Will the last person to leave the Croydon Guardian offices please turn off the lights?As the journalists on Croydon and Sutton’s free newspapers extend their dispute with rapacious owners Newsquest over compulsory redundancies, news comes of yet another staff departure, permanently: Nick Hitchens.
Friday was the final day in the office for the former chief reporter and later assistant editor who had been promoted to the role of deputy managing group editor (which probably was never quite as grand as it sounds).
Hitchens had worked on the Sutton and Croydon titles since 2011, and had developed a reputation for delivering some hard-hitting exclusives of genuine importance to south Londoners.
Hitchens is the fourth member of staff on the Croydon-Sutton titles known to have quit the papers, amid a dispute over management policy which union officials have described as “slash and burn”. Rather than struggle on with a management which has a determined policy of disinvestment, reporters Dan O’Mahoney and Andrea Downey left earlier in the month, and as had been trailed by Inside Croydon, Chris Baynes, the titles’ news editor, has now also left.
“It’s been fun, interspersed with relentless toil,” Baynes tweeted on Friday. “But mostly fun.”
Some of the journalists have quit their (low-paid) jobs without alternative employment to go to immediately, so demoralised have they become working for highly profitable Newsquest.
On titles which were already struggling with a skeleton staff, it is hard to imagine how the Croydon Guardian will manage to appear, online or in print, in any credible form even when the strike action is over.
During the strike, Newsquest management has been publishing a few press releases and generic news stories culled from the interweb. The industrial dispute was re-activated by the National Union of Journalists after the management failed to show up for their promised talks.
Newsquest has been operating a “ghost paper” in neighbouring Streatham for some time; there is no print edition any longer, with its costly paper, ink and delivery to be paid for, but management has maintained an online presence, utilising generic local content generated by the handful of journalists retained elsewhere in south London, interspersed with a bit of clickbait and a few press releases, to fit around its paid-for advertising.
Some of Newsquest’s multi-million-pound revenues come from advertising on planning and other matters, which local authorities, including Croydon Council, are obliged by law to place with the newspapers to fulfil a public information remit. The statutory regulations mean that ad rates may be being paid out of public funds for circulations which have not existed in any real terms this decade.Given that sort of business model, with money pouring in regardless of the quality of the product or how limited its circulation may be, there is no incentive for Newsquest to invest in its journalism or journalists. In south London, that has resulted in almost all its journalists being offered redundancy.
“Newsquest is proposing to pool all the reporters at its south London titles together, with none of them covering specific patches,” one NUJ member explained.
“They want 12 reporters covering 11 papers, the consequence being none of the reporters will have any relationship with any patch and will rarely get to leave the office or do anything resembling meaningful journalism, instead just churning out press releases for the company to sell ads around.
“Unsurprisingly there has been several resignations across the newsroom and almost everyone eligible has applied for voluntary redundancy.”
Those opposing the Newsquest cuts have taken to tweeting this riddle:
What has 0 journalists, 0 photographers, 0 leisure, 0 features, 0 sports reporters and 0 editors?
To which the answer is the title of almost any Newsquest “news”paper in south London.
Pointedly, the protestors have tagged @FaureWalker in their tweets, being the handle of Henry Faure Walker, the CEO of Newsquest.
Newsquest Media Group made a pre-tax profit of £58.7 million in 2014 on a turnover of £279 million.
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