Waitrose’s George Street branch is this month using part of its community charity fund-raiser to support a newspaper business which last year reported profits of £70million and which axed the jobs of around 200 professional journalists.The Croydon branch of the grocery supermarket, part of the John Lewis Partnership, each month divides £1,000 between three selected, usually local, charitable causes, the split determined by the number of green tokens each project receives from customers after they have completed their shop.
“At the checkout you’ll receive a token, which you then place in the box of the good cause you’d most like to support,” Waitrose explains, cheerily. “The more tokens a cause gets, the bigger the donation they receive. You can also nominate good causes to be considered for the scheme in the future. Just pick up a leaflet in store for more information.”
It seems that someone from Newsquest’s south London operation has enterprisingly submitted an application asking for public donations towards a scheme to “encourage students to try their hand at journalism”. And the nice people at Waitrose have swallowed their story without checking too closely on the detail.
Because had they done so, they would have quickly discovered that the commercial company behind the scheme being promoted by their store in 2016b made profits of almost £70million, meanwhile cutting more than 200 jobs.
Newsquest is part of the American-based Gannett multi-national media giant. Gannett, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, in 2016 had revenues of $3billion.
In Britain it owns more than 200 titles, including the Croydon Guardian freesheet.
That paper is not based in Croydon, and is now operating with a skeleton staff, with a reporter working across various other titles and their websites, including the Sutton Guardian.
In 2015, Newsquest newsrooms were voted “the most miserable places to work” among newspaper titles, shortly after staff in the London and south-east, including the Croydon Guardian, went on a 10-day strike to protest over job cuts and poor pay and conditions.
Now, the nice people at Waitrose are inviting their customers to support a scheme run by the company which gets schoolchildren, aged from 14 to 18, to provide content for their websites – and all for free.
The notice in the supermarket comes complete with the kind of grammatical errors you might expect from a newspaper company which has sacked its local sub-editors (which Newsquest has tried to do).The notice to Waitrose customers says, “This Is Local London is a self-funded scheme,” meaning that the corporate management does not waste any of their money on it.
“The scheme is open to students aged between 14 and 18 and they write for This Is Local London.” The notice makes no attempt to disguise the association with the profitable Newsquest business: “They are part of a project run through the Newsquest Group, producer of the local papers.
“The student’s [sic] sign-up to write local articles over an eight month [sic] and all of their articles are published on our online newspaper.
“Now in its ninth year, the scheme has encouraged students to try their hand at journalism and this year over 500 students from across London signed up to be part of this unique and exiting [sic] opportunity.”
For their part, Waitrose’s Croydon branch said that they chose the good causes each month in good faith, and that they do not choose private businesses, they might choose a school, but not private schools, and they never put forward any religious causes. A member of the branch management said that they would look into the circumstances of the Newsquest This Is Local London scheme.
A senior member of the National Union of Journalists based in Croydon suggested that the scheme is not only not a very deserving cause, but might also be exploitative of the schoolchildren who take part in it.
“Any professional journalist who has just done their shopping in Waitrose who sees this charity appeal with be entitled to be disgusted and appalled that Newsquest are now handing out the begging bowl to subsidise a scheme which is providing its under-staffed websites with cheap content.
“It’s not clear what the scheme really offers to the kids. It could be a version of the worst kind of unpaid internship – no training, no advice, and no real experience of what it is to be a poorly paid journalist working on a Newsquest local title.
“I hope Waitrose’s customers are not taken in by this shabby appeal.”
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