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Highfield defends JP office closures programme

Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield has defended the company’s programme of office closures as it emerged that two more weekly newspapers are to lose their bases.

Journalists at the Haverhill Echo and Newmarket Journal are to be based in Bury St Edmunds from September with their current offices due to close at the end of next month.

But Mr Highfield has made clear the current round of closures will continue, arguing that by selling them off, the company will release funds to ensure its remaining offices are “fit for purpose.”

The company has unveiled what it is calling a Staff Working Environment Charter that promises ‘appropriate accommodation’ by the end of 2013 as well as giving journalists the ‘right tools’ to do their jobs.

Mr Highfield said in an e-mail to all staff: “Many of you raised concerns about your working environment in the staff survey and the Charter is intended to address these by reshaping our property portfolio and raising cash while retaining a more appropriate and manageable office network that can be better maintained and will be fit for purpose as we move forward.”

In a statement issued to HTFP, the company said it was reviewing the number of offices it has and intends to sell off those it no longer needs.

“The aim is to release funds to improve the remaining offices to ensure they are ‘fit-for-purpose’ offices and staff have the technology they need to work remotely where appropriate. The strategy will also help the company continue to pay down its debt,” it said.

“Wherever offices have already, or will, shut, the title will of course continue to be published and fully supported. The reporters and sales staff will be given the tools (iPads, smartphones, laptops, etc as necessary) to enable them to work more flexibly and maintain a highly visible presence in their community, including continuing with established contact points, reporter surgeries and, where appropriate, a presence in the premises of other community organisations. At the same time JP is significantly investing in its titles with a rolling relaunch programme.”

The latest closure announcement will see journalists at the two Suffolk titles work out of the offices of sister title the Bury Free Press, 18 miles away from Haverhill and 15 from Newmarket.

The move was announced to staff in a statement from Richard Parkinson, managing director of JP’s Anglia Newspapers division.

It said:  “Anglia Newspapers Ltd announced the proposal to close the Haverhill and Newmarket offices following a review of the reception office foot-fall and business activity in the towns.

“As a result if this proposal there would be a headcount reduction of 1.6 FTE. Prior to any implementation, the company will consult extensively and it is anticipated that this consultation process will be complete by 31 August 2012.”

Other recent announcements have seen the closure of five newspaper offices in Derbyshire, South Yorkshire and North Nottinghamshire, three in West Yorkshire and two in the North-East.

Contrary to a report in a national newspaper, however, none of the actual titles affected by the closures are themselves ceasing publication.

20 comments

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  • July 23, 2012 at 9:50 am
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    Sounds to me like JP are taking the first steps to the job of a reporter being home-based. If everything is templated and it’s all about getting a product out – not the quality – then why not? Next thing everyone will be on freelance contracts so there’ll be no pensions to pay etc etc etc. This is the future. It’s not a very nice, sociable or motivating future, but the future it is.

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  • July 23, 2012 at 10:11 am
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    A good local newspaper is locally produced.
    A good team of journalists and subs work off each other in synergy in a newsroom.
    Remote working might seem like a good line on the balance sheet, but it detrimentally alters the relationship a newspaper has with the community, weakening the paper and ultimately losing the connections, putting sales on another downward spiral.

    We’ve already seen stories on here this summer of how local reporting has given sales boosts to papers – notably Torch and Jubilee related stuff. Why? Because there were lots of local to me stories going in there: people felt connected, bought their local paper again. It’s not rocket science is it?

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  • July 23, 2012 at 10:17 am
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    The Rushden office of the Northamptonshire Telegraph has also been closed. JP hasn’t announced this anywhere though.

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  • July 23, 2012 at 10:25 am
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    In the days before mobile phones, laptops, ipads and office computers my “office” as a raw trainee was often a park bench with a battered old portable on my lap!

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  • July 23, 2012 at 11:17 am
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    Doesn’t this put local newspapers in a rather difficult position, how, for example can they continue to campaign against police office closures, post office and bank closures in towns when they are doing exactly the same thing?

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  • July 23, 2012 at 11:41 am
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    Sadly, Dave is spot on. When any other company quits town it’s a shock-horror story. When a newspaper does the same it’s an exciting opportunity.

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  • July 23, 2012 at 11:42 am
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    Phil makes some interesting points but his post begs an obvious question. Given hundreds of local newspapers continue to be produced by people in the communities that they’re serving, how come their sales performances aren’t better than those where subbing has been centralised or where the journalists don’t work from a local office?

    And a second question, if I may. Are we really saying that Torch and Jubilee related stuff can only be covered by people who work from an office in the market being served?

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  • July 23, 2012 at 11:51 am
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    Just because you have an office in a town – or not – means nothing, it’s the staff that matter. If you have an office which once housed 40 people and now only houses 10 because so many other functions are centralised, it’s common sense to look for an alternative. When the teams are really small there is no justification for a bricks and mortar base any more.

    We’ve all known reporters who have to be prised from their desks and their facebook accounts, they get no benefit from working in the centre of their community because they’re not part of it in the first place.

    The best reporters I have worked with were never in the office, and as long as they have the right kit they will grasp the opportunity.

    Regular news meetings need to be part of the process, but they can happen anywhere – lots of other companies outside the press have already gone down this route. Training will be another big issue, but it can be handled with commitment and good organisation.

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  • July 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm
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    Ah, the old switcheroo eh?

    The staff said their ramshackle offices were a disgrace so we’re closing them – the”aim” being to do up the remaining ones. Maybe. Or pay off the debt. We’ll have to see.

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  • July 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm
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    Ill-informed. Virtually every paper I know which has closed an office in favour of remote working has suffered a drop in sales.

