Tag Archives: Johnston Press

More criticism for ATEX

Support isn’t getting any stronger for Johnston Press’s new content management system, ATEX.

Implemented across the country over the last year it has never been far from controversy.

Proposed strike action, a serious of high profile gaffes – most notably the Bedfordshire Times and Citizen’s now infamous ‘headline headghgh’ front page – and widespread criticism from staff have all dogged ATEX.

Now three high profile bloggers have piled into the unpopular system.

Vitriolic Press Gazette columnist Grey Cardigan, former Sun journalist turned media professor Roy Greenslade and ex-Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson all had harsh words to say about it.

Greenslade and Grey were responding to a memo from Paul Bentham, the managing director of JP’s South Yorkshire titles, which set out workflow methods for ATEX.

It included advice to editors suggesting they need not read every story.

Grey Cardigan wrote: “Suggesting that an editor need not glance over every story in their newspaper is utter madness. The lawyers must be rubbing their hands with glee.

“Does this silly man know nothing about newspapers? Perhaps in Mr Bentham’s barmy new world, not only are subs expendable but editors too.

“He’s not really thought this through, has he? Because if there’s no editor patrolling the proofs, who’s going to end up before the beak for contempt when a cock-up saunters through? Yes, you, Mr. Bentham.”

Greenslade was equally savage, comparing the document to something produced by ‘those wonderful John Bull printing outfits of youthful memory, a doing-it-by-numbers rigidity leaving very little room for initiative’.

He wrote: “But a couple of sentences were truly alarming:

‘Editors need to ensure that the policy of “right first time” is embedded in the newsroom culture. They should not however continue with the old practise of reading every story.
‘Editors should evaluate the risk for each story based on content and the seniority of the journalist and act accordingly.’

“Editors should not read stories! What, even when their boss confuses the verb practise with the noun practice?”

Greenslade continues: “What also emerges with some clarity from the memo is the death of journalistic creativity. We have always had to get pages off fast and in some kind of order.

“Every paper – local weekly, regional evening and national daily – has always been composed against the clock. But that fact of newspaper life has never stifled the creative process.

“How many times must we say, and mean, that content is king. The very notion that editors should stop doing their job by not reading every story is a disgrace.

“By this memo Johnston Press has reversed several centuries of journalistic good practice. The technology should be our servant, not our master.”

And it was the turn of Dyson, writing in his HoldtheFrontPage blog, to turn his guns on ATEX last week.

Reviewing JP’s Burnley Express, he wrote: ” What struck me about all inside editorial pages was poor design. Content, of course, is king, but the dominance of its crown can be hindered by what to me seemed slapdash, template-driven lay-outs.

“Whether this is down to stressed subbing hubs in Preston, the early days of Atex or both, it would be wrong not to tick Express owners Johnston Press off for allowing cost-savings to result in sub-standard looking pages.

“I just hope that Johnston’s East Lancashire Newspapers bosses resist the temptation to follow their sister company in South Yorkshire, where a recent memo from managing director Paul Bentham suggested that editors ‘should not continue with the old practise of reading every story’.”

Sources: Grey Cardigan, Roy Greenslade, Steve Dyson

State of Play: ATEX remains a blood clot that needs to be removed


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Group-wide strike unlikely at Johnston Press

The proposed group-wide National Union of Journalists strikes across Johnston Press look to have hit the buffers.

According to a report on HoldtheFrontPage, plans for industrial action look set to be abandoned as a number of centres across JP are unwilling to go on strike.

The strike, planned over objections to the company’s new content management system ATEX, had originally been due to take place on May 19, but had to be called off when JP obtained a last-minute injunction. The company claimed it did not actually employ any staff and that instead they were the responsibility of a number of subsidiary companies.

The original ballot had resulted in a 70 per cent yes vote for strike action, although only 346 NUJ members took part.

But now, although militancy remains high in the north of the country where the system has not yet been introduced, support seems to have waned among chapels in the south and midlands.

