‘Press cutbacks diminish our community watchdog’

The Press has an impressive record of keeping the city informed. Evening Press seller pictured in 1998. Photograph: York Libraries and Archives
30 Nov 2013 @ 12.45 pm
| Opinion
The Press has an impressive record of keeping the city informed. Evening Press seller pictured in 1998. Photograph: York Libraries and Archives
The Press has an impressive record of keeping the city informed. Evening Press seller pictured in 1998. Photograph: York Libraries and Archives

Former Press journalist Ron Godfrey decries the latest cutbacks at the city’s once proud newspaper

In the 30 years as a journalist that I worked on and off for the Yorkshire Evening Press and The Press into which it ultimately morphed, i have encountered some callous attitudes by its management towards the workforce.

But the double whammy of injustice that the journalists there now face is worse than anything I can recall and underscores the lunacy of applying ledger book logic to something as precious to a community’s culture, history and democratic well being as a regional newspaper.

As a former business editor, now retired, I see this new wave of planned redundancies (in spite of healthy profits and the latest broken promise which threatens to ensure that wage rises are a thing of the past), smacking of that hideous phrase – “Well, business is business!”

This contorted thinking tends to suggest that business is its own justification; that it is ring-fenced from morality.

On that same spurious basis theft is theft, disrespect is disrespect, murder is murder.

And greed is greed.

So it’s all OK then?

At one time there was an excuse for those who plied this attitude; like a former managing director of the Yorkshire Evening Press who excitedly called a meeting of all staff to announce that the firm had achieved Investors In People status – clean forgetting that the previous week they had announced the axing of 40 jobs, thereby becoming Divestors Of People.

Most of those who had been thrown on to the scrapheap had been part of the endeavour to achieve that status, but the irony was lost on the announcer who had been programmed only to see them as units now surplus to the requirement of accountants.

But today’s top management at Newsquest, parent company of the York Press and its godfather corporation, Gannett of the US, know precisely the degree, nature and extent of their bullying and devaluing tactics in the name of that ledger book.

They are milking every penny profit they can by downsizing not just numbers of journalists, but their spirit as independent questers of the truth; their self-respect as skilled communicators; their effectiveness as the community’s watchdogs; their ambition in an industry where jobs are now precious.

And all the while drawing their own handsome bonuses.

Even as The Press is now reduced to a relative rump not just in numbers but in physical size, having sold their huge York HQ on the Foss, the newspaper’s bosses shortsightedly continue to chip away and fail to invest in the true cause of profits – the skill and immense talents of those who work there.

The Yorkshire Evening Press became simply the York Evening Press; then the Evening Press; and then, when it published as a morning paper, shrunk its title to The Press.

Clearly when the ribby milch cow stops producing there will be plans to name it anew? How about… The?

Or perhaps nothing but a nameless memory…

Let us hope that the whole of York, everyone who values the role of the Press as a stanchion of democracy, rises up in indignation at the thought.