A ROUND of job losses in the past week has shocked staff at the larger of West Somerset’s two paid-for weekly newspapers.
The Newsquest-owned Somerset County Gazette has made redundancies in every department to cut costs following dramatic falls in advertising revenue.
The highest profile victim was the newspaper’s deputy editor Bob Drayton, who had worked for the company for most of the past 40 years.
Mr Drayton, who lives in Ilminster, received the MBE in the Queen’s 2003 New Year Honours List for his services to the newspaper industry and his local communities of Chard and Ilminster.
He began his career as a reporter on the Chard and Ilminster News, one of the Gazette group’s titles, and went on to be editor of the newspaper before taking over as deputy group editor in Taunton in 1987.
Another high profile executive to lose his job was popular distribution manager Courtenay Popple, who had been with the Gazette since it acquired the Star series of newspapers in the late 1980s.
The Post understands Mr Popple was told at short notice to clear his desk on Friday of last week and was not even allowed to tell fellow staff that his job had been axed.
One junior reporter on the paper also left voluntarily during the week, and the Gazette is said to be looking to cut one more from its reporting staff.
Mr Drayton headed a team of nine sub-editors - the people who put the editorial content on to the news pages and write the headlines and lay out the pages - and two more are expected to be axed, leaving a skeleton staff of just six in the department.
Earlier in the year, the Gazette shed many of its sales staff and also merged responsibility for circulation with the role of the paper’s editor Ken Bird.
Newsquest has also cut more than 200 editorial jobs since June at its papers across the length and breadth of the country and in Wales and Scotland.
The job losses have affected everybody from senior management and editors to editorial assistants and librarians.
Other cost cutting measures adopted by the Canadian-owned group include closing a £17 million printing plant, shutting some of its weekly newspapers, closing district offices, scrapping some editions of daily newspapers, merging the sub-editing departments of different newspapers, imposing a pay freeze, and non-replacement for vacancies.
A common tactic has been to hand out redundancy notices to large numbers of staff and to then ask them to reapply for fewer vacancies.
Across the world, Canadian owners Gannet has been making thousands of job cuts.
National Union of Journalists general secretary Jeremy Dear said journalists and editorial standards at Newsquest newspapers such as the County Gazette were being sacrificed to protect the owner’s profits.
Mr Dear said: “The companies are not unprofitable and many major analysts expect them to remain so in to the future, so the slash and burn is not about saving an industry but about maintaining artificially high profit levels.
“Owners can no longer expect to fleece the industry to the tune of 30 per cent-plus, they are going to have to accept lower profit margins.
“If they will not, they should get out and let people who care about newspapers’ public service role take over.
“Instead of greater investment in quality online content, more localised coverage, and strengthened editorial teams, for years the vast profits of local newspapers have been largely shovelled into shareholders’ pockets, directors’ pay rises, and executive pension pots, amid reckless borrowing and poor investment decisions.
“Now, the very people who plunged the industry into this crisis by demanding such excessive profits believe the solution is to axe journalists and freeze pay.
“It is a false economy to put the ability to deliver scoops, quality content, and strong local coverage in jeopardy.
“Local newspapers in print and online remain viable and profitable businesses. We cannot stand by and see this profiteering destroy our industry.”
The union has also urged newspaper editors to work alongside their journalists to defend their editorial independence and integrity.
In an unprecedented move, the NUJ is planning a ‘jobs summit’ to co-ordinate action across more sections of the newspaper industry, which will be held in London on January 24.
More information about the NUJ summit can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.