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Regional editor defends production hub plan

A senior Northcliffe editor has defended the company’s decision to move to centralised subbing in its Midlands and North-East regions.

As reported on HoldtheFrontPage on Monday, Northcliffe Media plans to create two “production centres of excellence” in Nottingham and Hull at which all its East Midlands and North-East titles would be subbed, putting up to 50 jobs under threat.

The National Union of Journalists has claimed the plan will mean that local knowledge “will go out of the window,” while story comments on HoldtheFrontPage have criticised papers for running “buy local” campaigns while axeing local jobs.

But Hull Daily Mail editor and North-East regional editor John Meehan yesterday said cutting production costs may be the only way the titles can continue to maintain their local content-gathering operations.

He told HoldtheFrontPage: “I genuinely don’t think there is any contradiction. Northcliffe passionately believes in being at the heart of all things local and I don’t think this changes that.

“We’ll continue to be focused on local content and local relevance but we’ve got to reflect the conditions we are facing in our business.

“We have focused on the production side because it may be the only way to reduce editorial costs significantly without impacting on local content.

“We will continue to have far more people on the ground than any other media organisation including the BBC which is uniquely immune from the challenges facing commercial media companies.”

The centralised subbing proposals will put around 20 jobs at risk at the Hull Daily Mail, Grimsby Telegraph, Scunthorpe Telegraph and Lincolnshire Echo, and a further 30 at the Leicester Mercury, Nottingham Evening Post and Derby Evening Telegraph.

But Mr Meehan said the company would not be asking for volunteers for redundancy, but aiming to keep its best staff.

“We believe we can create a regional production operation that benefits from economies of scale and from retaining our best and most skilled production journalists,” he said.

“Unfortunately there will be some people who might find themselves in redundancy situations because the skills assessment identifies other people that are more suitable for the new roles,” he added.

A formal 30-day consultation period on the proposals begins today.

As well as introducing the two production hubs, Northcliffe is also proposing to close its printing plant at Leicester with the loss of a further 66 jobs.

Comments

Observer (25/02/2009 07:50:23)
Keep the ‘best and most skilled production people’. Good idea John. Then you can work them into the ground, expect them to do endless hours of overtime for free, probably destroy their family life, leave them exhausted and wonder why the newspapers they are producing are full of errors. And I imagine the ones who don’t have the skills or aren’t the ‘best’ will be in this situation because newspaper groups like Northcliffe have failed to train them properly. I’ve been there, I know exactly what it’s like.
And the moves MIGHT not impact on local content, but they will impact on quality.
John, you’re trying to defend the indefensible. How a journalist can pretend that the death of newspapers and quality news coverage is acceptable is beyond me.
Good luck to all those who go. Get out of newspapers while you can.

hilary (25/02/2009 09:19:28)
If you accept all this as being correct, and I can just about see an argument for it (it’s dim, tho), tell me this: Are those best Lincolnshire Echo subs who will be retained (just for an example) going to be paid more for all the extra time and petrol involved in travelling to Hull every day? Otherwise it’s a pay cut by the back door. I know the answer already – it’s no. Those Gloucester and Forest of Dean people who were forced to move to Cheltenham when they closed the Gloucester subbing operation had to pay for the privilege themselves.
Modern technology is capable of allowing centralised subbing from local offices, but of course, no-one would trust a Lincoln sub not to go off and make a coffee when the only stories in the pool are Hull’s!

dead ringer (25/02/2009 10:05:19)
As someone who knows what is going on here, this skills assessment issue is tantamount to picking your favourites. All the subs at my newspaper (not saying which) have similar skills, all can upload content, all can write decent headlines, sub often severely below-par copy etc. If they can’t they should not be employed at all. Obviously it is legal to do it this way – a company like Northcliffe won’t take chances – but how can such a procedure be objective? What if you happen to have had the odd difference of opinion with the assessor in this situation? How do you quantify, legally, who is the better sub? What if all the subs in Grimsby are better than those in Hull? Or vice versa? Who decides? It stinks, it really does. As for local newsgathering, pagination is being reduced across the board, websites only have so much readily accessible space for content and most reporters are never allowed to leave the office. So where is this gathering of news coming from? I see few exclusives across the North East as news is precisely that – gathered – not fought for or dug out. The only thing Mr Meehan has got right is the fact the BBC are not hit by the economic downturn, which is a scandal, although I hate to see anyone lose their job. And finally, knowing from colleagues that John Meehan is a committed news man, I just wish he, above all these faceless MDs, would tell it as it is. It’s all a shambles

G Dog (25/02/2009 10:12:05)
Bored, bored, bored. It’s them again. Northcliffe is possibly the worst employer around. Never has a company had the ‘Sword of Damacles’ hanging over its staff as this one does. It is no consolation to those working for the company, but you are best shot of it. The boys at the top keep making the cash, but when was the last time anyone on the lower grades made a bonus, or could comfortably live! Northcliffe are an embarrassing example of how not to treat people.

