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More unrest over Johnston Press subbing hub plan

Industrial unrest at Johnston Press over the introduction of a new editorial content management system looks set to spread further after union members in Halifax sent a protest letter to company bosses.

The Halifax Courier will become the latest JP title to install the new Atex system which will enable reporters to write directly into pages, reducing the need for sub-editors.

In common with other JP divisions in Yorkshire, including Scarborough-based Yorkshire Regional Newspapers, the company proposes to centralise subbing functions for the Courier at a new hub in Sheffield.

National Union of Journalists members in Scarborough and Sheffield are already holding a strike ballot over the plans and now their Halifax counterparts have written to company chief executive John Fry expressing their concern at the move.

The announcement about the impending introduction of Atex was made to staff by Halifax MD Helen Oldham last week.

In an internal memo seen by HTFP she said the system will “improve the way news and information is delivered to our print and online platforms.”

However in a letter of response sent to both Ms Oldham and Mr Fry, the chapel says the plans will “inevitably” lead to a decline in the quality of the paper.

“Talented sub-editors and designers are being whisked away from their workplace and shunted to a strange city miles away. Is the new technology being introduced by Johnston Press incapable of allowing them to remain at their current work stations?” it says.

Johnston Press has refused to comment on the letter. The company is also facing the prospect of industrial action over the introduction of Atex at the Blackpool Gazette


outofit (29/03/2010 09:47:24)
Once again the company phrase is trotted out..”the system will improve the way news and information is delivered to our platforms.”
How? Perhaps Helen Oldham can explain it in language other than that authorised in the boardroom. I doubt it.
It seems obvious to all but the tunnel-visioned JP management that not only will the delivery of the news etc decline but the quality of that news will go into freefall. As will the readership.
It may sound a good way to get rid of those pesky subs and save a fortune into the bargain when you’re sitting in the boardroom up in Edinburgh but none of these people actually know what they are talking about.
It’s about time the NUJ conscripted some heavyweight allies and launched a fight against the destruction of the regional press.
Again, I doubt it…

Endangered Sub-Editor (29/03/2010 10:04:21)
I have just subbed a story from a senior reporter that, in parts, was incomprehensible. There was even one paragraph that was legally dubious. So good luck to Johnston Press with this new system; they’re going to need it.

prionmonkey (29/03/2010 10:19:57)
JP board should be sacked. They know nothing about news they know nothing about business (£422m debt).
Life is local…my a*se!

Johnston Press Employee (29/03/2010 10:52:32)
Greed and mismanagement brought JP to its knees and were the people who made the disastrous decisions held to account? Nope. Hard-working journalists with families and mortgages (but without company cars and barely-used cordoned-off offices a la jumped-up little ad reps) got well and truly shafted. Now we have the aftermath? A world populated by excessive middle managers doing little but hack and hack at whatever’s left; along with over-worked, exhausted and poorly-paid hacks trying to make sense of a badly-designed system which crashes up to 30 times a day.

richard meredith (29/03/2010 11:24:10)
Well said ‘Outofit’ – yes, it surely is time for the NUJ to get out of their pram on this one. And heavyweight support? I’ve said it before, but Local Newspaper Week (May 10-16)will surely be a perfect opportunity to call everyone who matters into the fray – led, please God, by every editor worth his or her salt who wants to stand up for their staff and newspaper.

jp sub (29/03/2010 12:14:43)
Why the headlong rush to get this super-duper system in place with inadequate training and consultation with staff? It’s a bureaucratic nightmare to use and is more complicated and time-consuming than anything used before. Pass the sick bag Alice!
PS: libel lawyers will be in for a field day as inexperienced reporters start putting copy straight onto pages with inadequate checking.

jp sub (29/03/2010 12:14:46)
Why the headlong rush to get this super-duper system in place with inadequate training and consultation with staff? It’s a bureaucratic nightmare to use and is more complicated and time-consuming than anything used before. Pass the sick bag Alice!
PS: libel lawyers will be in for a field day as inexperienced reporters start putting copy straight onto pages with inadequate checking.

woldsman (29/03/2010 13:37:46)
Talented subs are not just being shunted to a new office – they are being shunted into redundancy. This is a total waste of talent. Wake up JP.

Angry JP worker (29/03/2010 13:52:57)
Yet again we get “no comment” from JP’s management. This shows complete contempt for the workforce.
It is a fact that since Atex was introduced, the quality of our newspapers has fallen. I know this from the comments of readers. Why are Mr Fry et al refusing to listen to what the people who actually produce the papers and interact with the readers say?
Or are we paying for the board’s past mistakes with our jobs?

