Journalists at a regional daily have asked for its nomination for a major industry award to be withdrawn in protest at photographic redundancies at their newspaper.
The Leicester Mercury won the Regional Daily Newspaper of the Year crown at the 2015 newsawards, a set of awards dedicated to highlighting excellence in print and digital production journalism, and has been nominated for the same prize this year.
But the National Union of Journalists chapel at the paper says allowing it defend the title at this year’s event would send the “wrong message” to the industry in a year which has seen four photographers leave the paper.
The redundancies mean the photographic department at the Mercury is now staffed by one picture curator, previously the chief photographer, one full-time and one part-time photographer.
A letter from the Mercury chapel to organisers of the event, formerly known as the Newspaper Awards, says it believes any nomination from the paper would not reflect the awards’ commitment to the “highest standards in print journalism”.
It reads: “High-quality photographs are an essential component of the style and content of the Mercury and despite the excellence of the skeleton photographic team that will remain, it is inevitable that standards of the print product will decline as use of file pictures and amateur contributions increases.
“We believe our continued nomination would not reflect the awards’ commitment to the highest standards in print journalism. It would also send the wrong message to managers who have already eroded the design and integrity of the paper you praised last year through the increased use of generic features content produced elsewhere.”
Chris Morley, NUJ Northern and Midlands organiser, added: “Our members are bitterly disappointed they have to take this step to highlight the damage being done to their award-winning title.
“They are standing up for quality journalism – it’s a pity the company is prepared to take such risks with a title long associated with journalistic excellence.
“No one is fooled that squandering the pool of high grade staff news photographers at the Mercury will not be missed or noticed. The sudden departure of the editor and looming reorganisation in this newsroom are also worrying signs for this proud newspaper.
“Our members will not acquiesce to this dumbing down of a key skill and do not intend to facilitate it either.”
It was announced last week that Mercury editor Kevin Booth is leaving the paper at the end of this week for “personal reasons” after 18 months in charge.
He has been succeeded in the short-term by Rob Irvine, who has been seconded by Trinity Mirror from his role as editor of the Manchester Evening News to oversee the Mercury until a new editor is appointed.
At the time of the Mercury’s nomination, Kevin said: “To be shortlisted for a second year in such a competitive field is an outstanding achievement and one that reflects the hard work and talent of the Mercury’s exceptional editorial team.”
The Mercury was part of Local World until the company was bought by Trinity Mirror in a £220m deal in November. HTFP has asked Trinity Mirror for a comment.