Tuesday 4 May 2010

Exclusive: Johnston Journalist's Guest Blog

With Johnston Press and the NUJ on the verge of a major industrial dispute following Friday's strike vote, my latest guest blogger is Yorkiehack, a Leeds-based JP journalist who gives a personal view of what's happening within the company:

"Will I be on strike this time next week? I don't know, but probably I should be right now. Here in Leeds, on the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post, we have been waiting for months now to be told we are going Atex -i.e., replacing subs with templates for reporters to fill. We have heard from smaller centres all over the group what is likely to happen. It started to get close when we heard Scarborough subs had been "offered" redeployment to Sheffield - a two-hour drive on a good day. Then it was everywhere. The longer we wait, the close we are to what the management wants - all the gunboats dealt with and the battleship wondering which way to turn.

The NUJ, embodied in the comrades we leave it all to, would dearly love us all to walk out and we probably should. The management ought to be forced to talk about maximising voluntary departures and redeploying as possible, on a group basis, rather than one title at a time. Its tactics must be open to legal challenge. But, as usual, we are still waiting to hear anything useful from the lawyers. We have voted for action up to strikes by a reasonable margin in Johnston Press overall - presumably thanks to the votes of those with nothing left to lose - and by not very much of a margin in Leeds, where we tried it last year, over a smaller redundancy operation. According to our cheer-leaders, it was a magnificent stand. But basically we lost, and then saw the rest of the regional press lose even harder.

There was a Leeds group chapel meeting last week which should have been decision time. But most of it was taken up by the local MD, Chris Green, who offered to address the meeting. We should have said No. He just muddied the waters - suggesting that Leeds and Sunderland would probably become subbing hubs, like Sheffield, and that might mean only 10 redundancies instead of 15, or something like that. The details remained unclear. All this was beside the point and should have been a matter for a proper negotiating table anyway. Personally I don't believe that shutting down the Leeds production operation was ever on the cards, except as a threat to be explored or lifted as required. But he got his opportunity to say There Is No Alternative.

Chris Green wears a very nice suit and drives a string of very nice cars. We have seen a lot of nice suits pass through this place and walk away with pockets bulging, leaving the papers thinner and crappier. Johnston Press's are probably not the worst of them, but they now represent all the spivs and tossers who siphoned blood during the Great Bubble and there is a mood against them which a Greek postie would understand. But it is mingled with fatalism.

Scarborough is out, we hear, and I wish them the best, without much optimism. I will come out if called on. But I do not want to lead the call. I fear we do not have the resolve to stay out until we get somewhere and the way journalists are, demonstration strikes only mean we all work twice as hard when we are back in.

Also, I am uneasy about the political element in the NUJ campaign. I do not want to make a stand for standards in journalism. I want to make the best of a bad job. I am not even sure I want to make a stand for strict demarcation between subs and reporters. But however you carve it up, somebody has to do the bloody work. I stick with the NUJ because our FoCs are decent men. But as an organisation, it is still a surprisingly old-fashioned blunt instrument. I would like to see our own suits in action before I am."



NW Sheffield News said...

Contacts at the Sheffield Star and Sheffield Telegraph (both owned by ailing Johnson) tell me they have been anxious about their jobs for at least the past couple of years, and there have been many rumours of a workforce buyout. The Telegraph's online version is certainly showing signs of neglect, with listings for long-gone events still posted.

As for the NUJ ... Certainly a "blunt instrument" - and reminiscent of the ill-thought-out SWP. It surely isn't a case of abandoning one's core values to recognise that methods and tactics need to move with the rest of the world (and not remain in the 1970s).

Good luck to all at Leeds and elsewhere affected by the prevailing climate. Your loss is, ultimately, our loss.

Anonymous said...

Your point about your strike last year being heralded as a victory when you effectively still lost sums up the problem with the NUJ. They are more interested in a quick headline in the hope it keeps subscriptions up, rather than actually solving the problem. They disappear very quickly if they sense a defeat.

Anonymous said...

"The NUJ" is its members, not some shadowy bureacracy ordering people to do things - contrary to hoary caricature. It's up to the members themselves to decide what to do - and to work out what action will get them what they want. I'd be interested in what "non-blunt instruments" might help the Johnston journalists out in such a time of crisis (and I don't mean that in a snidey way, just interested in others' suggested courses of action)

But most of all, good luck to the journalists at Leeds, Scarborough and elsewhere in getting what they want and deserve when faced with such a hideous situation and such awful management.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, a strike will just boost Johnson's revenue through the saving on wages. Other tactics needed that don't cost workers money. But what?

Anonymous said...

Johnston Press regard their papers as tins of baked beans. The senior executives do not differentiate between quality and readership and they have destroyed good title after good title. The only way to combat what they're doing is to come out and demand that journalists who actually know how to run newspapers are put in charge of them.
Don't expect common sense from the management. That's the last thing you're going to get.

Anonymous said...

In the South Midlands (Northampton) they centralised all the subbing operation into the Chronicle & Echo. They got them using the Atex system and then after a short while closed the sub hub in Northampton and all the subs (bar a couple who moved to Peterborough) were made redundant.

They then transferred all the prepress work to Preston and Leeds and said it wasn't a redundancy situation as the job was being transferred under TUPE regulations and hence you would face a 200 mile trip to Preston/Leeds and still keep your job.

Johnston Press treat their staff with contempt. Good luck with the strike.