Halifax MP urges Johnston Press to save Halifax Courier reporters’ jobs

With the Halifax Courier soon to go weekly – with an online version and a regularly updated I Pad app replacing the daily paper – the House of Commons recently discussed the threat to local journalism posed by Johnston Press cuts, that will affect over 170 local newspapers.

The NUJ reports that the Halifax Courier is proposing to cut 11.6 editorial jobs – about a third of the current total. Clearly this will mean there aren’t enough journalists to report fully on local events and issues.

Ashley Highfield, the new chief executive of Johnston Press who announced the cuts, has said he expects the provision of editorial content to be split fifty-fifty between journalists and “community contributors” by 2020. At the moment, just 10 per cent of Johnston Press editorial content is created by readers.

Linda Riordan MP for Halifax has put down an Early Day Motion on Local and Regional Newspapers:

“That this House notes with sadness the decision by Johnston Press to move many long-established local newspapers from a daily publication to a weekly publication; condemns this unnecessary move and the implications it will have for the jobs of many journalists, printers, newspaper sellers and newspaper deliveries; praises the role local daily newspapers like the Halifax Courier and other titles in towns like Kettering, Northampton, Peterborough and Scarborough play in local democracy and in reporting the news on a daily basis; further notes the knock-on effect this will have on the local economies of the towns affected; urges Johnston Press to protect existing jobs at the newspaper titles affected and ensure that there are no compulsory job losses; further urges them to consult fully with the National Union of Journalists about their proposals; and hopes that local newspapers will continue to play an important role in the life of local communities for many years to come.”

So far, Craig Whitaker MP has not signed the EDM. If you want to ask him to add his support, you can email him.



Immersive journalism

I came across this via a post called Making News Useful, about how journalism’s changing as a result of social media and open data. The basic idea is that the role of journalism now can involve:

  • building software around data sets that come from open data or from journalists’ investigation, so that readers can figure out how to use the data for themselves rather than just reading the interpretations that journalists put on it
  • forms of storytelling that are far more immersive that traditional reporting – for instance using Second Life to report on Guantanamo, so that readers/viewers get a greater sense of what it’s like to be there, or for rival gangs to take each other through their neighbourhoods with the aim of defusing rivalry and creating empathy
There are obviously possibilities here for stories about climate change, energy use and environmental justice.

It’ll be interesting to see whether any of these new journalism practices shape the new version of the Halifax Courier, which is to change to a weekly print paper and constantly updated digital news. This is only one of a number of Johnston Press-owned local and regional papers across the country that are suffering staff cuts and undergoing significant changes/updates.

Ashley Highfield, Johnston Press Chief Executive, says that the plan is to create “a series of themed digital destinations”, inspired by the website Mumsnet. Changes to the Halifax Courier are part of wider Johnston Press plans for new daily iPad apps for all the company’s bigger titles, revamped websites with greater use of social media, and new mobile sites for all paid-for papers.

The changes are taking place in the context of cost-cutting closures to weekly local papers’ offices and compulsory redundancies for numerous staff – reporters photographers and editors. Johnston Press took on a lot of debt a few years ago and although it turns a profit it has been struggling to repay its debts and has come under pressure from banks.

Local papers across the country are suffering staff cuts. In Bristol, the local National Union of Journalists Branch has held a demonstration to protest against cuts to the Northcliffe-owned Bristol Evening Post.



Johnston Press is closing offices for HB Times, Tod News & Brighouse Echo offices

Newsgathering in Calderdale is set to become patchy. Without any consultation with staff at Calderdale’s local papers, or their readers, Johnston Press, the owner of all Calderdale’s local newspapers, is proposing to:

  • close the offices of the area’s three local papers (Hebden Bridge Times, Todmorden News and Brighouse Echo)
  • redeploy staff to the Halifax Courier
  • turn the Halifax Courier from a daily to a weekly paper, plus a daily updated online version
  • impose at least nine compulsory editorial staff redundancies at the Halifax Courier, although no advertising staff jobs are at risk
A few years ago, Johnston Press took on a large amount of debt. The company, which owns a substantial proportion of the UK’s regional newspapers, turned a respectable profit last year but despite this is unable to sustain its debt burden. It is now imposing a swathe of deep cuts on regional papers across the UK.
In a company statement, Ashley Highfield, the newspaper group’s new chief executive, announced, “We are committed to remaining a local company: that means local journalists and sales people working across the UK and Republic of Ireland, staying close to the communities and businesses they serve.”

But Barry Fitzpatrick, NUJ deputy general secretary says, “I hope that [Johnston Press] isn’t rushing into an ill-thought-out strategy because it is being put under pressure by the banks.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “The NUJ is now looking to meet Ashley Highfield at the earliest possible opportunity.We are not against looking at innovative solutions to changes in the newspaper industry, but the lack of consultation with staff and the union is not the way to go about it.We will robustly fight any compulsory redundancies.”

Johnston Press staff in the Halifax Courier NUJ Chapel are due to meet the Midland and Northern NUJ organiser Chris Morley tomorrow (Wednesday 18th April).

