How many journalists do you need to run a national newspaper?

The Sunday Express will have just 16 full-time staff journalists left, if the latest round of cuts by owner Richard Desmond goes ahead.

This was the warning from members of the paper's NUJ chapel, who have begun balloting for industrial action over plans to cut 55 journalism jobs — or around 10 per cent of the total editorial workforce — on the Express and Star titles. Some 35 staff jobs could go as well as 20 full-time casuals.

Press Gazette understands that Express management are looking to lose four of the 20 staff journalists dedicated to the Sunday Express, and that only four staff journalists on the title have been told that their jobs are safe. Sunday Express sub-editors are not counted in this figure, as they are shared with the Daily Express.

In the late '80s, the Sunday Express had 70 to 80 staff journalists, including sub-editors.

Express Newspapers NUJ Mother of Chapel Michelle Stanistreet told an NUJ meeting on Tuesday night: "There are now only 20 staff journalists on the Sunday Express — it is staggering that they want to lose four of those people.

"We really pride ourselves, as chapel reps, on being there to defend the quality and integrity of the titles we work on. People really feel the life being sucked out of them.

"We feel like we are just experiencing the death of the titles around us. The management's vision of the future is for reporters not to go anywhere. In Desmond's world, a journalist is just an automaton sitting at their desk, topping and tailing agency copy."

Some 14 jobs are set to go under a plan to outsource all City coverage to Press Association. The redundancies would include well-respected City editor Stephen Kahn, who has been at the Daily Express for around 30 years.

Press Gazette understands that none of the 14 has applied for voluntary redundancy yet.

Express NUJ chapel officials have been told that PA can produce the Express' City coverage for £200,000 a year — saving hundreds of thousands.

Stanistreet said: "When we asked them whether it would be produced out of the PA offices in Victoria — or Howden in Yorkshire — [editorial director] Paul Ashford said: ‘We wouldn't care if it was being done in Australia.' "

She added: "We have these bizarre conversations with management, when they start talking about Desmond's vision and about how he's going to come out on top. [They say]: ‘What you've got to understand is the millions the Daily Mail is spending now are going to tell in a few years' time — Desmond is going to outlive them as a company.'

"I mean, what planet are they living on — do they really think that's going to happen?

"The people who work for the Express have a real affinity for the titles and we really feel we've got this enemy within which is trying to destroy the titles."

Desmond bought Express Newspapers for £125 million in 2000, and since then has paid himself up to £1 million a week, according to company accounts.

Management have received at least 60 requests for quotes from journalists on possible voluntary redundancy terms.

Management has said that eligibility for compulsory redundancy will be decided — if necessary — after staff are marked out of five on skills, productivity, flexibility, initiative, creativity, co-operation, attendance and disciplinary record.

Desmond has issued a statement to the NUJ saying: "Northern and Shell confirms in the face of doubts expressed by the NUJ that it still remains very much committed to the future of its newspapers, and is confident that, with editorial excellence and prudent management of costs and overheads, it can maintain them in a competitive position and, in the long term, prevail over its less prudent publishing rivals."

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