Mr_Osato (25/02/2009 10:15:23)
Strange that,a s far as I can see from the HDM website, Mr Meehan hasn’t seen fit to inform his readers of these changes? Anyone signed up for comments on the HDM website?

REALWORLD (25/02/2009 11:08:54)
If I was Mr Meehan I’d be spouting the company line too, so don’t blame him for that. We all have jobs to protect.
But here is the reality on the ground. A contents editor or similar title or a sub sits 10-15-20 miles from where the action is. He or she may not know or care about the area and yet make decisions on what is covered and where it is put.
Local staff left with a rump and no editor or sub editors locally are demoralised but can’t quit because there aren’t many jobs around.
That’s the reality. grim thought it seems.
Good luck with the vision thought Mr M.

Jambo (25/02/2009 11:28:18)
Why is the word ‘Content’ being used all the time.
What’s wrong with NEWS? Content is a very weak word…can mean anything. Content of what?

All Subbed Out (25/02/2009 11:43:45)
Because, Jambo, it’s a trendy buzzword just like ‘platform’ and ‘multimedia’ and so on, which are bandied about to disguise what’s actually lacking these days – decent local and regional news in decent, adequately staffed local and regional newspapers. ‘Content’ can safely apply to any old rubbish cut, pasted and recycled across a reduced number of bland print editions as well as websites, WAP phones, Blackberries, bilberries and pieces of paper hung round the necks of carrier pigeons for all I know.

Micheal (25/02/2009 12:09:05)
Who needs subbs anyway? Us reporters have all the skils nessessary to do there jobs. You subbs are a dye-ing bread. I no my area so wont be geting any adresses wrong. Michel, Glousecester.

micheal (25/02/2009 12:09:55)
Who needs subbs anyway? Us reporters have all the skils nessessary to do ther
e jobs. You subbs are a dye-ing bread. I no my area so wont be geting any adresses wrong. Michel, Glousecester.

Cornelius Atweasle (25/02/2009 12:21:13)
I hope Michael is a Hull Daily Mail reporter.

dead ringer (25/02/2009 12:33:52)
Ha ha! Sadly it is so true. Journos used to either do it the hard way (debentures etc) or at least do proper courses that were selective. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can become a reporter these days, as long as they are prepared to work like a navvy and sit at their desk all day for next to no pay. Newsdesk often ain’t much better. Thus a quality sub who has been a reporter is essential to a quality production. Alas most subs aren’t even proper reporters any more. Lack of pay, poor selection and misguided policies have led to all these problems now. Heaven help Northcliffe North East. You’ll need to be dyslexic just to make sense of the papers! Rant over

richard meredith (25/02/2009 12:47:46)
John Meehan wrote:”We have focused on the production side because it may be the only way to reduce editorial costs significantly without impacting on local content…”
Is that right John? Is it right that editorial costs are having to be reduced at all? What about other departments – the ones who have neither a DIRECT input into the quality of the publication or its revenue-earning streams. When times get tough, like now, the jobs of those who can maintain the paper’s reputation and those who can keep the money coming in, must be kept on as a priority over all others. It may seem harsh – but that’s the reality. When the dust settles and hiring begins again OK, take them all back. But culling the wrong people now will mean there’s no paper to come back to.

zand (25/02/2009 13:13:39)
Nice gag Michael – I’m sure we all recognise raw reporters’ copy and realise your gag is a little too close to reality for comfort. However, as tough as it may be, let’s face some home truths. It’s clear that newspapers in general are currently on a dangerous trajectory and that if this business (yes business) is going to survive it has to balance its aspirations against its costs. As much as I feel for all the subs – and I’ve been there – we all know deep down that the traditional sub editors’ role of rewriting copy and adding real value to the news has long since become more about carrying out production duties. As such subs have become vulnerable. I have already been affected by the cutbacks and have total sympathy with all the individuals in question – considering many involved as friends, but I don’t think it’s surprising that drastic times call for drastic measures. We are all working in a rapidly changing business and we seriously need to get our house in order if we are going to survive at all. As far as I see it, the only way forward is to get better at the core of what newspapers are all about and concentrate on delivering top-quality products as efficiently as possible. If we can’t manage that – we’re all in trouble.

