By Roy Greenslade  Source:

Brighton Argus journalists were on the picket line today after voting to stage a two-day strike in protest at a two-year freeze on wages and the removal of subbing jobs.

Their major slogan was “Keep jobs local”, a reference to the fact that the paper is to be subbed largely from Southampton in future.

I somehow doubt that the National Union of Journalists would have voted for this action in normal circumstances. Their employer, Newsquest/Gannett, has got away with plenty of cutbacks in the past by claiming that plunging profits have necessitated editorial budget reductions.

But Gannett’s chief financial officer, Gracia Martore, put a lie to those claims last month when she told US analysts that Newsquest was making profits. Healthy profits.

Lest anyone forgets, here’s a verbatim account of what she said on 15 October:

“Let me once and for all dispel the myth that Newsquest doesn’t make money. Newsquest makes a lot of money.

In fact, their margin, as I have said a couple of times, is consistent with the margin that our local US community publishing operations generate.

So their margins are in the high teens to low 20s. And they have consistently made money throughout the years, even in a year like last year when revenues were under as much pressure as they were.”

No wonder Newsquest’s journalists in Brighton, Blackburn, Darlington and Southampton have taken, or are planning to take, industrial action.

As I’ve said before, I think subbing “hubs” are understandable. But the move to create them must be carried out sympathetically. Subs shouldn’t be cast out but encouraged to become content-providers.

As for the pay freeze, that’s altogether unacceptable in the light of Martore’s admission. It is even worse than that because Newsquest/Gannett bosses have been receiving rises while their hard-pressed employees have not.

I understand there is some embarrassment at Newsquest about Martore’s statement and hints that she overstated the true situation.

But Newsquest/Gannett cannot have it both ways. Either she told the truth to analysts, meaning that Newsquest’s executives have been telling porkies to their newspaper staffs.

Or she was “economical with the truth” when addressing sceptical US analysts.

Either Newsquest is making bumper profits and should not have imposed a pay freeze. Or it is scraping by, in which case the company’s chief financial officer should come clean.