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Striking journalists get cross-party political backing over walkout

Striking journalists have received cross-party political support as they take part in a one-day walkout over what they describe as “poor pay” today.

National Union of Journalists members working for Newsquest Cumbria are carrying out the strike, with pickets arriving just after 7am in Workington and Carlisle.

The newspapers affected by the strike are the Carlisle News & Star, the Cumberland News, the Workington Times and Star and the Whitehaven News.

The strikers have won support from local Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green politicians.

NUJ members on strike in Cumbria today

NUJ members on strike in Cumbria today

Tim Farron, former Liberal Democrat leader and MP for South Lakeland, said: “Our local reporters here in Cumbria aren’t just writing about our communities, they are part of those communities – they are the glue that keeps our community together.

“That’s the key to a good local newspaper. We are lucky to have so many excellent journalists writing for fantastic papers and they deserve to be fairly rewarded for the work that they do.”

Stewart Young, Labour leader of Cumbria County Council, added: “Skilled and experienced local journalists are a key part of our democratic structures. Whilst I’ll be the first to say they don’t always make our lives easy, I’ll clarify that by saying nor should they.

“They disseminate information to the public, organise campaigns, and in the finest examples of work they hold organisations like ours up to public scrutiny. To lose such a crucial link, is a major loss for us all. That is why I support this industrial action taken here today.”

Rory Stewart, Tory MP for Penrith and the Border, said: “Strong, vigorous local newspapers are a vital part of local democracy. Journalism is extraordinarily important. We will only keep it alive if we reward journalists properly.”

Helen Davison, Carlisle Green Party chair, has also added that she “totally supports” the strike.

Jane Kennedy, NUJ Northern and Midlands organiser, said: “We’ve had a great turnout on the picket lines this morning, people really do care about local journalism because news is a public service, people need to know what is going on in their communities and we all need local, accurate and timely information.

“Newsquest are making severe cuts again and again; they are slashing front line journalism, jobs and paying out thousands in perks to those at the top of company. Newsquest are systematically asset stripping local journalism in this country and they must be stopped.”

NUJ members at the Cumberland News revealed on Tuesday that they had taken the unprecedented action of taking their own paper to the Independent Press Standards Organisation over its coverage of the strike, saying it had only reported comments made by Newsquest about the action.

A Newsquest spokesman said: “It is disappointing that the NUJ has taken this stance. The NUJ pay dispute dates back to before Newsquest acquired the loss making CN Group in March this year.  As a result of Newsquest’s involvement, all staff are now in a far more secure position than they were beforehand.

“Since the takeover Newsquest has secured the staff pension benefits, we have invested in new state of the art technology and we have actually increased the number of reporters serving the respective communities in Cumbria.

 

“We’re focused on doing all we can to address the challenging financial situation that the company found itself in before our involvement, and are taking steps to put the business on a much surer footing for the future so that it will be able to sustain quality local journalism for many years to come.

“This will ultimately benefit all stakeholders, including members of the National Union of Journalists.”

12 comments

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  • December 20, 2018 at 1:44 pm
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    Having worked at Cumbrian Newspapers for many years it disgusts me the way Newsquest have treated these award-winning journalists and the award-winning titles like the News & Star and The Cumberland News. All they care about is getting in as much advertising revenue and to hell with what goes round the adverts. Local newspapers are vital to local communities and local democracy – to protect people from the likes of the faceless, emotionless, uncaring bigwigs in organisations like Newsquest.

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  • December 21, 2018 at 8:07 am
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    A strike can only ever be classed as a failure by both sides.

    However, the business needs to be profitable, or no-one will have a job.

    That coffee needs to be smelled, I’m afraid, NUJ folks.

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  • December 21, 2018 at 9:08 am
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    The failure, voice of reason, is entirely with the company as NUJ members can do no more than they are doing to make their titles successful. They continue to win awards for their journalism and excellence of their titles – due to their professionalism and skill. The chapels have exhausted every avenue to convince management that enduring a ninth year out of 11 without a pay rise is not sustainable for them or the business. The company have declined an ACAS invitation to try to resolve matters but the NUJ would welcome such talks. Substantial redundancies of seasoned journalists, with great local knowledge, carried out on Newsquest’s takeover the making enthusiastic, talented, promising but naturally inexperienced editorial apprentices at £7,704 a year integral to the editorial team cannot be regarded as success – especially when their training will be without the guidance of so many experienced colleagues.This is a failure for remaining staff and the community they desperately want to serve. I should also point out that CN Group, according to last year’s accounts was profitable to the tune of £140,000 before exceptional (one-off) expenses – which included £417,000 for redundancies – and the business had cash balances of £5.3m. Since then the directors, who cost £420,000 a year, have exited.

