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Three day strike at Citizen over pay, as hacks complain of copy churn

Milton Keynes Citizen journalists are set to go on strike for three consecutive days next week over pay.

The National Union of Journalists says the action is likely to seriously disrupt the production of the paper, as well as a range of sister titles and websites.

Union members at the Johnston Press-owned title voted to take strike action because they felt that management refused to recognise the contribution Milton Keynes journalists are making to the company’s takings.

The dispute centres on a below inflation pay offer and journalists’ concerns about the company’s commitment to quality journalism in Milton Keynes.

The company says staff have had their “best offer” and that steps were being taken to ensure production would not suffer.

Twelve of the 17 editorial staff are members of the union, as well as all three photographers.

Features editor Karen Jeffery, who is mother of chapel, said: “When I started at the Milton Keynes Citizen in 1997 as an eager trainee, we produced one award-winning weekly free paper.

“The newsroom buzzed. We did death knocks; we covered court; attended inquests; our carefully-nurtured contacts rang in; we were able to give our readers every spit and cough.

“Now, we have two weekly papers plus a growing army of Local Pages, free sheets targeted to cover small communities where one man and his PC might dare to challenge JP with a little parish pump newsletter filled with ads for window cleaners and mobile hairdressers.

“We produce a weekly entertainment title, a monthly lifestyle mag, a family mag, one for the kids and a raft of in-paper supplements and pullouts.

“The web swallows our copy and spits it out into cyberspace. There is simply too much to do. Trips out of the office are a rarity.

“With acres of empty pages to fill, most of the team – currently four trainees, one part-time reporter, two full-time reporters, one news editor and nine subs (some of whom write and edit too) – are resigned to the fact that their job is to sit obediently and churn, churn, churn.

“Our team is stretched so thinly it is impossible to do the job properly. Staff leave and are not replaced. Seniors are replaced by juniors on cut-price salaries. The time lag involved in replacement is breath-taking; months and months where desks stand empty and colleagues battle to fill the gaps.

A statement issued by Johnston Press’ Edinburgh head office said the action was going ahead despite “extensive pay negotiations”.

It said: “The union have given notice of their intention to take strike action for three days commencing on January 21.

“The overall company offer is generous given the current economic climate. It combines a fair basic increase with significant improvements in the existing salary structure.

“Whilst we will always endeavour to take a constructive approach, we have now made our best offer. We have made it clear to the journalists that industrial action will not result in any improvements and will benefit no one.

“Steps have been taken to ensure that the quality and frequency of our publications will not suffer as a result of any action taken by the NUJ in Milton Keynes.”

Organiser Barry Fitzpatrick said: “For members to stand up and take such significant action says an awful lot about how strongly they feel.

“Our members are particularly disappointed that the unreasonable approach taken by Johnston Press has forced this action, which will deprive members of the local community of their news reporting.

“However, the quality of that reporting will suffer if nothing is done and after ten months of fruitless negotiations, our members feel that they have no choice.”