JP Mess (25/02/2009 13:36:51)
Can we set up a new press awards please? Categories could include Most Greedy Bossand Most Ill-Informed Firm – Most unethical, hypocritical and short-sighted company of the year goes to……..My vote is with Johnston Press but then I’m biased!

Mustapha Subs (25/02/2009 14:45:42)
Interesting to read the views of John Meehan – who happens to be editor at one of the two centres who will be housing the new “centres of excellence” on their patch so will still benefit from local subbing.
Don’t suppose there’s any chance of an honest viewpoint from one of the editors who will be losing their own in-house subs to the centralisation? Hmmmm, no, didn’t think so…

John Boy (25/02/2009 14:49:46)
Northcliffe – At The Heart Of All Things Frugal

One Of The Chosen (25/02/2009 15:12:44)
“the company would not be asking for volunteers for redundancy”
It’s not a question of not asking, the company has a policy of not accepting voluntary redundancies so even if someone doesn’t want to work under the new regime, their only option is to quit.
“aiming to keep its best staff”
Coughs politely while muttering something beginning with bull.
“Skills assessment identifies other people that are more suitable for the new roles”
That remains to be seen, really. We’ve all seen the film, The Matrix.
A formal 30-day consultation period on the proposals begins today.
‘consultation’

Mike (25/02/2009 16:09:14)
Wont somebody please think about the children!!!

Marco Chandler (25/02/2009 16:16:30)
Northcliffe – the worst enemy of the Grimsby Telegraph, the Scunthorpe Telegraph and the Lincolnshire Echo. These papers would have a much better chance of success if their resources weren’t being ripped out by the shareholders.

ScunTel (25/02/2009 16:47:26)
I truly hope Mr Meehan and his superiors read all these comments. But they’re so thick-skinned and self-centred it won’t make any difference!

FAST WOMAN (25/02/2009 17:09:49)
In the current climate NOT asking for volunteers is particularly harsh. There are always adventurous people or those with few commitments more inclined to apply for voluntary redundancy.
It’s bad HR practice as well – most businesses understand that you need those chosen (or, best of all, choosing) to stay with the company to be as motivated as possible.
There is a lot of solid research showing that this kind of divide and conquer approach to redundancy not only damages those forced to leave.
During consultation it pits colleague against colleague. Afterwards, the survivors include people suffering guilt and anxiety over sad desk-clearing scenes they’ve witnessed. They are often resentful of the employer and can be de-motivated.
Some are waiting for the axe to come round again, others simply passing the time until they find a happier place to work in.

Another Northcliffe Old Hand (25/02/2009 17:29:10)
A lot of sense in what Fast Woman says. The Northcliffe’s of this world would do well to heed that advice. There is not a great deal you can do about morale in these tough times but management needs to think about the medium to long term. This short term thinking is one of the reasons regional press is in the mess it’s in today.

STRUGGLING ON (26/02/2009 11:44:34)
Ever since my lot adopted a hub system our papers have been littered with literals, errors, and poor layout. Nothing gets checked properly and some incredibly sloppy writing stays in the paper.
Subs are reduced to just filling in pro-forma layouts.
Anyone recognise this scenario, or is is just me being a sad hackette?
We desperately need to have high quality to preserve the dwindling readership. Instead we have just the opposite. Still, I await the new dawn after the recession.

Artistic (26/02/2009 14:38:15)
Micheal
You claim to be possessing the skills that a sub has, but as far as i can see from reading your comment, you clearly lack the standard English or grammar to write with perfection. Subs are people who possess not only English skills, but also a flair with design. Don’t try to downgrade other peoples roles until you’ve experienced them and don’t be so downright arrogant in thinking you could do them either! Oh and if you wish to know I am not a sub, but i do work very closely with subs and know how hard they work.

exhack (09/04/2009 09:26:38)
What’s to become of Nottingham Post’s snazzy HQ? No subs, barely any reporters, all that lovely space for indoor cricket.

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