Plans to close a weekly newspaper office and ask staff to work up to 20 miles away have been condemned by the National Union of Journalists.
The union claims editorial and advertising staff have been given just days’ notice that they were expected to move to work in other offices of South Yorkshire Newspapers, up to 20 miles away.
Readers were told about the proposals in a front page article last week, which said the paper would not be affected and its staff would be redeployed.
The announcement by Graeme Huston, editor-in-chief at South Yorkshire Newspapers, said: “The lease is coming to an end at the Epworth Bells offices at 13 Market Street and as result of this and changing patterns of business we are in the process of consulting with staff about its proposed closure.
“The paper is not affected and editorial and advertising staff would be redeployed to other South Yorkshire Newspapers’ offices.
“There are plans in place to ensure a continued editorial presence in Epworth and we are confident we will continue to inform and entertain the community via the newspaper and website.”
But Chris Morley, Northern and Midlands organiser for the NUJ, said: “Anyone searching for a definition of ‘local’ and a tight-knit community could do no better than to look at Epworth and the Isle of Axholme that the Epworth Bells serves.
“For Johnston Press to announce out of the blue on the front page of last week’s edition that the Bells’ office in the town was closing will have been badly received by local people.
“And to give staff just days’ notice that they were expected to suddenly up sticks to carry out their jobs up to 20 miles away is not acceptable.
“The NUJ is not convinced the company has any intention of carrying out a proper consultation on this and fears that the decision has already been made. Judgment will have to wait until the picture becomes clearer.
“However, our chapel members also suspect Epworth’s closure may not be the only target in the sights of local management. Our members are determined to fight to keep local journalists in real touch with their communities and therefore are opposed to short-sighted and damaging office closures.”
The paper celebrated its 7,000th edition just two months ago.
In a statement announcing the proposals, managing director John Bills said a review of all branch offices had been undertaken and the level of business at the Epworth office made it ‘uneconomical’ to operate.
He said there would be no change to headcount and the company would consult extensively with staff.