Scope pledges independence for Disability Now, despite planned job losses


newslatestThe charity Scope has pledged to protect the editorial independence of its Disability Now website, despite telling three of its four staff that they are likely to be made redundant.

Many of the tasks currently carried out by Disability Now (DN) employees will in future be carried out by Scope members of staff, if the plans are given the go-ahead.

Three members of DN staff – two of whom are disabled – have been told they are at risk of redundancy under the plans, which would leave the disabled editor, former BBC executive Ian Macrae, as the sole employee.

DN was established as a newspaper in 1984, has always been published by Scope, and is based at Scope’s head office in north London.

It built a reputation as a campaigning publication, on issues such as the need for winter fuel payments for working-age disabled people, calling for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis and for more disabled journalists in mainstream media, and as a member of the Baywatch campaign, which fought the abuse of accessible parking bays in supermarkets.

The monthly newspaper received a major redesign and relaunch in 2007 as a magazine, in a bid to reverse a flagging circulation, at the same time that Macrae became its first disabled editor.

But it was hit hard by the recession and fierce competition from other disability magazines and websites, and saw its circulation continue to fall until it became an online-only publication in 2012.

In 2012-13, DN cost Scope £300,000. Although that net cost fell to £160,000 in 2013-14, the website only generated about £60,000 in advertising revenue last year.

Despite its financial problems, it has continued to pride itself on being editorially independent of Scope, and on the number of disabled people it employs and uses as freelance journalists.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, said the changes were “not in any way challenging the independence of DN”, which would continue with “complete editorial independence” from Scope.

But he said the charity had decided that there were “more effective ways of delivering DN”, including plans to stop accepting advertising on the website.

Hawkes added: “It is a proposal rather than a decision. It is a proposal that has been put forward. If an alternative proposal is put forward, we will consider [it].”

Mark Atkinson, Scope’s director of external affairs, said a consultation on the charity’s plans for DN would end on 31 October.

He said that many administrative tasks currently carried out by DN were set to be transferred to Scope staff, but he insisted that no-one but Macrae would have any editorial input.

He said: “I am pretty confident that all the journalistic and content-driven aspects done by those four people can be picked up by the editor.

“I don’t think there will be a compromise on editorial judgements and any compromise at all on the editorial independence.

“I don’t propose that any other staff at Scope will be making editorial judgements or generating any editorial content.”

He added: “We genuinely believe that DN continues to remain important to Scope, it absolutely does. We want to make sure it has a strong and successful future.”

He said Scope was considering re-introducing an independent editorial advisory board for DN.

DN says it is the UK’s leading website “for, about and by disabled people” and aims to “accurately reflect and present the lives, experiences, views, opinions and lifestyle choices of disabled people, which are often misrepresented in mainstream media”, and “to call to account those whose actions and policies have an impact on disabled people”.

NOTE: John Pring, editor of Disability News Service, who wrote this article, is a former deputy editor of Disability Now and was made redundant from that position by Scope in 2008

9 October 2014