Trouble in the hub

February 2011

Sub-editing jobs at the Oxford Mail and Times are under threat from plans to centralise. Subs were recently told of plans to create a “regional editorial production operation”, combining the subbing departments for for Newsquest Oxfordshire and Newsquest Wiltshire. The new regional operation would be based in Oxford.

Shamus Donald, regional managing director of Newsquest Oxfordshire and Wiltshire, described the plans as a “proposal” and announced a 30-day “consultation period” beginning 18th January. He also announced that there would be six redundancies if the proposal goes ahead.

However, the unhappy track record of “sub hubs” suggests that the real number of job losses could be much greater.

In spring 2009, Northcliffe Media told subs at the Leicester Mercury and the Derby Evening Telegraph that they would be joining the Leicester Mercury team to work in a new “production centre of excellence”. Some subs took voluntary redundancy while others simply left. In total, around 40 subs left and most were not replaced.

The new “centre of excellence” in Leicester turned out to be a soulless place with a production-line approach to subbing. The traditional animosity between Nottingham and Derby created a tense atmosphere in the office and made it difficult for the union to organise.

Two months ago, Northcliffe announced that they were disbanding the sub hub. Subbing jobs were created again in Leicester and Derby, but in much smaller numbers. The total number of subbing jobs across the three titles is now about half what it was before the failed centralisation.

Similar stories can be found in other parts of the country, such as the Northern Division of Johnston Press. There a sub hub was created to combine four regions but dismantled just nine months later, with further job losses.

The pattern is clear: newspaper bosses experiment with sub hubs and cut jobs in the process, then cut more jobs when the experiment fails.

This piece appears in the February 2011 issue of the NUJ Oxford newsletter.