The NUJ is uncertain it could persuade members to take part in a national strike and will instead have to look to individual chapels to strike, notably those in Sheffield, Doncaster, Scarborough, Preston, Blackpool and South Shields.

Chris Morley, NUJ northern regional organiser, said it was up to individual chapels to decide what to do.

He said: “Nothing was decided as chapels have to consult with their own memberships and it is very much up to individual chapels on what they want to do, so any decisions will be made by them.

“Union members are unhappy about the rollout of ATEX across JP, which has led to a reduction in the number of sub-editors needed and claims of increased workloads for remaining staff.”

An insider at one of JP’s papers in the south told The Blog that support for a group-wide strike was waning in the region.

Our source said: “When the originally strike action was proposed a number of centres were already thinking of opting out and the company launched an offensive to stop those in two minds.

“A mixture of incentives – such as the lifting of the pay freeze – and threats – one managing director was heard to say, ‘they’ll really suffer if they go through with this’ – had persuaded many people it wasn’t worth it. Even if the May 19 strike had gone ahead a lot of people in this region would still have gone into work.

“Now the desire is even more muted. A lot of the more militant workers were among those made redundant and young trainees in their first job haven’t got the stomach for a fight.

“More importantly the system has bedded down a bit now and people have got used to it. There are still major problems, but there is a realisation ATEX is going nowhere. If we went on strike the company still would not get rid of this new system. It cost too much and JP doesn’t have money to throw away.

“It’s a case of get your head down and get on with your work.”

Source: HoldtheFrontPage

State of Play: Victory for JP?

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NUJ: ATEX breaches PCC code

Johnston Press bosses are coming under more pressure after the NUJ reported the company to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) for compromising editorial standards.

According to the Union, the PCC has asked JP to respond to claims its new editorial content system, ATEX, is putting accuracy at risk.

The NUJ wrote to the PCC following a memo from Paul Bentham, Managing Director of the group’s South Yorkshire titles, to editors and senior journalists, setting out new rules following the introduction of ATEX.

Mr Bentham’s note said all editors are not permitted to change pre-prepared templates ‘on the fly’, that a right first time policy must be ’embedded into newsroom culture’ and that editors should not ‘ continue with the old practice of reading every story’.

He added that a set percentage of pages must be completed at various stages before each paper’s deadline; namely 25 per cent five days before deadline, 50 per cent three days ahead, 75 per cent two days ahead and 90 per cent four hours from deadline.

NUJ Northern Organiser Chris Morley wrote to the PCC highlighting the union’s concerns.

He wrote: ‘I know that you and the PCC are now aware of the recent instruction to Johnston Press editors in South Yorkshire regarding ATEX. The memo from the managing director contains a number of extremely worrying developments which strike at the heart of an Editor’s responsibilities.
“I believe it is important for the PCC to take a formal view on this as the PCC’s code is written in to JP employees’ contracts. I’m hopeful that the company will think again, in light of the seriousness of our concerns.
‘But if employees were to carry out these instructions of the company, it is entirely possible that editors and other journalists will be in breach of the code and therefore their contracts, not to mention the NUJ Code of Conduct if they are a member.
‘This is an intolerable position for our members to find themselves in and if a case arose where the fault for a substantial inaccuracy lay with inadequate checking (as directed by the aforesaid memo) where would the PCC put the blame – on the individual editor or the company whose procedures had created the conditions for the complaint to arise?”
NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said: “This makes a mockery of Johnston Press’s stated commitment to editorial independence and puts editors and senior journalists in an intolerable position. It is yet another sign that ATEX is purely about commercial imperatives not about improving journalism”.
Source: NUJ website
State of Play: A dagger to the heart

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ATEX responsible for headline gaff

A senior source inside Johnston Press has today confirmed to The Blog that the now infamous ‘headline headghgh’ gaff was down to an ATEX error.

