The ‘Crisis’ Within Scottish Newspapers – Part Two

Last Wednesday, the Scottish Affairs Committee at the House of Commons grilled five key figures in the Scottish newspaper industry, as part of an investigation into a ‘crisis’ within it.

They were: Jim Raeburn, of the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society; Tim Blott, managing director of the Herald and Times group; Mark Hollinshead, managing director of Trinity Mirror nationals division, including the Daily Record and Sunday Mail; John McLellan, editor-in-chief of The Scotsman group of newspapers; and Michael Johnston, its managing director.

It is worth watching: here.

On Friday, allmediascotland provided a timeline of the first 22 minutes’ worth of the two hours’ worth of proceedings (here). Tomorrow, read part three.

23.00 Stress. Mark Hollinshead outlined a series of stress management initiatives coinciding with the Record and Sunday Mail moving to a new, brighter HQ in Glasgow’s Central Quay – including access to personal fitness plans at a company gym and healthy eating options. “We take staff welfare very seriously”. Michael Johnston, meanwhile, said any suggestion of harassment of staff would be dealt with severely by management and the NUJ. New shift patterns had been agreed with the NUJ – so okay on that front, regarding stress.

29.00 Herald job cuts. Tim Blott was questioned on the way his 250 staff were told, in December, that they were being invited to apply for around 40 fewer posts. He disputed a claim – at a previous committee meeting – by the NUJ’s Scottish Organiser, Paul Holleran, that the new posts would involve “worse” terms and conditions. He said they would be “different”. He added, also, the staff weren’t made redundant at the meeting but were told they faced the “risk of redundancy”.

When asked about terms and conditions, he said that, in some cases the new ones were worse, and in others the same, but none were better.

36.00 Employment legislation. When it was put to the panel that employment legislation might be burdensome – that it involved ‘jumping though various unnecessary hoops’ in order to reach the same conclusion of letting people go in order to survive/prosper in business – Tim Blott agreed. “A large proportion of management time is dealt with HR issues…as opposed to dealing with the normal business activities.”

Michael Johnston disagreed. He said the current, employment law environment “is one that fosters proper consultation and communication” and that Johnston Press found “great benefit” in having pre-consultation meetings with the NUJ. “They [the employment law requirements] are often a fair check, to be perfectly honest.” He suggested the committee might change tack to get more to the heart of what is happening to the Scottish newspaper industry.

39.50 John McLellan felt that some streamlining of the employment legislation process might help reduce uncertainty for staff but that consultation was also helpful, especially if entered into positively; it could produce good solutions that had hitherto not been thought of. He noted a “no-win situation” had emerged following recent reorganisation plans announced at Scotsman Publications: there has been criticism that the detail of where staff cuts are going to fall had yet to be revealed, but that, had they been revealed, there would have been accusations of insufficient consultation.

43.00 What level of management training? There are courses on offer and they are taken up. Tim Blott agreed with the suggestion it was grossly unfair to suggest journalists promoted to management were not properly trained.

To be continued……

Comment: “Tim Blott agreed with the suggestion it was grossly unfair to suggest journalists promoted to management were not properly trained.” Perhaps things have changed in the last few years since I left journalism, but in my experience, all training was on the job, regardless of what level you were going up to. Now while it’s true that you learn 100 times more doing than being taught, there is still room for proper training – something which other industries excel at compared to most journalism outlets. Craig McGill

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