recruitment of journalists to boost up online coverage when Sky Tyne and Wear launched by both Trinity Mirror and JP shows they don’t like competition. (Laughable given the amount of people who even know Sky Tyne and Wear exists!).
    Time for both Hartlepool and Shields to have alternative titles. I too worked for JP and have seen this coming for a long time.Oh for the days when newspapers were actually run by editors and not greedy accountants and shareholders…

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  18. Mr I

    Will JP management have the guts to tell the people of Hartlepool and Shields their newspaper is being torn away from them?
    What about the money JP will make by selling off two pieces of prime town centre land?
    Will it be invested in journalism or disappear into the debt which is owed?
    Will JP pay reporters’ expenses for covering even basic jobs such as council and court? Or have they now to be done by phone as well?
    I also feel sorry for the editorial and advertising staff who have put their hearts and souls into proudly serving the Mail and its readers.
    Hartlepool and South Shields aren’t even worthy of a weekly newspaper based in the towns … that shows us all what JP thinks of community journalism.
    Shameful!

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  19. The Audience is Always Right

    Right Said Fred – agree the phrase is a little clunky…How’s about “Cross Platform” but feel that we have to get across the fact that it’s about the audience somewhere….

    Report this comment

  20. Shutter-up-yer-face, Mars

    I put “smaller customer-facing offices with hot-desk facilities” in to Google translate and my computer has now broken.

    Report this comment

  21. Mike Mc C, Southampton

    Having worked on all three of these papers and enjoyed so many happy times with fantastic colleagues in the past I can only grieve for those still left fighting the good fight back in my old stamping grounds. JP appear to say one thing and do another but then that’s the way it goes these days. Mail and Gazette weekly soon? Sorry John and Joy – and Rob too. Soon we’ll just have the memories of great times past.

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  22. The end is nigh

    It’s a disaster for the Shields and Hartlepool titles no question – but also spare a thought for the folk on the Southern Reporter (Selkirk).
    Pre-JP, the Southern was regarded as THE great weekly of the Borders. Now it’s to los its office and be turned into a tabloid – which, given its largely mature, conservative -little c – readership, could prove fatal – with reporters told to ‘hotdesk’.
    How long before the Berwickshire News is merged into the Southern and the Berwick Advertiser and Northumberland Gazette are made into one title?
    How little this man – who thinks people swan around the centre of South Shields with iPads in hand – knows of the papers he is destroying.
    Sad.

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  23. not surprised

    MR I – you must be well out of touch! Journalists covering court and council meetings? Hasn’t happened at JP for a long time… Last we heard people on works experience had been asked to cover court on occasion.
    No money to be made out of Shields Gazette – they have been in rented offices for a long time……

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  24. noonetoknow, Europe

    The fact of the matter is that this has been coming for a long time and needed done now! How is newspapers in the USA fairing? just as bad how about in Europe? Just as bad? is really down to the management?

    well, yes and no. the management put us in this position due to miss management and spending willy nilly. So the debt pile is now too much to service without cutting jobs and centralisation.

    Ad revenues and a dwindling circulation is also responsible and this is due to technology so this was inevitable and has been brought forward due to debt but would have happened regardless. Do JP need 5 print facilities? Do JP need offices and High worth properties scattered throughout the UK? No, the should centralise and stream line.

    Ashley Highfield has a plan and a vision and that is more than anyone else right now. he will rise or fall by it so give it time and see where it takes us.

    Report this comment

  25. InTheClubStyle

    I’d like to meet this “Miss Management” person, sounds quite a gal. And what a great idea JP should “stream line”.
    Way to go, Noonetoknow Europe.

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  26. Proofreader

    noonetoknow – I really hope you’re not a journalist.

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  27. innocentbystander

    noonetoknow

    Judging from from your prose style, aren’t you a features editor I used to work with?

    Report this comment

  28. downnotout

    Journalist?
    No, he’s probably an editorial director.

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  29. getmeouttahere

    Not surprised, you will be surprised to know the Sunderland Echo certainly still covers court and council meetings. Yes, they may not be able to get to every one but the team do a damn good job of covering what they can with the little resources they have.

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  30. exbordersman, scotland

    A hot desking option for the Southern Reporter?! Looking forward to visiting a bothy somewhere to file copy.
    There’s a phrase in the Borders – aye been – that Mr Highfield clearly isn’t aware of. No one is going to whip out their iPads to find out the result of who won the best jam, flower decoration or whatever from Coldstream or Innerleithen SWRI with submitted district copy a big part of papers there.
    ITV marginalised the Borders with the Border TV transfer, JP also seems to be turning its back by scaling back its office presence. Only the BBC seems to be hanging around. The move is hardly a ringing endorsement of their commitment.

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  31. sub-normal

    Hitler’s bombs during World War 2 couldn’t stop production of the Gazette in South Shields, but Ashley Highfield has managed it.

    Well done.

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  32. herts hack

    Sub-normal – most soundbites don’t stand up to examination, yours more than most. Not Highfield’s snap decision, but 70 years and more since the Luftwaffe did its worst and in that time we’ve seen the introduction of local TV and radio, the internet, etc etc etc. The lesson for every town is simple – use it or lose it. Spend enough money over the counter of receptions, they will stay. Prove there’s a business case in maintaining local presence, it stays. But neglect it, and if it can be done cheaper elsewhere it will be. That’s business, whatever sort of business you are in.

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  33. Hacked It

    This is sad. I did my work exp there whilst studying for my NCTJ. It is a great paper and the office was perfectly in the centre of Hartlepool, primed for sending new journalists out on vox pops on their first day!!!
    The building at Sunderland is great and fairly up to date but it’s still a shame to see the Mail moved out of the town!

  34. Scaredforfuture

    @Sub-Normal: “Hitler’s bombs during World War 2 couldn’t stop production of the Gazette in South Shields, but Ashley Highfield has managed it.”

    Actually, Hitler’s bombs DID stop production of the Gazette in South Shields. After the head office in Chapter Row was bombed in 1941, the Gazette was printed on the presses of the Sunderland Echo – then a fierce rival – under an emergency wartime arrangement. More than 70 years later, and this time without an official order from the Government, it is happening again. Sad – and scary for the future.

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  35. not surprised

    getmeouttahere
    Not criticising the staff AT ALL, just management who have cut down on specialists and general reporters so there isn’t the manpower to do the job we all signed up for.

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  36. dave martin, South Shields

    Our “Shields Gazette” to relocate to Sunderland? How do journalists expect to get local stories when based alongside a major trunk route and six miles from South Shields?
    The great newspaper publishers of the Gazette in the past such as the Northern Press would be disgusted with today’s management style.

    Would be great to see these decision makers all put in the stocks in Shields’ market place and publicly shamed.

    They talk about costs but I’ve never heard of any hard up senior management in Johnston Press – only on the shop floor.

    Most comments from friends label them money grabbers and lacking in commonsense.
    Idiots is too polite a word to sum these fools up.

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