Eleven editorial roles are set to be cut at a group of London weeklies with the National Union of Journalists claiming all but two of its 29-strong newsroom are now on notice of redundancy.
According to the NUJ, regional publisher Newsquest wants to axe a series of roles in its South London newsroom which produces ten newspapers and eight companion websites across the area.
The union says the company has told staff that it plans to cut four reporters, three sub-editors, two content editors, an editorial assistant and a deputy managing editor by mid-October.
The remaining 18-strong newsroom would comprise a managing editor, web editor, 12 reporters and four content editors, responsible for covering features, sport and leisure across the patch as well as news.
Titles that would be affected by the proposals include the Guardian series in Croydon, Epsom, Kingston, Richmond, Sutton, Wandsworth and Wimbledon, the News Shopper series covering Bexley, Bromley, Dartford, Gravesend, and Greenwich, the Richmond & Twickenham Times and Surrey Comet.
A Newsquest spokesman told HTFP: “We are undertaking this restructuring of the free newspaper portfolio in south London in order to put the business on a more sustainable footing. Regrettably, this proposal puts a number of roles at risk of redundancy.”
Prior to the latest announcement, Newsquest’s staff had already been balloting for industrial action over staffing levels and related issues, saying that eight members of staff who have left since April have not been replaced.
Earlier this week HTFP also reported that the South London titles would no longer have professional photography coverage after Newsquest ended a decade-long agreement with the Deadlinepix agency.
An NUJ chapel spokesperson said: “These new proposals will not only destroy our already struggling news room and ruin the brands we have worked hard to build up, but they are quite simply unworkable.
“Senior management refuse to meet the union or acknowledge our attempts to meet with them. Running a business in this way would be farcical if it wasn’t so tragic. We would like to repeat our invitation to managing director Tony Portelli to sit down and speak to his employees.”
Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, added: “These plans are designed to tear the heart out of the local newsroom yet somehow Newsquest expects the staff to carry on as if nothing has happened, producing content for exactly the same number of titles and websites.”
According to the union, the company cited “difficult trading conditions with sustained pressure on the profitability of the group” in making the announcement.
A group of national newspaper journalists has also pledged to set up a hardship fund for the Newsquest South London staff should they decide to go on strike.
The NUJ chapel at the Financial Times passed a motion saying it “fully supports” NUJ members balloting for strike action.
“By allowing local news titles in South London to be produced by skeleton staff teams and work experience students, managers are showing their contempt for both journalists and journalism,” it said.
“We call on Newsquest to resume talks with the NUJ and end the dangerously low staffing levels imposed over the past year. We agree to organise collections for a hardship fund should members at Newsquest take strike action.”