February 17, 2016 at 11:36
Independent staff condemn closures as owner moves to keep big names
Scepticism over promise to improve website quality in transition to digital-only format as NUJ says 100 jobs are at risk
Staff at the Independent have condemned the closure of its print titles and cast doubt on managers’ promise to improve the quality of the website as the company transfers to a digital-only format.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said the move, which also includes the £25m sale of the i newspaper to Johnston Press, was likely to cost about 100 jobs.
The Independent’s owners have moved fast to ensure that some of the papers’ biggest names – including Robert Fisk, Grace Dent and Patrick Cockburn – will continue to write for its digital-only operation.
But the NUJ said the papers’ owner, Evgeny Lebedev, had been “less forthcoming about the future of the rest of the staff”.
In a statement released on Tuesday, staff said they were “deeply sceptical about the company’s ability to generate confidence in the new Independent website while downgrading existing terms and conditions for new roles”.
They also said they had “consistently argued for digital colleagues to receive full recognition from the company, and for low pay and poor treatment of staff to be addressed”. The Independent only recognises the NUJ as representing staff who work on the print titles, the union said.
According to the NUJ, Johnston Press staff also “expressed astonishment that the company, which is making job cuts on its regional and local papers and has not filled vacancies for some time, leaving staff with unmanageable workloads, was able to find £25m ‘down the back of the sofa’ to buy the i”.
The closure of the daily and Sunday print titles, the Independent’s staff said, “diminishes media plurality and impoverishes the industry”.
A motion which the union said was backed unanimously read: “For staff to learn about the potential sale of the i through other media was appalling; subjecting them to a welter of speculation and uncertainty until their worst fears were realised.”
In a message to the Independent staff, the Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, said she was “really saddened” by the news that the titles were to be printed for the last time next month.
“Our politics and our democracy will suffer at the loss. It strikes me that the policy debate in Britain is often far too narrow, and political journalism focuses on the processes inside the Westminster village rather than the decisions that really matter.
“The Independent has always avoided slipping into the bubble. Indeed you’ve made it your mission to burst the bubble, rather than reinforce it.”
NUJ members at the Financial Times, who reached an agreement to avert industrial action this week, also sent a message of support to Independent journalists.
“We call on the company to meet its legal and moral obligations to avoid compulsory redundancies and to enter into talks with NUJ reps,” they said.
A spokesman for the Independent did not respond to a request for comment.