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January 17, 2024

Reach boosted by Prince Harry trial result and end of pension deficit says CEO

Jim Mullen addresses staff after difficult redundancy rounds and news Mirror editor Alison Phillips is leaving.

By Charlotte Tobitt

Reach chief executive Jim Mullen has told staff there are currently no plans for further cuts this year after a difficult 2023 at the publisher.

He also said the end of the company’s longstanding pension fund deficit and a time limit on legal claims established by the Prince Harry privacy trial judgment were both good news for the business.

In an all-staff email on Tuesday afternoon, Mullen said the more than 700 job cuts that have taken place over the past year have left the business “structured for our digitally-led future”.

He also explained why page views are still key despite other publishers increasingly putting more emphasis on subscriptions and other engagement-focused metrics amid falling search and social referrals.

Mullen’s email was sent to staff the day after it was confirmed Mirror editor-in-chief Alison Phillips is leaving the company at the end of this month after deciding to step down.

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Other journalists have left in the past week as a result of the latest redundancy round which began in November, affecting around 450 roles. The Mirror’s head of features Clare Fitzsimons, personal finance editor Tricia Phillips, chief feature writer Emily Retter, and Sunday Mirror travel editor Marjorie Yue and head of lifestyle for the nationals Mernie Gilmore were all ‘banged out’ on one day according to one video.

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Thirteen of Reach’s smaller regional news websites were closed before the end of the year. Earlier in 2023, around 80 jobs were cut in January, of an initial planned 200, and a further 192 editorial jobs were culled in March.

Mullen told staff on Tuesday in an email seen by Press Gazette that there are currently no plans to make further cuts.

He said: “I’ve said before that we want our brands and our journalism to be even more important in our growing audience’s lives going forward as they were in the past.

“I know that to be successful in that, certainty, security and confidence in our future are important for our employees. That’s why the teams that we have starting the year are those that I, and my ExCo [executive committee] team, plan to be continuing this journey by the end of the year.

“In 2024 we’re not planning to cut to catch up; we’re looking ahead and I want our focus to be on our future and our growth, and not with one eye over our shoulder or on the challenges of the past.”

He noted that Reach has entered 2024 with “new structures, new ways of working and for some teams, new leaders.

“The plans we’ve put in place and the difficult but necessary decision to see a number of people leave the business mean we are structured for our digitally-led future, and our budgets and cost base for the year are aligned.”

The business is also boosted, he said, by the “certainty” brought by a new pension fund agreement for Mirror Group Newspapers – a deficit of £219m at the end of 2022 will be removed via payments of £46m each year until January 2028 – as well as the end of Prince Harry’s hacking trial against Mirror Group Newspapers last month which saw him awarded £140,000 in damages.

Other claims heard in the same trial were dismissed on limitation grounds, meaning the litigants could have known before the legal deadline of six years after the alleged offence that they had a prospective case and therefore brought them too late. Reach said this meant “all claims issued after 31 October 2020 are now likely to be dismissed other than where exceptional circumstances apply”.

Mullen acknowledged that the market will be “challenging and competitive” this year with both consumer and advertiser budgets squeezed and a busy news year that will include the biggest election year in history, the Paris Olympics and the Euros.

But he said they have “spent time preparing for” this market and now “must focus on building our audience and achieving the strength, influence and commercial success that follows”.

Reach’s customer value strategy, through which it encourages readers to share data such as their email address or postcode in return for more personalised content, is driving “higher quality, more sustainable digital revenues”, Mullen told shareholders in July, citing the ability to focus on “directly sold, higher value advertising” as well as diversified revenues such as e-commerce.

Reach has also been experimenting with reader revenue more than ever before through paid-for premium apps and newsletters.

Mullen explained on Tuesday why page views are still so important, however, with Reach the sixth-biggest online publisher in the UK and second-biggest news publisher behind only the BBC.

He said: “The size of our audience is inextricably linked to our commercial success and our future security.

“That’s why page views, imperfect a measure as they are, are our current currency and the biggest indicator of whether we’re on the right track – they are what we should all be focused on every day, and they’re everyone’s responsibility to deliver.”

Mullen added: “Delivering against these goals – building our audience and our engagement with them, sustainably growing page views and achieving our budgets, will deliver a successful 2024.

“That will enable us to look further forward, invest in the teams and products that will help us grow more, do more and achieve more, and most importantly give everyone even further certainty on our future and their role in it.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
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  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
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  • Head of Department/Function
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  • Non-manager
  • Retired
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