Is Murdoch Getting The Thumbs Up For News UK Job Cuts?

A thought goes out today to former colleagues at The Sunday Times who must be looking at the media headlines with angst this morning, just a few days after a recent poll showed that three in four journalists are concerned about their futures.

According to Press Gazette, Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright is now minded to allow News UK to share resources between the The Times and The Sunday Times.

This has been on the back burner for News UK. It was a famous firewall put in by Margaret Thatcher in 1981, when Rupert Murdoch was allowed to own both papers as long as they were run entirely separately.

I can testify that this has always been the case. I spent the '90s working at The Sunday Times and still remember how surprised people were to hear we were in separate buildings from The Times, albeit on the same compound, and that there was no sharing of editorial at all.

If an article didn't make it into The Sunday Times, it wasn't made available for the next morning's edition of The Times

The newsrooms have always been run entirely separately. I knew a couple of people on the other paper, but that was only through bumping into one another at industry events and then nodding an acknowledgement in the canteen. 

News UK has made a rather odd statement that it intends to keep separate editors for the daily and Sunday newspapers. I say odd because that's what would happen anyway.

That's what having a Sunday paper means. There's typically a daily editor and a Sunday editor. It's not a concession, it's how the industry already works. 

There have also been some movement on how corporate governance have been beefed up to offer best-practice guarantees, but there's no real detail here.

So let's cut to the chase. Both newspapers -- like all news publications -- are suffering as circulation figures drop and print ad revenues fall through the floor.

Sure, digital revenue is up -- but it's not enough to cover the print losses. As a very rough rule, I always consider that after crunching some industry-wide figures, it looks as if for every digital pound gained, print tends to lose something like a fiver. 

When you consider this, it becomes pretty clear why News UK is pressing the Government hard to allow it to break its 1981 agreement.

Running two editorial departments completely independently from one another is an expensive undertaking. You can apply that also to the advertising sales teams, graphics guys, design, picture desk and web teams. 

It is striking, for me, that News UK would not comment on any potential job losses. The usual thing at this stage is to offer a reassurance that there are no redundancies planned.

A few months later, it turns out there are now plans and a newsroom gets some bad news.

News UK isn't bothering to play that game for the very good reason that this is all so obviously about cutting a bunch of jobs through amalgamated teams that any up-front promise would seem disingenuous. 

So there you have it. The headlines are all about changing a law, with News UK doubtless saying it makes more sense to treat the papers as one.

What's really happening is that News UK is being given a pretext for another round of job losses.

For many former colleagues, it looks like Christmas may well be cancelled this year.

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