In My Opinion: Paul Holleran: Pay freeze extension not a good start to 2013 at Johnston Press

THIS promises to be a year of change in Scottish newspapers. Some titles might change hands and possibly some will face the threat of closure. And out of the four main newspaper groups, Johnston Press – the publisher of The Scotsman, and several local newspapers in Scotland – seems to going through most turmoil.

It has recently gone through dramatic changes in senior personnel, a new editorial hub is planned for Fife (after editors and senior staff raised major concerns about stress and resources in various offices) and a new financial director has been appointed to replace long-standing ‘money man’, chief operating officer, Danny Cammiade.

That said, staff will almost certainly be relieved to see Stuart Birkett returning as MD for Scotland after a few successful years managing the group in the north east of Engand. I have known Stuart for many years and am more than happy to see him – a newspaper man – at the helm.

However, he is returning at a difficult time as NUJ chapels are telling me that staff are over-stretched and struggling to produce papers on time, never mind with the required quality to maintain circulations.

On top of that, Johnston Press have looked at their finances and have decided to extend its pay freeze. Therein lies a problem. Morale and tolerance levels are, I’d say, at an all-time low and the ‘jungle drums’ are beating all the way from the Borders to the Falkirk Wheel and along the Fife coastal route.

I am meeting management on Friday, plus ‘the troops’ next week amid calls for a mass meeting, with a possible work-to-rule on the agenda.

Companies such as Johnston Press have to work with their staff in turning around their heavy indebtedness, improving circulation and improving advertising revenues. It isn’t easy, but a pay freeze isn’t a good start in a partnership required for survival.

Paul Holleran is the Scottish Organiser of the National Uni0n of Journalists.