Argus journalists start two-day strike

Posted On 18 Nov 2010 at 10:29 am

Journalists working for Brighton and Hove’s daily newspaper The Argus started a two-day strike this morning.

They are protesting at plans to switch three news sub-editor jobs to Southampton in a move that will lead to six staff losing their jobs in Brighton.

They are also asking the company to end a pay freeze that has lasted almost three years.

Pictures of the strike by photographer Rob James can be seen below.

A skeleton staff is working at the Argus offices in Crowhurst Road, Hollingbury, today.

And Newsquest, the company that owns The Argus, expects to be able to produce the paper for tomorrow and Saturday.

On a website about the strike which has been set up by Argus journalists, they said: “Newsquest, the American-owned company which runs The Argus, is proposing to move the paper’s sub-editing operation to Southampton.

“This follows years of cuts, which have seen the loss of more than 100 jobs at The Argus and the closure of its printing press.

“We believe a local paper can only be properly produced by local journalists – who know the difference between Patcham and Patching, and where Brighton ends and Hove begins.

“Sub-editors are experienced journalists responsible for laying out and designing pages, creating headlines and identifying and correcting mistakes before the paper goes to print.

“It’s hard to put a price on their local knowledge and skills, but Newsquest seems happy to throw them away in the name of short-term cost savings.

Needless damage

“This is why NUJ (National Union of Journalists) members based at The Argus are striking – to highlight the needless damage being inflicted on your newspaper.

“Last year Newsquest’s top executive awarded himself a 21 per cent pay increase.

“And the chief financial officer of parent company Gannett recently boasted: ‘Newsquest makes a lot of money.’

“Despite this jobs continue to be cut at The Argus, where staff have suffered a pay freeze for more than 1,000 days.”

The staff picketing the paper’s Hollingbury offices won support from across the political spectrum.

Hove Conservative MP Mike Weatherley urged Newsquest to reconsider moving more jobs to Southampton.

He said: “It is easy to take for granted the importance of a locally relevant daily newspaper.

“Knowing what the public want to read – and then being able to provide it – is all about local knowledge.

“The Argus has been a central important publication for many decades and I am concerned that some of that essential local content will get lost with the proposed changes.

“I urge the newspaper owners to consider alternative options.”

Genuine commitment

Labour peer Lord Bassam of Brighton, the former leader of Brighton Borough Council and now the Opposition Chief Whip in the House of Lords, gave his backing to the striking journalists.

He said: “Argus reporters deserve the support of local people for their genuine commitment to local news.

“I hope the campaign is successful.

“Even in the era of cyber communications we need a local paper.

“Over many years The Argus has been a valuable community service reflecting on the issues of the day.

“As a local politician the paper helped me communicate and develop a rapport with residents across the city.

“The paper has played an invaluable campaigning role over many years on subjects as diverse as city status and pensioner poverty.

“Keep up the good fight.”

Given the criticisms that The Argus sometimes levels against Brighton and Hove City Council, it may be surprising to learn that the council’s Conservative leader Mary Mears also lent her support.

She said: “As a city, we have managed to weather the economic storm relatively well, in part due to initiatives such as our Be Local Buy Local campaign.

Disappointing

“So it is disappointing that Newsquest have decided to relocate the Argus sub-editing function out of Brighton and Hove in favour of Southampton.

“Supporting local business is one of my key priorities as council leader and so any loss of local jobs is a real source of regret for me.

“Last year the council unanimously passed a motion supporting the city’s local written media and expressing concern at the growing regionalisation of press coverage in general.

“Unfortunately, this latest move by Newsquest seems to be another example of this.

“The Argus is a real Brighton and Hove institution and, although they clearly need to move with the times (and the economic realities), it is a great shame that they seem to be gradually locating their operations out of the city.

“For the sake of strong local democracy, I believe that Brighton and Hove needs a genuinely local newspaper with journalists and editors who have an in-depth understanding of local issues.

“I hope that Newsquest can be persuaded to reconsider this decision.”

Green councillor Sven Rufus and Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Elgood are among others to have sent messages of support.

Labour group leaderCouncillor Gill Mitchell and Green councillor Ben Duncan were among a number of members of the council who visited the striking journalists to give their backing to the strike.

Keep jobs local

City University professor of journalism Roy Greenslade, a former Argus journalist and ex-Daily Mirror editor who lives in Brighton, has written about the strike on his Guardian media blog.

He said: “Brighton Argus journalists were on the picket line today after voting to stage a two-day strike in protest at a two-year freeze on wages and the removal of subbing jobs.

“Their major slogan was ‘Keep jobs local’, a reference to the fact that the paper is to be subbed largely from Southampton in future.

“I somehow doubt that the National Union of Journalists would have voted for this action in normal circumstances.

“Their employer, Newsquest/Gannett, has got away with plenty of cutbacks in the past by claiming that plunging profits have necessitated editorial budget reductions.

“But Gannett’s chief financial officer, Gracia Martore, put a lie to those claims last month when she told US analysts that Newsquest was making profits. Healthy profits.

“Here’s a verbatim account of what she said on 15 October: ‘Let me once and for all dispel the myth that Newsquest doesn’t make money.

“‘Newsquest makes a lot of money.

“‘In fact, their margin, as I have said a couple of times, is consistent with the margin that our local US community publishing operations generate.

“‘So their margins are in the high teens to low 20s. And they have consistently made money throughout the years, even in a year like last year when revenues were under as much pressure as they were.’”

Unacceptable

Professor Greenslade adds: “No wonder Newsquest’s journalists in Brighton, Blackburn, Darlington and Southampton have taken, or are planning to take, industrial action.

“As for the pay freeze, that’s altogether unacceptable in the light of Martore’s admission.

“It is even worse than that because Newsquest/Gannett bosses have been receiving rises while their hard-pressed employees have not.

“I understand there is some embarrassment at Newsquest about Martore’s statement and hints that she overstated the true situation.

“But Newsquest/Gannett cannot have it both ways.

“Either she told the truth to analysts, meaning that Newsquest’s executives have been telling porkies to their newspaper staffs.

“Or she was ‘economical with the truth’ when addressing sceptical US analysts.

“Either Newsquest is making bumper profits and should not have imposed a pay freeze.

“Or it is scraping by, in which case the company’s chief financial officer should come clean.”

* The pictures below are by Rob James


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