That Was The Week That Was
, according to songstress Millicent Martin, and some week it has been for us small coterie of professional media watchers. While the US-owned major UK newspaper publisher Newsquest was being hotly tipped to buy JPIMedia, at the same time, over at its Scottish operation, Newsquest Scotland, there was disbelief and disillusion for its editorial staff on The Herald
and the Herald on Sunday
after being peremptorily issued with a stark warning: If sufficient journalists had not applied for voluntary redundancy by yesterday (Monday 18 November) there would be compulsory redundancies.
While it is widely known that The Herald
, the Herald on Sunday
, the Evening Times
, The National
and The National on Sunday
, as a group, are collectively struggling to return the high profit levels demanded by Newsquest Scotland, the prospect of compulsory redundancies, at such a ridiculously short notice, shocked the journalists, and indeed, the general public. While it is The Herald
and the Herald on Sunday
journalists who will bear the brunt of the cutbacks this time round, these must be exceedingly stressful times for the editorial staff of the three other newspapers in the group. Only two weeks ago, I was reporting on Newsqest Scotland's MD, Graham Morrison, waxing lyrical on the burgeoning success of The National
and The National on Sunday
– both in print and digitally.
I have written this column on Sunday night to meet a one-off production need as Scottish Review is published today (Tuesday 19 November) instead of Wednesday, so I wasn't aware of the outcome of the voluntary redundancy demand, but the pistol to the head approach is a devastating blow for the journalists who are losing their jobs and the morale of the remaining staff. And should Newsquest buy JPIMedia, we have the intriguing, if somewhat daunting prospect, of what this could mean for the journalists on The Herald
with their paper and their chief rival – The Scotsman
– effectively being within the same media stable.
Media industry website HoldTheFrontPage had exclusively revealed that it fell to the editor-in-chief of the group, Donald Martin, to deliver the devastating company message to his journalists. He told them: 'As you are no doubt aware the company faces challenging market conditions with both newspaper sales and print advertising continuing to decline. Although we are making significant progress in our digital transformation, the revenues gained are not yet enough to offset print declines. As a result, we need to find further cost and efficiency savings in our budget for 2020 to minimise the impact on profitability. The company is, therefore, in the regrettable position of having to consider implementing cost-saving measures across the editorial functions of The Herald
and Herald on Sunday
Martin said that Newsquest would consider requests for flexible working and reduced hours and days, as well as voluntary redundancy applications – ahead of Monday's deadline. He went on: 'Although we have made major savings through recent non-replacement of staff, we remain significantly short of the level of savings required. Having already reduced most freelance and agency contracts in the previous budget cuts, there is a very real prospect that there is little alternative but to look at compulsory redundancies across The Herald
and Herald on Sunday
unless we receive and accept a number of voluntary redundancy applications or requests to reduce hours/days'. He added: 'I appreciate your continued professionalism and commitment at this difficult and worrying time'.
Meanwhile, media industry website, Press Gazette, reports that the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has called for a moratorium on compulsory job losses for staff at JPIMedia amid the bidding war by up to eight organisations for the publisher's close on 200 regional titles, which include The Scotsman
, Scotland on Sunday
, and Edinburgh's Evening News
. The NUJ has reportedly raised concerns about Newsquest's track record when it comes to takeovers – accusing it of 'aggressively stripping out costs, including jobs, and reducing terms and conditions for transferred staff'.
In recent years, Newsquest has bought the Romanes Group in Scotland, NWN Media in North Wales, the Isle of Wight County Press and the CNGroup in Cumbria. The Press Gazette quotes NUJ General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, as saying: 'In all these takeovers, our members have typically suffered heavy job losses and their pay and conditions have been affected'.
Elsewhere, the chief executive of Newsquest, Henry Faure Walker, speaking at the Westminster Media Forum, has called on the Government to provide 'proper help now' to local journalism, adding: 'Time is running out'. He said it must 'get out of the slow lane' and be bold in its support for local journalism, including the BBC-funded local democracy reporter service, and pointed out: 'It's great that the Government has recognised something needs to be done, but they commissioned the Cairncross report over 18 months ago, and frankly local journalism needs proper help now'. He pointed to Canada's £70m annual fund, which will support local journalism over the next five years, and a six-year fund in Denmark that provided £44m.
Five years ago, I switched from BT to Sky to enable me to take advantage of the wide range of top sport, including European soccer, being offered by the US-owned channel. But, lo and behold, and much to my chagrin, did BT Sport not nip in and win the exclusive rights to show the Champions League and Europa League after it agreed an £897m deal with Uefa. BT Sport offered me its package for around £30 a month, which I declined on a probably misguided principle, but which I also thought was a bit pricey. It looks as if I had better cough up. BT Sport has won the exclusive rights to show the Champions League, Europa League and the new Europa Conference League in the UK from 2021-24 in a £1.2bn deal. The broadcaster had extended the rights for £1.2bn from 2018-21 and has now retained them for the next three-year cycle for the same amount.
I watched Emily Maitlis's probing interview with Prince Andrew on a BBC Newsnight
special on Saturday night with a professional PR man's eye and found it boring in extremis and wondered why on earth the Queen's favourite son got himself lured into 'a car-crash' predicament. But then I discovered via the the Sunday Times
, that his spin doctor, Jason Stein, left his PR job at Buckingham Palace two weeks ago after advising Prince Andrew not to go ahead with the Newsnight
interview on the grounds that it could backfire. I was, however, intrigued with His Royal Highness at one stage, using as an alibi his taking a trip to drop off his eldest daughter Beatrice at a party in a high-street pizza restaurant in deepest Woking. The Prince said that he had been in Woking once, or maybe twice in his entire life.
On Sunday evening, I watched the BBC's adaptation of H G Wells' classic science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds
, where there is an alien invasion of Britain witnessed by a young couple, who, with the rest of humanity, face a terrifying fight for survival. And where did the alien's huge spaceship land with a great menacing clatter? In Woking, of course. Near the pizza place? No. It was 1897, silly. But I think Jason Stein and Herbert George Wells are due credit for their future perfect abilities. As they say, leave the job to the professionals.
The founder of Scottish Review, the late Kenneth Roy, was given the devastating news in October 2018 that he had virulent stomach cancer, and would have only weeks to live. Amazingly, within four weeks, in his hospital bed, he wrote a 49,000-word memoir which developed into a 190-page posthumous book – In Case Of Any News: A Diary of Living and Dying
. He was initially assessed in the University Hospital in Ayr, where, he admitted, that he was 'cosily secluded'. However, he was then transferred to a busy ward where he was decidedly unhappy – where 'nasty fluorescent lighting' wasn't switched off until after 11pm, '...and even then the ordeal of the night lay ahead with its cacophony of snores and groans and writhing'. Suddenly, he was moved to a side room. That made Kenneth very happy indeed.
He wrote: 'The relief at being given a side room is barely describable. Nicola Sturgeon, when health secretary, was right to defy the medical profession and insist on a single room for most patients at the big new hospital in Glasgow. If her public service amounted to nothing more than that single humane decision, her political career would be justified'.