Todmorden News and Hebden Bridge Times merge as Johnston Press strips journalistic resources in pursuit of profits

The Chair and Secretary of the Calderdale branch of the National Union of Journalists have issued the following statement:

Calderdale branch of the National Union of Journalists has condemned the merger of two once-proud local papers, the Todmorden News and the Hebden Bridge Times.  The end of a dedicated local paper for each town breaks a tradition which goes back a century, and is another sign of the way that the local media in Britain is being starved of resources and professional skills. Continue reading

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.



National coverage of Johnston Press cuts and changes to Calderdale papers

The Guardian has good coverage of Johnston Press’s closure of the offices for Hebden Bridge Times, Tod News and Brighouse Echo, along with its changing the Halifax Courier from a daily to a weekly paper with more extensive online news, and a number of proposed compulsory editorial reduncies.

Journalists at the Halifax Courier NUJ Chapel met with the NUJ Northern/Midlands Organiser today, and a representative from the Chapel was later due to meet with the editor in chief to discuss better ways of introducing changes, that would maintain good local news coverage.

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.”