The source, who does not want to be named for obvious reasons, said the front page of the Bedfordshire Times & Citizen’s mid-Bedfordshire edition was sent off with the correct headline in tact, but that somewhere along the line it reverted to an old version with the changes to both the headline and strapline being lost.

That meant the front page appeared with a templated version reading ‘headline headghgh’ and a strapline saying ‘Strapline for main story like this if needed’.

The debacle, according to our source, has drawn the attention of bosses in Edinburgh, including chief executive John Fry. Questions are now being asked as to why the error was not picked up at the printers in Portsmouth where around 17,000 copies were printed before the presses were stopped.

It is also rumoured that IT experts are to be sent to every centre around the country to make sure the system is being implemented correctly.

It is the latest in a string of controversial ATEX errors, including 12 pictures in a rogues gallery on the front page of the Sheffield Star being blown. Journalists across the group voted for strike action, but the company was granted an injunction preventing it taking place.

The ‘headline headghgh’ front page has been blogged and appeared on Twitter all around the world, with the latest gag seeing t-shirts developed baring the headline and strapline.

State of Play: Someone put this system out of its misery

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JP digital strategy director quits

The woman responsible for implementing the new Johnston Press website has quit.

According to Roy Greenslade, the company’s digital strategy director Lori Cunningham has stepped down after two years in the job.

Greenslade quotes an internal memo saying she was regarded as “a key part of the team that moved our jobs platform from one developed in-house to a new platform sourced from the Daily Mail group.”

It adds: “She has recently been focusing on the development of a new website template utilising the purchased Polopoly platform. This will replace our existing websites over the coming months.”

Writing on his Media Guardian blog, Greenslade sites the anger of Johnston’s journalists about the new ATEX system and JPs aborted paywall experiments as possible causes of her departure.

But if we were a betting Blog our money would be on the failure of the company to properly implement its new website. Sites launched at Grantham and Peterborough were widely criticised and the planned role out across the group has been put on hold with no new live date in place.

Source: Greenslade

State of Play: John Fry next?

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JP launch new title

Johnston Press hasn’t been in the business of opening any new publications for some time.
But shocked staff learnt of the company’s latest innovation on Friday.
It consists of a company-wide, internal, electronic newsletter bringing staff all the latest news on… JPs content management system, ATEX.
The much maligned system is one of the major reasons for the on/off strike action in the company.
The new email newsletter, entitled Prestige News, is written by IT network manager David Martin.
An introduction to it says: ‘This newsletter is the first of a regular series aimed at communicating the work going on behind the scenes to improve the performance and reliability of the Atex Prestige system.
‘In it we hope to include news about upcoming system changes and what they mean to you, hints and tips regarding more efficient usage of the system, and any other initiatives that are in the pipeline that are designed to improve the workflow’.

State of Play: A sticking plaster for internal bleeding

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Ballot on strike action at Newsquest’s Stourbridge papers

The whiff of unrest is growing.

With Johnston Press journalists set to vote again on industrial action, spurred on by a National Union of Journalists spitting feathers after JP ran to the courts, the threat of strikes has now reared its head within Newsquest.

Ten journalists in Stourbridge are set to ballot over plans to transfer three staff to Worcester, 30 miles away. The NUJ made the announcement on Friday.

Staff believe the decision will lower the quality of those titles produced at the Stourbridge centre; namely the Stourbridge News, Halesowen News, Dudley News, Kidderminster Shuttle, Bromsgrove Advertiser and Redditch Advertiser.

NUJ organiser Chris Morley said: “The loss of experienced senior journalists from this centre would also weaken the support available to more junior staff.

“Cuts have left huge workloads on journalists and the proposals as they stand will make this worse. A reasonable, alternative strategy has been put forward by the union that would avoid the worst effects of the company’s proposals but I am not convinced that management will listen to logical arguments alone.

“Newsquest plans put both journalists and journalism at risk at Stourbridge, and our members have drawn a line in the sand to say it is not acceptable.”

State of Play: Heart attack

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