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Johnston Press, which publishes more than 200 titles, including the Scotsman and Yorkshire Post, is to make 24 staff photographers compulsorily redundant, the National Union of Journalists has said.
The company had been encouraging photographers to leave as part of a company-wide voluntary redundancy exercise.
The NUJ believes it now has a hit list of staff photographers who face compulsory redundancy.
The company intends to replace the work of professional photographers with pictures garnered from social media and sent in by readers.
The union is also concerned that already hard-pressed reporters will be made to take photographs.
Barry Fitzpatrick, NUJ deputy general secretary, said:
“This decision by the company represents a wanton disposal of the local knowledge and skills of staff photographers working in England and Scotland. The notion that these roles can be replaced by social media and multi-skilling reporters is a fallacy.
“Quality content is defined by the quality of pictures and captions of images used, which only professional photographers provide.
“This spells the death knell for the staff photographer.
“It is also a risky strategy. Last week we saw an example of social media being exposed for the lottery that it is. The tragic case of the child being killed by the family’s dog was made worse by a picture of the wrong dog being used as a front page of a national daily.
“I hope the company’s lawyers are prepared for the inevitable mistakes to come.
“Staff photographers act as one of the few points of direct contact that most local newspapers have with the local community and help fly the flag for their title.
“Without this interaction, yet again the profile of those newspapers diminishes in the community they are seeking to serve.”
Johnston Press announced it has cut costs by more than £30m this year to date as it continues to tackle its £306m debt.
Paul Holleran, NUJ Scottish organiser, said there had initially been 80 applications for redundancy at the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and Edinburgh Evening News and the company was approving about half of these.
This would reduce the editorial department by around a fifth and the union is meeting management to discuss the impact this will have.
“We want to know how the people who remain will cope with the workload and also what impact it will have on the papers. We are working to try to minimise the disruption on the paper.”