    It doesn’t matter how motivated a remote worker is. The loss of a physical presence, where people are able to pop in off the street at any time, often leads to a corresponding drop in the number of local stories being produced. People tend to pop in on the spur of the moment. A set time meet-and-greet with the public in a cafe just doesn’t cut it. People would have to go out of their way to attend a face-to-face.

    I can think of one classic example of management double-speak which sums up the wrong-headed thinking behind such plans. Once, while I was still in a previous job, a member of upper management came to our office and gloated that our paper had picked up strong sales in a particular patch because a rival had pulled out of an office.

    Just five minutes later, and without any sense of irony, they said they felt consolidating our firm’s existing offices into fewer sites would have no knock-on effect on our sales. How they couldn’t spot such a glaring contradiction I’ll never know.

    Unfortunately such blinkers are not confined to just one media group.

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  • July 23, 2012 at 1:43 pm
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    Offices in towns that newspapers serve are, of course, ideal. But if the newspaper is too small, the costs can make this unviable. In those cases, sharing an office within striking distance is surely better than having no paper. And hopefully, good contacts within the ‘home’ town means a regular presence is possible. This isn’t excuse-making for Johnston or other groups, nor is it saying office closures are good; but in some cases it’s the lesser or two evils.

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  • July 23, 2012 at 2:15 pm
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    What about all those readers – young and old – who aren’t au fait with email, Facebook and twitter and don’t like using the phone, but would rather pop into the local newspaper office and, shock horror, actually speak to a reporter face-to-face. Believe it or not, Ashley, this does happen. I’d be interested to see if these “detailed reviews” involve consultation with readers to get their thoughts on the proposals. Also, while you’re on about axeing offices to save dosh, an observation for you: you’d save a fortune if you got rid of all the MDs’ swanky cars. I suppose you wouldn’t want to upset all your yes-men though…

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  • July 23, 2012 at 2:36 pm
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    Steve,
    There’s a logic to what you’re saying, as there is with this JP decision – the move is to offices about 14 miles away.
    But the temptation is there to stop covering local parish council meetings, court hearings and the like.

    I fear that once the local link has been lost, the standardised templates are introduced and the subs relocated to the middle of nowhere halfway across the planet the good people of Haverill will have had their fill of their local paper and stop buying it.

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  • July 23, 2012 at 2:44 pm
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    JP still haven’t explained exactly what they mean by remote working, and how staff will be financially compensated for this. If I’m going to be working out of my car, I expect JP to buy me that car and pay for all its running costs. If I’m working out of my spare room, then I expect JP to pay me rent for my spare room. If I’m going to be working out of the local library, then I expect JP to pay the library for that space. We are not a ‘community organisation’ we are a business, and the taxpayer should not have to pay our office costs.

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  • July 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm
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    You seem like you are covering your eyes and ears, Steve. I know it’s easy to be negative, but there really is nothing to be positive about here. My first paper – the Heywood Advertiser – has no local reporters now and no local office. I have friends from all across the town and to a person they are appalled by the paper. Some still buy it because they always have but no one has anything positive to say. That’s what happens when local offices are closed and staff is taken out of the town. Same at Middleton Guardian, Rochdale Observer and others in the old group. It’s a crying shame and I find it just as sad to see you defend the further contraction of this industry

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  • July 24, 2012 at 9:33 am
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    @hack. I work for Trinity which has remote working. Remote working means working from your patch NOT working from home (Cafe, library etc). And no you do not get compensated for it.

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  • July 24, 2012 at 10:02 am
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    Sorry Hack, I disagree that we aren’t “community organisations”.
    We really are.
    We maybe serving an evil empire of money men and profit comes before anything else, but most of us on the coalface are still doing what we do to serve our communities.
    And local papers are still very important to communities. We are a special case. You can argue declining standards, falling sales, some papers are rubbish etc, but most people would be devastated to lose their local rag.

    Local offices are best, but as Dyson says, sometimes they just aren’t viable.
    Personally I’ve got no problem with reporters working from libraries or town council offices.
    Yes, we should pay some rent, but the fact that local authorities are keen to keep papers in the town shows how important we to local communities.

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  • July 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm
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    Apologies Barry, but you are deluding yourself if you think journalism is anything other than a profession – a job. It’s not a calling, and really you can’t claim to be doing any good in the community, feeding it tasty tidbits from court and council. The days when newspapers were a force for good are over – they are simply vehicles for adverts now. I started out full of hope and fire, but working for JP has ripped the heart out of my aspirations as it has ripped the heart out of local newspapers. Journalism isn’t social care, it’s hard, unrewarding toil, and having spent my life in it, good times and now bad, I can’t wait for it to be over. Most journos I know do it for the love of journalism, not for the love of people or communities.

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  • July 24, 2012 at 5:23 pm
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    Are they Journalist, thought they had been rebranded as ‘Content Gatherers’? Just go to fill that space, cut the copy to fit

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  • July 25, 2012 at 10:44 am
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    Nonsense Realist.
    My paper has won several campaigns over the last five years. We’ve done a lot of good in the community, highlighted poor services, raised money for charities, even saved two local charities.
    We all live in the town and fight for our community. We take pride in our work.
    We all know we could earn more by going into other jobs but we still love what we do and play a huge part in our community.
    Yes it’s harder than ever and those in charge are too obsessed with the bottom line – but we’re not dead yet.
    I feel sorry for you that you’ve become so bitter – it sounds like it’s time you left the industry, if you haven’t already.
    But don’t write us all off, there are still many of us fighting the good fight.

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