Wageslave (29/03/2010 16:43:59)
Northcliffe have had a similar system for donkey’s years, Tera, likewise touted as an end to subs by managers who wouldn’t know a colon from their lower intestine. Eight years later, we’re still here, and busier than ever as overworked reporters sling over copy they haven’t bothered to read and the newsdesk fills the papers with commercial and governmental propaganda cunningly disguised as news which it remains subs’ job, in fairness to the readers who pay our salaries, to identify and destroy. We had a brief period when reporters were encouraged to suggest their own headlines, but only a handful could ever be bothered and what they came up with was rubbish because they didn’t want to be bothered with it. I notice no one ever suggests getting rid of editors, who in my experience cost far more and have far less to do with the day-to-day content of their newspapers than subs do…

Exhack (29/03/2010 17:02:15)
Wageslave – they did get rid of editors. At least two have gone from the East Midlands/Anglia division because they were editors AND subs. Editors, deputy editors, news editors, subs – all are fair game under this regime. One paper I know of lost all of the above and left the reporters struggling. Ironically they have now replaced them (apart from the subs). All done with internal adverts – like no-one would notice! More than 100 years local experience gone at one paper in one go. Well done JP – great job.

Dlibert (29/03/2010 17:08:48)
“Eight years later, we’re still here, and busier than ever as overworked reporters sling over copy they haven’t bothered to read…..”
Doesn’t this seem to suggest two things; firstly that editorial staff still have a place whatever the system, and that you suffer from lazy egotistical staff who do not see themselves as part of a larger operation.
If you spent as much time and effort actually engaging with other parts of the business, as well as your readers and tryng to discover what it is they want and how they want it, you might be surprised.
News, in all its formats has never been so accessible and people now have the ability to pick and choose what they like.
You only see this as a threat to your once revered profession, when in fact you should be looking at it as a renaissance for your skills. You should be using your brand, and your skills to ensure that you are at the forefront of these
You do suffer from bad management, but equally your self-indulgence is also as debilitating.
These are hard times for all sectors, and you face a perfect storm with new technologies and markets, but reading some of your comments is like stepping back 15-20 years.
The world has moved on, people have moved on. Your self-appointed right to be gatekeepers is under attack (and has been for several years)
You could respond by making suggestions of how to re-engage, re-invent and re-invigorate, but instead you hark back to days gone by and seem to chastise your readers for moving with the times.
This might seem harsh, but the facts are you are at a crossroads as to where newsrooms will go in the next five years and you need to step forward with more confidence than you and your management are currently showing.

Writing’s On The Wall (30/03/2010 10:22:52)
The structure of a newspaper HAS to be: reporter’s write story/editor’s edit it/subs design the page. To reduce it to merely the first stage is simply ludicrous. It is impossible to have brilliantly written copy flowed into a wonderfully designed page, it just doesn’t work like that. Let the writers write, let the designers design. Is it really so hard? This ridiculous whittling down of staff is of obvious detriment to the quality of the finished paper – result: people stop buying it. It all makes no sense whatsoever. Anyone would think the bosses WANT the papers to die.

hilary (30/03/2010 10:55:06)
Wageslave: Tera is nothing like this Atex system. Most reporters have no access to the subbing part of the programme, although I suppose they could have, but it’s altogether too slow and lumbering to be used the way this Atex system is used. It requires a sub to create the slot for the reporter to write into and it is then returned and subbed. If the Atex system is no better, no wonder the Johnston Press people are voting on industrial action!

Angry JP worker (30/03/2010 13:50:38)
We are angry because we do listen to our readers’ views – and they tell us the quality of both the papers and the website has fallen since the introduction of Atex.
We are staffed to the bare bones, yet the man in charge gets a huge bonus while our pay is still frozen.
And still JP refuse to comment – of course the staff are angry!

Writing’s On The Wall (30/03/2010 15:04:15)
And another thing – the Atex system IS utter junk I’m afraid. Ludicrously slow and unwieldy. Seriously – where is the sense in getting a reporter to flow copy into a pre-defined template, only for a sub to go in and design the page properly? Am not slighting anyone’s talents here, but reporting and page designing are two separate things. I know i’m preaching to the converted but it does seem so senseless. What next? Reporters write/sub/print/ AND distribute the paper? Surely that’s the next logical step…

HackedOff (31/03/2010 11:56:47)
We have JP Posters on the walls around the building. They say: “We act with integrity.”
Really? You could have fooled us.

Chris Youett (31/03/2010 15:12:52)
Dear Outofit,
What “heaveyweights” should the NUJ be talking to? Many of the good & the great known how much damage abolishing subs, giving away online services for almost nothing, etc, is doing to the media. But they stay silent.