Journalists have launched a campaign to save a regional daily’s headquarters that is slated for closure in a publisher’s plan to shut most of its newspaper offices.
The National Union of Journalists’ Derby & Burton branch has urged Reach plc to reconsider closing the Derby Telegraph’s office after the company stated its intention to close all bar 15 regional “hubs” across the country.
The move will leave Telegraph journalists who want to access a physical newsroom, rather than work remotely, with a 15-mile trip to Nottingham.
But the union has argued retaining an office in Derby “would be far better, convenient and even safer” for other affected Reach staff working on titles including the Leicester Mercury and Stoke-on-Trent daily The Sentinel, who are also set to lose their local offices due to the changes.
Alternatively, the NUJ is asking Reach to consider finding a “small base” in Derby for staff working on the Telegraph.
Reach decided to make the move after the past year saw most of its employees work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the company saying a survey of its employees “showed a majority found home working suited their needs”.
But the branch said in a statement: “We think that the appropriateness of home working will depend on individual circumstances.
“While the added flexibility may be suitable for those on larger salaries with more domestic space and with families, for those with lower pay and early in their careers, such as trainees, it can be an off-putting prospect.
“As a newcomer to the area, working from a one-bedroomed flat, bedsit, or shared accommodation where you also spend the time when you are not working is not attractive.
“We are concerned that staff working from home may suffer stress and mental health issues because of isolation.”
In its statement, the branch went on to recall the centralisation of Reach forerunner Northcliffe’s East Midlands subbing operation in 2009, which led to the Mercury and the Telegraph being subbed from Nottingham.
Calling for support for its campaign from Telegraph readers, the NUJ added: “With lack of knowledge leading to errors it was not long before that company realised the folly of its move and re-instated sub-editors back at newspapers.
“And Reach has also changed tack after previous concern by ourselves and concern voiced in protest by local prominent people and organisations. So, there is precedence.
“Asking some staff to work in part from hubs as well as working from home could cause issues around longer commutes and length of working days. We feel that it would be far better, convenient and even safer for staff at Stoke, Leicester, Nottingham and Burton to travel to Derby if necessary as it is a far more central location with better communications than Nottingham.
“Indeed, when Reach closed the Burton Mail’s office before the pandemic – making it the first daily newspaper in the country not to have an office in the town where it was based – the staff spent some time working from home and some time commuting to an office at Derby.
“So, we are asking you to write to Reach plc to ask that a Derby Telegraph office is maintained in the city. Please point out to them that Derby is a far better, more central site for a hub for staff from other newspapers to travel to than Nottingham.
“And we are also asking you to tell Reach that if they are not prepared to have a hub in Derby, a vibrant news city, then they should at least have a small base which reporters could work from.
“Over the years we have seen newspapers leave central locations for industrial estates and other out-of-town sites, a move which has been reflected in newspaper quality and coverage. We are concerned that this move by Reach will have similar detrimental effects. Please support us.”
A Reach plc spokeswoman said: “We’re very pleased with the feedback from our colleagues so far on our plan to adopt a hybrid working model, with over 90pc of our Reach staff having already opted in, and 89pc in Derby.
“We are working hard to provide further options for any staff who have expressed individual needs and we continue to have productive discussions with our NUJ representatives at the national level.
“Crucially, our brilliant journalists will continue to work in the areas they serve.”