Readers and reporters demonstrate against cuts to Bristol Evening Post

In Bristol, readers and reporters are demonstrating today (Tuesday 17th April) against cuts   by Northcliffe, the owner of the Bristol Evening Post. 20 jobs could go when the Bristol Evening Post scraps its Saturday edition and goes down to a five editions a week. Bristol NUJ Branch says, “…many people – not just journalists – seem to realise that newsgathering in our city is approaching a crisis point.

“How can the city’s only dedicated daily newspaper provide proper coverage when staffing is reduced by a further third, to fewer than 40 journalists? Six years ago there were close to 190 journalists on the Post, Western Daily Press and Observer.

“Companies  such as Northcliffe are happy to take fat profit margins for their shareholders from Bristol when times were good – indeed, the Post is still making a profit.But when times get tough, the returns to shareholders continue while Bristol journalists lose their jobs, those left have to work even harder, and the wider community realises it is not going to get proper coverage.”


Local press coverage of Calderdale’s Energy Future

Halifax Courier and Hebden Bridge Times coverage of Calderdale’s Energy Future strategy is quite interesting. So far, as far as I can see, they have only published a report that reads rather like a Calderdale Council press release, a copy of the Hebden Bridge Transition Town website’s endorsement of Calderdale’s Energy Future and and a similar followup article.

For some reason they didn’t print this letter. Maybe it’s too long. Or just boring.

Update: To my surprise, I opened the 12th April Hebden Bridge Times and found they’d printed a longer version of this letter, under the headline: “Answer our questions over Calderdale’s energy future.”

Jenny Shepherd, letter to Hebden Bridge Times, 20 Feb 2012

A couple of weeks ago, Bear welcomed Calderdale’s Energy Future and its promise of support for a variety of community groups’ projects. I welcome this project too. But Calderdale’s Energy Future is clear that community projects won’t significantly reduce the area’s carbon emissions.  It expects that nearly all the targeted 2020 reductions in carbon emissions will come from:

  • a greener national grid (partly the result of new-build nuclear power stations, if the government gets its way), plus energy efficiency improvements to houses, commercial and industrial buildings, and transport
  • opening up the Borough to the development of large scale commercial wind farms and biomass energy (from burning wood and other natural materials including waste and energy crops) – at a time when Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing says “The Scottish government is already consulting on removing support for large-scale biomass electricity-only plant” and the Friends of the Earth Policy Officer endorses the Climate Change Committee’s view that large scale biomass plants “have no role to play in our energy future.”
Biomass plant protesters in Scotland_Edinburgh Evening News

Living in the material world

The projected carbon emissions reductions in Calderdale’s Energy Future strategy assume an ideal world where things happen as the number crunchers predict. But climate change is complicated. Attempts to tackle one of its causes may well inadvertantly worsen the problem elsewhere. Planners call this a “wicked problem”. Wicked problems only have “clumsy solutions”, at best.

For example, Calderdale’s Energy Future estimates that micro-hydro electricity generation from old mill races will reduce the area’s carbon emissions by 0.16% of the targeted reductions for 2020, preserve the area’s industrial heritage and increase income from tourism. All this is good. But if increased tourism means more people driving around Calderdale, this could increase the area’s transport-related carbon emissions and undo the 0.16% reduction in carbon emissions. So then you have to avert this new problem – for example, by increasing use of public transport and the electric bikes that are already available to hire.

So, given this wicked problem, how effective is Calderdale’s Energy Future likely to be? I’ve asked four Calderdale Councillors a number of questions about this – but so far they haven’t answered them:

  • Is it sensible to rely on the new Green Deal to reduce household energy use and carbon emissions? The Climate Change Committee, which advises the government on how to reduce carbon emissions, says that implementing the Green Deal will massively reduce the amount of cavity wall and loft insulation that’s carried out at the moment, and will slow the rate of reducing carbon emissions and energy use. They recommend that the Big Six energy companies should pay for all the home energy efficiency improvements needed to meet the 2022 national target for reducing household carbon emissions; and these improvements should be tailored to each individual house and carried out  street-by-street.
  • How realistic is the aim of significantly reducing Calderdale’s carbon emissions by 2020 by switching to commercial, large scale biomass energy? Where is the large volume of wood or other organic fuel coming from? If local wood fuel’s available, will newly planted replacement trees and coppices mature by 2020, in time to  absorb the carbon emissions from burning the biomass? And what about the increase in air pollution and nuisance from smells and burning that could result?
  • How is the Council going to guarantee the accountability, transparency and disinterestedness of the working group that it will set up to create the Calderdale’s Energy Future action plan and monitor its implementation? In particular, will it select members who are free of potential conflicts of interest? Will working group meetings be open to press and public? If working group members are also Council “partners” in carrying out the strategy, how will the Council avoid suspicions of pork barrel politics?
Too ignorant to ask questions
Maybe these questions don’t deserve answers. According to the online comments of someone who lobbied the Council to develop Calderdale’s Energy Future, my ignorance disqualifies me from questioning the expertise of the folks who prepared Calderdale’s Energy Future. Hey ho.
I guess I know as much and as little about how to move towards a low carbon society as most other people in Calderdale. So if my questions aren’t worth answering, presumably most other people’s aren’t  either. Bang goes another nail in local democracy’s coffin. So come on Councillors, please.