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  • December 21, 2018 at 10:00 am
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    Chris, I’m shocked at your figures. £7704 should be written on the headstone of local journalism and we all need to take a long look at that.

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  • December 21, 2018 at 11:15 am
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    Is this is true: “Since the takeover Newsquest has secured the staff pension benefits, we have invested in new state of the art technology and we have actually increased the number of reporters serving the respective communities in Cumbria”.

    If they’ve increased the number of reporters and sorted out staff pensions, why strike?

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  • December 21, 2018 at 11:51 am
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    I agree Ex JP and happy again. Actually, I made a slight miscalculation on the Newsquest apprentice pay: it’s actually only £7,224 which is the current National Minimum Wage for apprentices in their first year. Current job adverts for apprentices at nearby Sellafield show pay of £15,000.

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  • December 21, 2018 at 12:24 pm
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    Let’s face it, provincial journo pay has always been a joke. It has never reflected the professionalism, long hours, skills involved etc. Hardly any of us came into the job for the financial rewards.
    But at least there were editors around to fight the corner, protect standards and train their young staffers so that they could eventually move on and gain some reward for all that effort. Journalists and journalism were valued by the right people.
    In the past decade the companies have trampled journalism into the dirt by targeting once respected senior editorial staffers, including vastly experienced editors, because that’s where they saw the cost burden.
    Many of these newspapers are now rudderless – accountants and advertising execs rule where once editors stood up proudly for journalism. The editorial voice has been muted.
    I wish the CN staff all the best, they certainly deserve a better hand.

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  • December 21, 2018 at 12:49 pm
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    I’m not sure striking is as effective as a strict work to rule over a longer period. With a strike the company knows where it’s at, but working to rule can keep them on the hop for much longer. Either way, it’s a crying shame to see what’s happening at CN.

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  • December 21, 2018 at 1:55 pm
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    To Phil Deane I say ask Newsquest to provide a straightforward, full explanation. Members in the CN pension fund say that despite having a paper deficit, it was reported to be in a better position than the Newsquest pension fund when it was taken over. They say it’s been ring-fenced away from the NQ fund until that fund reaches the position that the CN fund is already in. True, it hasn’t had to be put into the hands of the PPF which would have led to lower benefits. However, from now on new members of staff will join the NQ scheme with company contributions pegged at 6% rather than 9% as under CN. A wage cut in retirement for those new starters. As regard reporter numbers, they have not increased. Those who know in Carlisle say that every person sat in a reporter’s seat now is sitting where a reporter sat previously. The difference is that experienced staff have gone and new recruits on lower pay, including an apprentice, will inevitably take time to get up to the knowledge and proficiency of those who left.

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  • December 21, 2018 at 2:15 pm
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    I just don’t see why you’d strike over this if NQ is standing by the pensions, rather than JPI media which offloaded the JP scheme. Surely they, NQ, should get some credit for this? And if it is true they’ve taken on more reporters (they stated this publicly) I’m not sure why you’re taking action. My company pays 3% pension contribution so I’d consider myself lucky to get 6%.

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  • December 21, 2018 at 3:03 pm
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    Phil, there is no proper comparison between the old Johnston Press which went into administration with £200m debts and Newsquest, whose parent Gannett was demerged with no debt. Newsquest still has very high profit margins.The answer on pensions is not to beggar thy neighbour down to statutory minima but rather seek to have the best possible. We are heading to a long term crisis for current younger workers when they reach old age because of the failures to grip this now. Agreed, a 6% pension contribution by an employer is better than 3% but it is definitely not gold plated.

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  • December 24, 2018 at 8:56 am
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    Phil, can I suggest you look beyond pensions. NQ has cut 100 jobs at CN since taking over. It has reduced every other newsroom it owns, the length of the UK, to a bare bones of poorly paid trainees having to do the work of reporters/photographers/subs. Writing not what a story is worth, but to fill a pre-set hole on a template, or to attract clicks.
    The standard of work is embarrassing: and there are too few experienced staffers left to provide these trainees with any actual training.
    With a business model that doesn’t work, NQ (and the rest) have no Plan B beyond cutting jobs. I don’t see a strike gaining anything, but at least the CN journalists aren’t going down quietly.

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