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Pandemic causes publisher to shelve major newsroom restructure

Joy yates 1A regional publisher has postponed a major newsroom restructure aimed at focusing on digital journalism as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

JPIMedia has confirmed its plans to introduce the company’s ‘Digital Acceleration’ programme, which sees journalists focus on producing digital content, in Scotland have been temporarily shelved.

The company has also suspended its search for a replacement for its editorial director in Scotland Frank O’Donnell, who is due to leave the business in May to become editor-in-chief at Aberdeen’s Press & Journal, because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Instead staff working at the regional publisher’s larger Scottish titles will now be placed under an “interim structure” headed by Joy Yates, JPIMedia’s editorial director in the North-East of England and one of the company’s most experienced editors.

Joy, pictured, has been appointed interim editorial director for Scotland to lead the new structure in a move which the company says will allow Frank to focus on editing The Scotsman, Edinburgh Evening News and Scotland on Sunday.

Mark Thompson, JPIMedia’s head of audience for the North of England, and Gary Oliver, head of content in the North-East, will share Joy’s duties in her absence from the company’s North-East publishing unit – which has already adopted the Digital Acceleration model and includes daily print titles the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail.

In a message to affected staff in Scotland, which has been seen by HTFP, JPIMedia editor-in-chief Jeremy Clifford said: “Due to the huge challenges everyone is facing because of the coronavirus pandemic, the company is reviewing all of its operations to ensure we can respond quickly to the changing circumstances.

“With that in mind, we have decided it would not be right to press ahead with a major restructure of our newsrooms and way of operating at a time when we are now asking people to work remotely and with possible limitations on staff availability due to illness.

“Therefore, we are suspending the further rollout of Digital Acceleration and will not be moving to full DA in Scotland at this point. However, the existing structures in place in Scotland do not provide us with the resilience we need or give us the flexibility to respond should we have major instances of unplanned illness or indeed in handling remote working.

“We will put in place an interim structure that reflects the need for us to work to a digital content plan based on what our audiences are searching for while also ensuring a continuous print production of our titles. ”

The move will see The Scotsman, Edinburgh Evening News and Scotland on Sunday continue to be managed by a team in Edinburgh, where a “flexible team” of digital journalists covering breaking news and specialist topics will also be based.

A second team “providing content more suitable to the immediate needs of the printed titles” will also be created, along with a print production team.

Weekly titles the Falkirk Herald, Fife Free Press and Southern Reporter will retain their current way of production under the leadership of Jill Buchanan, while smaller weeklies are unaffected.

In his email, Jeremy made clear that the moves were designed to be a “temporary solution” and that Digital Acceleration would still go ahead in due course.

He added: “We will need a leadership team to co-ordinate the work of this new, more flexible, structure and to make the relevant content decisions based on the audience data and numbers of people available for work.

“You will be aware that Frank O’Donnell will be leaving the business in May and we have been running a recruitment process for his successor. For understandable reasons, we have decided to suspend this process until the situation in the country becomes more stable.
“I have taken the decision to appoint Joy Yates as the Interim Editorial Director for Scotland to ensure continuity and strength of leadership for the business at this critical time. Alan Young, Steven Chisholm and Euan McGrory will be part of this leadership team, with Jill Buchanan reporting into Joy to ensure we have maximum flexibility.
“Joy will now lead the transition of the Scotland teams into this interim structure, with support from the existing Digital Acceleration programme team, allowing Frank to focus fully on the vitally important role of Editor of The Scotsman, Edinburgh Evening News and Scotland on Sunday.
“These decisions have not been taken lightly but are sensible and practical given the nature of the challenge this country is facing and the need for us to ensure business continuity.
“Over the next few days, your managers will discuss these changes with you and what it means we will be asking of you to ensure that everyone has absolute clarity as we quickly move into this interim structure.
“Keep in mind this is a temporary solution to what are unprecedented challenges faced by us all and we will return to our Digital Acceleration programme as soon as we are able to do so.
“I am sure you will join me in supporting Joy and the leadership team and working with them over the coming months.”

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  • March 27, 2020 at 9:41 am

    This article is over-written, but provides a timely lesson – namely, the value of the sub-editor in vetting and checking copy has never been more apparent.

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