Following last month’s shock announcement by Johnston Press revealing the publishing group’s intention to drastically reduce their Scottish photography staff, NUJ Scotland today made clear its position to represent those affected by the potential job losses. The Edinburgh-based media company – which claims to have trimmed its costs by more than £30m this year as it continues to tackle a £306m debt – aims to cull its current 24 staff photographers in Scotland down to just two as part of an ongoing expenditure reduction plan. Dominic Bascombe, the NUJ’s Assistant Organiser in Scotland spoke of the union’s stance regarding the potential cuts. He said: “Photographers are essentially losing their jobs. I am meeting tomorrow with some of them. It’s one of the changing faces of the media industry as we speak.” Viewing last month’s grim statement as a new direction being taken by the UK media industry; with signs some organisations are following the lead of the Chicago Sun-Times, which earlier in the year sacked its entire photography staff, Bascombe added: “Right now, Johnston Press are looking to get rid of their photographers, which is a big issue because it changes the dynamics of the newsroom and introduces major problem issues around quality. It’s definitely a trend that’s moving across here.” It is understood that Johnston Press, whose flagship papers the Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post have taken large circulation losses in the recession, will in the future prefer to gather pictures submitted by the public and student journalists, in a situation which avoids payment for both the image and its copyright.
“…Johnston Press were making profits of 16-17%. The big supermarkets make 3% if they are lucky. When profits started to drop, they’ve just cut and run.” – Pete Murray, Media Trust Community Outreach Manager, Scotland.
In an interview with the Guardian just prior to last month’s announcement, Johnston Press Chief Executive Officer, Ashley Highfield pre-empted the company’s decision to make job cuts within its Scottish and Midlands bases. He said: “Difficult decisions have to be taken. There’s no ducking it. We have to get in shape for a digital future.” Highfield’s statement sits amid a flurry of changes within the company in the last month. Within days of the job cuts statement, Johnston Press announced an £8m sell-off of their older offices in the north of England, leaving at least three regional publications looking for new premises. While just this week, the company admitted that it is in “advanced discussions” to sell its Irish newspaper division, which is likely to be at a huge loss in view of the near €300m it paid to enter the Irish market in 2005. Pete Murray, the former President of the NUJ, who this week stepped into his new role as Media Trust Community Outreach Manager today highlighted the issue of the ratio between profit, training and quality within the industry. He said: “Before the recession hit, Johnston Press were making profits of 16-17%. The big supermarkets make 3% if they are lucky. When profits started to drop, they’ve just cut and run. At the NUJ we’ve always tried to say, ‘You need to keep up. You need to invest in your staff training and the numbers, otherwise quality is going to fall away’.” Speaking of the practicalities in the inevitable industrial action facing the Johnston Press photographers who wish not to accept their bosses’ urging of a “voluntary redundancy scheme”, Bascombe said: “If they don’t want to leave, industrial action is their option. For that to happen we’ll have the chapel meeting where a vote to take action will take place. Should this happen we’d give notice to the company and then a ballot goes out to the home addresses of our members.” While any potential strike action may be weeks away, an argument is growing in view of what the cuts expose regarding the bigger picture within the media industry set-up. Former BBC man, Murray, added: “There needs to be a new ownership model. One of the things we are lobbying for as part of the referendum is a co-operative model of ownership. The NUJ are arguing that win, lose or draw next September, the Government needs to set up a media commission in Scotland to have a look at ownership, and the role that the press in Scotland plays as a public good.”