Journalists walked out of the York Press newsroom and on to the picket line on Tuesday (February 18) for a 24-hour strike protesting at plans to move editorial jobs to Wales.
The action was described as a fight for “locally-produced news” by the National Union of Journalists’ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet.
The walkout, which began at midnight, follows plans by the paper’s parent company Newsquest to axe five sub-editors’ jobs at the Press, ten at the Bradford Telegraph and Argus and another ten at the Darlington based Northern Echo.
Newsquest plans to set up an office in Newport, south Wales, where sub-editors would work on stories about the three cities which are about 200 miles away.
There are 19 members of the NUJ at the York Press, who voted by more than 80 per cent in favour of a strike.
NUJ members include all but one of the paper’s reporters, two sports reporters, the deputy sports editor, features editor and three feature writers.
Almost all the paper’s writers were on strike.
For the first time journalists in Bradford and the Northern Echo were taking simultaneous strike action at their newspapers.
On the front line
On the picket line, joint Father of Chapel at the Press, Tony Kelly, said: “The response has been very positive.
“Local businesses have taken leaflets. People have said it’s absolute madness it’s going to Wales.”
Mark Stead, the other joint FoC, said York residents were dismayed at plans to outsource some of the paper’s journalism to Wales.
“The Press is a part of York. It’s a part of the people of York’s lives, like the chocolate heritage, York City, the pubs, the railways.
“The journalists put their heart and soul into the paper. We don’t want to see the paper’s reputation destroyed, or at the very least badly damaged.”
York council leader James Alexander visited the picket line, backing the battle to keep the Press local.
He told YorkMix: “It is disappointing that the letter I wrote to Newsquest with the leaders of both Bradford and Darlington in early December has had no reply.
“My relationship with the media is not always a good one and nor should it be, but York will be less of a place and less of a community with ever increasing cuts at The Press.
“I would welcome a conversation with the owners.”
Also on the picket line was Jane Kennedy from the NUJ’s northern and midland office.
She said that the idea of regional “superhubs” where sub-editors would work on several newspapers had been tried and found not to work by another local newspaper group, Johnston Press.
Mark said: “I am really proud of the chapel for the way they have responded. We’d rather be in there doing the jobs that we love.
“But we have gone beyond that and we’ve had to take a stand.”
Journalists in the union and out felt the same. “I have worked here for six and a half years, through many disputes and I have never known the sort of anger about what they’re trying to do this time.
“It’s the last straw.”
The walkout activated a 12-week long mandate for industrial action which could include further strikes.
But the door was open for Newsquest to enter into “meaningful dialogue”, Mark said.
What the bosses say
Press managing editor Steve Hughes has assured YorkMix that the paper will be out tomorrow (Wednesday). He added that he may issue a statement later.
David Coates, regional managing director of Newsquest (North East), did not return our phone calls or email requests for a comment, but he has issued a statement to industry website Hold The Front Page.
“The media industry is facing huge structural change and Newsquest North-East has responded by investing in a state-of-the-art editorial system which will make journalists’ jobs significantly easier,” the statement said.
“It will enable us to publish our content far more efficiently across multi-digital platforms and in print.
“A consequence of this necessary change is that part of the sub-editing process will be transferred to a production centre in Wales.
“All key editorial decisions and judgments will continue to be made in the North-East, including final output of pages to our print centres.
“News gathering by an unrivalled number of local reporters and photographers is completely unaffected.”
A letter sent by Newsquest managers to all staff at York, Bradford and Darlington on Monday questioned the validity of the NUJ’s ballot.
The letter, leaked to Hold The Front Page, said that staff weren’t being made redundant because they “have a choice as to whether they transfer to Newport, where there are enough roles for those wishing to continue their employment with the company”.
This was rejected by York FoCs Mark Stead and Tony Kelly. “The NUJ maintains it is unrealistic for Newsquest to claim no compulsory redundancies will be made, given that it would never be seen as reasonable to expect staff to accept relocating such a distance to Newport as part of their contract,” they said.
“This dispute is also about more than redundancies. Equally important are the decline in editorial quality, undermining of quality journalism and additional and unacceptable workloads which will result for other staff at The Press through these changes.”
Appeal for support
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet appealed for readers to back the striking journalists.
“Your journalists are fighting for not only their jobs, but for locally-produced news in the heart of the communities they serve,” she said.
“It is crazy to produce a Yorkshire paper more than 200 miles away in another country.
“If you care about local news, then support our NUJ members and tell the editors and managers to save local jobs.”
Her words were echoed by John McDonnell MP, secretary of the NUJ Parliamentary Group.
“The great strength of local newspapers is that the reporters, subs, and editors who put them together are rooted in their communities,” he said.
“The idea that they can be put together remotely from another country without this impacting on the quality of the product is absurd.
“The Newsquest staff who have been forced to take this action in defence of local journalism deserve our full support and solidarity.”