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Daily blames cost-of-living crisis and pandemic for plan to axe six jobs

Donald Martin 2

A daily newspaper has blamed the cost-of-living crisis and coronavirus pandemic for its plan to make six features writer roles redundant.

Newsquest has announced redundancy plans for the entire features team at Glasgow-based daily The Herald, prompting the threat of strike action at the paper and two of its sister titles.

The Herald says it has made the move as a result of the “irreversible impact” of the pandemic on newspaper sales, with the cost-of-living crisis also affecting both subscriptions and one-off sales.

The paper has pledged to consider transfers to fill current editorial vacancies elsewhere as part of the process, but the plan has led to the National Union of Journalists plotting strike action across three daily titles.

Members of the NUJ chapel for The Herald, as well as its Newsquest sister titles The Glasgow Times and The National, voted in favour of striking in an indicative ballot and will now seek permission to hold a further vote on the issue.

The redundancy plan was revealed in an announcement to staff by Herald editor Donald Martin, which has been seen by HTFP.

Donald, pictured, wrote: “The Herald needs to urgently reduce its cost base across editorial as a result of the irreversible impact of Covid on newspaper sales following the nationwide reduction in footfall and change in buying habits.

“In addition, the widely reported cost of living crisis is having a significant impact on subscriptions and newspaper sales as the public tighten their belts.

“Our own cost base, including newsprint and energy costs, has also risen substantially and our current circulation and digital subscription revenues are below expected levels – limiting our ability to offset additional revenues against increased costs.

“It is imperative, therefore, that we realign our content to stem this decline as much as we can and minimise the cost base to protect the profitability of the business.

“As such, the data pinpoints that our features content is not driving our online audience or sales aspirations to the same extent as other editorial areas, and therefore we are proposing the changes outlined below to align our content strategy to maximise the metrics and monetisation.

“The main content pillars driving newspaper sales and subscriptions are news and opinion and it is critical for the business to prioritise resource and focus on those areas.

“We have assessed all other content and propose that the area we can best achieve savings without damaging the core product lies in features.”

Donald added he was “happy to consider transfers” for affected staff who have the required skills or ability to retrain for a number of vacancies currently on offer at The Herald.

But, in a letter to The Herald’s management, the Herald and Times NUJ chapel dubbed the plan “callous and ill-justified, as well as “extremely short-sighted and fundamentally damaging to The Herald brand”.

Union members said in the letter: “The staff who are at risk are some of the most experienced in our industry.

“Between the six of them, they have an incredible 140 years’ of service, with more Scottish Press Awards under their belts than most people could dream of. In short – they’re the cream of the crop.”

The NUJ claimed that features “could garner subscriptions if they are presented, packaged and promoted adequately” online and described them as an “essential part of our industry”.

The letter went on: “The removal of features staff is damaging to the brand. We are proud to be the oldest newspaper in Scotland, and are respected for that.

“By removing the features team, it looks as though we have one foot in the grave. No self-respecting newspaper runs without any features staff.

“It will look bad publicly, demoralise the remaining staff and send a signal to our competitors that we are not a serious organisation.”

“If online hits are a concern, this can be improved. The features content is barely visible online, therefore how are people supposed to find it to read it?

“Due to the incredibly high turnaround of digital staff, there is a lack of a coherent digital strategy.

“Most staff at The Herald have noticed a downturn in the number of page views they have had over the last two months, which could be helped with a better strategy.”

A spokesman for The Herald told HTFP: “There is a small restructuring of the features team progressing but we would expect to be in a position to offer alternative roles to anyone affected.”