As journalism.co.uk reports, 12 editorial jobs are to go. This includes the whole of John Payne’s Sport and Leisure team – the two areas which have managed to hold off the relentless tide of churnalism that has swamped most of the news teams (with one or two exceptions) .
The savagery of the proposed “downsizing” is a case of not so much cutting off your nose to spite your face, but both ears, an arm and a leg, and giving one eye a poke with a sharp stick.
It has been sad to watch the steady drip-drip-drip decline of the once thriving south London Guardian, Comet and Richmond and Twickenham Times series in the year and a half since I and others were made redundant, and I have commented on it before.
Caught woefully on the back foot and looking in the wrong direction by the rise of the internet in the late 90s and early noughties, a once complacent company has struggled to get a web foothold, flailing around blindly as one by one the main props of its advertising revenue – first jobs, then motors and finally property – ebbed away to the web.
Rather than meeting the threat with innovation and adaptation and, most importantly, meeting the threat locally, Newsquest’s web policy was decided nationally, and thus began an on-going game of catch-up in pursuit of forever elusive goal. First it was just putting what was published in the papers up on the web (after the papers had hit the streets), then it was putting one or two stories up every day, then it was “web-first”, then community blogging. And so on.
Most importantly, Newsquest should have gone back to first principles, asking itself “what are we here for?” The answer is of course found in its name. But as the savage cut-backs in editorial staff show, Newsquest is spending less and less time and fewer and fewer resources questing for news.
By coincidence, I found my old “induction folder” from when I joined Newsquest way back in 1998. Inside is the following interesting document, the company’s “Purpose”, “Values and Beliefs” and the inevitable “Mission Statement”. It makes droll reading in the light of today’s news:
We are in business to provide our communities with valuable, up-to-date information on which they can depend to help make decisions and enrich their lives.
Values and Beliefs
o We value above all our ability to win, satisfy and retain customers.
o We take pride in our ethics and integrity: we are consistent, honest and fair
o Commitments are to be fulfilled – “One time, on time, every time”.
o We respect and are responsible to colleagues, customers and communities.
o We live up to our stated high standards in dealing with them
o We believe in continuous improvement, quality and consistency.
o We expect a fair profit from providing a superior service at the lowest delivered cost
o We value highly the enthusiasm, commitment, knowledge, skills, teamwork and integrity of our colleagues, recognising that our future is built on these qualities.
o We value value and the ability to add it. Individual and team performance is measured by the value added above our minimum required standards.
0 We are committed to providing training and feedback to allow each individual to bring added value to their role, and to help them realise their full potential.
o We believe in honest and open communication. Our style is of accessibility and open doors, and making time to talk face to face to individuals about themselves.
The first choice for trusted information serving the largest local audience
We will be household names for whole families and communities. We will have more customers – readers, advertisers and users of our services – than any competitor. We will widen the gap in our market leadership.
Our employees will say this is the best company they have worked for. We will feel that our colleagues are the best we could have.
Our competitors will envy us.
Today, the company’s “Mission Statement” is shorter, blander and rather short of specifics (scroll down to the bottom). The careful reader will note there’s none of that “we value highly the enthusiasm, commitment, knowledge, skills, teamwork and integrity of our colleagues” and “Our employees will say this is the best company they have worked for” nonsense. They may still be listening, but they sure ain’t hearing nothing.
As staff in Sutton and Twickenham now know to their cost, there’s a reason for that.
The cuts go on at Newsquest London.
It has sent the following to its employees:
Due to the worsening trading conditions the company will now accept requests for voluntary redundancy. These requests must be made in writing and be sent to the HR department by Monday February 28 at 5pm. All requests will then be reviewed. Final decisions will be at the management’s discretion.
That’s an incredibly short time for staff to volunteer to step up on to the scaffold: company boss Roger Mills only made the announcement on Thursday.
NQ London publishes a range of titles in south-west London, including the paid-for titles Surrey Comet and Richmond & Twickenham Times, the freebie Guardian series and their related websites. The News Shopper series of free weeklies, based in Petts Wood, south-east London, also comes under the all-seeing aegis of group editor Andy Parkes.
Recently, the south-west branch of operations, formerly based in the less-than-salubrious surrounds of beautiful, downtown North Cheam, has been split, with the Surrey Comet and related Kingston and Elmbridge Guardians team moving in with the Richmond & Twickenham Times at its Twickenham base and the rest of the operations nestling down with Reed Business Information in The Quadrant, Sutton – neatly completing circle begun in 1995, when a management buy-out team formed Newsquest and bought Reed Regional Newspapers from Reed Elsevier.
Oddly, though, the news, sports and leisure subs team have been left alone in Newsquest London’s half of Unecol House, North Cheam, even though everyone else – newsdesks, advertising, planners and production – has up and moved elsewhere, and even though the inevitable technical teething problems means the subs have to use their own mobile phones and, on at least one occasion, lack of an IT connection means news editors have had to drive over from Sutton to view their own pages.
After a swathe of redundancies in 2009, last year saw the axing of some south-west London titles (the Hounslow & Brentford Times, the Chiswick) and cuts in pagination and distribution in others, as well as the closure of the national NQ final salary pension scheme. There have been further savage cuts in editorial pagination recently.
The Press Gazette has more on the latest redundancies here.
UPDATE Feb 26: FSB has the NUJ response here.
FURTHER UPDATE: Although the number of redundancies NQ London is after hasn’t been revealed, a source tells me staff are being told the cuts will be based on a “skills matrix” rather than “last in, first out”. Which has left staff with a worrying weekend wondering where exactly they fit in the “skills matrix” before deciding on Monday whether to take the blue pill or the red pill…