MORE than 30 jobs are at risk at Northcliffe centres in the South West in a wide-ranging series of cutbacks which will see the Bristol-based Western Daily Press come under the control of an editor-in-chief in Plymouth.
About 11 jobs are to go in Bristol, also affecting the Evening Post. The cuts include three sports sub-editors, two reporters, one business reporter and three from the digital desk.
But more redundancies could result if five WDP staff choose not to take the roles being offered to them in Plymouth.
It is only a year since the last wave of job cuts at the Evening Post and Western Daily Press slashed 44 posts – almost a third of the editorial staff.
Bizarrely the five-strong WDP content desk – news editors and reporters – will now move 120 miles to Devon, while its editor and production staff remain in Bristol.
Meanwhile in a roundabout move, production staff for the Plymouth morning paper, the Western Morning News, will transfer in the opposite direction to Bristol. The five production jobs will also help compensate for the loss of three Bristol sports subs.
WDP editor Andy Wright is retiring after almost five years in the role.
Morning News editor Alan Qualtrough becomes editor-in-chief of the two titles and will oversee a redesign to relaunch both papers. A role will remain for a WDP editor in Bristol, but it is not clear if this will be taken by the paper’s deputy editor Steve White.
Staff in Bristol reacted with shock and bemusement to the news. Many are struggling to see how the new arrangement can work without affecting quality.
Some content staff will be based more than 100 miles from the areas they cover – while their editors and production staff will be equally far away.
The 11 job cuts in Bristol include three sports sub-editors, one graphics operative, one business reporter and three from the digital desk – a department only created a year ago.
Business cover for the WDP will be provided by a single reporter in Plymouth.
One job on the Bristol business desk will go. One business reporter will remain on the Evening Post, but daily pages will be replaced by a weekly supplement.
Production of South West Business magazine will move to Cheltenham.
The NUJ chapel at the Post and Press will hold an open meeting for all staff, whether union members or not, tomorrow (Tuesday March 9).
The aim will be to explain the changes proposed, to gather questions which staff want answered, and to decide on a reaction to the plans.
Among the issues left unclear at a series of briefings given to staff today by Post editor-in-chief Mike Norton was the terms to be offered to staff taking redundancy.
In the past Northcliffe has paid considerably more than the statutory minimum.
NUJ officers at the Post and Press, and at Bristol NUJ, are taking advice from national union officials in London on how to safeguard the rights of affected journalists.
More than 20 subbing jobs are also at risk in Torquay and Exeter as Northcliffe creates a production hub in Plymouth for Devon and Cornwall titles, similar to the operation created in Bristol last year.
Because of the number of jobs involved, the Devon cutbacks will require a statutory consultation lasting 30 days.
But as the Bristol jobs cut are fewer than 20, there is no requirement to hold the same consultation procedure there.
The plan does at least preserve – for the time being – the Western Daily Press.
Its circulation has fallen drastically in recent years: ABC figures show that in the six months to December sales fell to an average 34,109, a decline of 10.7% year-on-year. Back in 2004 the paper was selling more than 50,000 copies a day.
During last year’s cutbacks the WDP lost most of its reporting staff and photographers. It was also deprived of almost all its website because it had “no digital future”.
Paul Breeden, acting chair of Bristol NUJ, appeared on BBC Radio Bristol’s Drivetime show this evening to talk about the impact of the cutbacks.
Northcliffe declined to appear on the programme or talk to the BBC.
However, Mike Norton, editor-in-chief of all Northcliffe’s West and Wales titles, told HoldtheFrontPage the changes would have a “positive effect” on the WDP.
“While the paper’s content will not change, it will be driven by a new content desk with a radar screen covering the entire South West,” he said.
Staff will be wondering how much content the two morning titles will share – and how much their different characters can be preserved.
holdthefrontpage: Regional mornings to merge content desks
bristol247.com: Job losses announced at Bristol newspaper titles