FOR almost two weeks now I and my colleagues have been making a stand over the staffing levels at North London and Herts Newspapers.
Recently our news editor of three years, Henry Ellis, moved on to our sister paper at the South London Press, a good move for him, but as we wished him well (and two other reporters around the same time) we all doubted whether the position would be replaced.
We all know that the news editor role is essential role in our office – an article printed in the Press Gazette several years ago is pinned to the noticeboard highlighting the news editor’s need to have their finger on the pulse; be aware of all the national and local stories, the articles that reporters are working on, the photos that are being taken and much more.
When Mr Ellis left the senior reporters remaining agreed that it was important to protect the position, rather than see it vanish as most middle management roles do, for the long-term benefit of the papers. It would have been a lot easier to agree a job share among us. Three months after Mr Ellis left we were told by Brian Doel that we could internally hire a news editor, and after interviews I was appointed.
Around the same time we were told we could internally promote, ACAS, managing director Brian Doel, the NUJ’s Barry Fitzpatrick and our Father of the Chapel Jonathan Lovett were in the final stages of the year-long negotiations. At the final negotiations we were told that at a board meeting on April 8 our request for a junior reporter on a fixed term contact (ideally 12 months) would be “sympathetically” considered, as well as a guarantee for replacement of staff if someone else leaves. Baring in mind that all requests for a percentage pay rise had been long dropped (despite the increased cost of living in the last three years), we hoped this would be the concluding settlement.
Unfortunately the “sympathetic” consideration resulted in a flat out refusal, and another visit from Sir Ray Tindle and his board standing over us spouting depressing figures and dreams that are not coming into fruition.
When I left university I never expected to be the kind to get involved in industrial action, but then, being an optimist, I never expected to be put into this situation either. The news reporters and I work damn hard every week, as a news editor with a small reporting team I have to get hands on and write the news articles too. I know all the journalists and myself take our notepads home to transcribe quotes that we’ve not got around to writing up because either the phone is ringing, there is someone checking you’ve got their email or you’ve just got a tip-off that four police cars are outside a house in Edmonton and you know without getting to the scene you’re not going to have anything to write about.
But this mountain load of work doesn’t just affect us, if the reporter has too much to write up then the subs get the copy late and mistakes get made or missed in the bid to hit our deadline. The photographers are increasingly being asked attend a photo call of time-capsule burials, rather than meet one of our contacts to take a creative picture of a family complaining about an injustice because there is no time to investigate complaints properly.
During these two weeks many people have told us they are in similar situations and we know, despite our own shortage of staff we have still strived to report on local authority cuts as well, and we understand the difficulties. Even though we are not publically funded, we all joined this profession to provide a public service, to hold a light up to hypocrisy, corruption and inequality.
So true to our calling we have stood up and said this abuse – to our readers, advertisers and our staff – should not go on any longer. The Enfield Nine have used the skills we have to drum up immense support in a short space of time, we have written the words for this blog, taken the photos and designed the leaflets, using all media available to us and the reaction has been amazing and we are grateful.
As we embark on our last day of action I want to say we do want a resolution, we don’t want this to go on and on. I only hope that Sir Ray realises the talented and dedicated team he has before him and recognises that all we want, is what he wants; a good local newspaper adored by the readers, with committed advertisers and long-term financial viability. But without the staffing levels I fear the creativity and innovation will be quashed and instead our prediction will come true; the papers will dwindle and die.