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August 31, 2022updated 07 Oct 2022 7:14am

Agency boss hits out at ‘paltry and outdated’ freelance rates at Reach on day of journalist strike

By Charlotte Tobitt

A news agency boss has hit out at “paltry and outdated” freelance rates at Reach’s national newspapers as the publisher’s journalists walked out on strike over pay.

Jon Harris, chairman of the National Association of Press Agencies and managing director of the Manchester-based news agency Cavendish Press, wrote to Reach editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley to request an “an urgent root and branch review of paltry payments made to our members”.

Harris warned that without better payments, “agencies and freelancers will gradually cease to exist, the ultimate losers being yourselves and your readers”.

Some 1,150 journalists at Reach’s national and regional newspapers and websites across the UK and Ireland walked out on strike on Wednesday (pictured is the picket line in Canary Wharf) in protest at a 3% pay offer which they said did not meet the rising cost of living. They plan to strike again for three days from Tuesday 13 September to Thursday 15 September.

Freelances, agencies and PRs were all being urged by the NUJ not to contact Reach titles with stories on the strike days.

In his letter to Embley, seen by Press Gazette, Harris said: “…agency and freelance fees for words and pictures are now so paltry and outdated, our members have been fighting their own cost of living crisis for years”.

According to Harris, rates have “barely risen” for 40 years and in many cases have been cut.

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At the Mirror’s website, he said, a rate of £60 for a story and picture package was set in 2012 and, despite a pledge to review the rate after two years, that has stayed the same ever since. Harris said this was the “worst rate of online pay” among the UK’s Fleet Street tabloid websites.

At the Express, he went on, picture rates set in 2006 are being cut by up to 75%. “I’ve refused to recognise those new rates,” Harris said.

At the Daily Star, Reach’s third UK national title, Harris added that news and picture rates were cut last year but in addition he has to “invariably
endure the frankly insulting process of having to disprove the Daily Star’s utterly false claims our stories are ‘free’ to use”.

Harris wrote: “The usual Reach PLC excuse of ‘challenging trading conditions’ is simply not realistic now given the multi millions of pounds paid to directors and shareholders at Reach and its substantial operating profits.

“Historically freelancers and agencies are often celebrated as the ‘lifeblood’ of news lists for national publications yet over the last four decades they have been barely recognised when it comes to financial remuneration.”

A Reach spokesperson said on Wednesday of the strike: “We greatly value our journalists and are disappointed that, despite our best efforts during a long negotiation process and successful agreements with Unite and the BAJ, we have been unable to reach an agreement with the NUJ.

“Whilst this is not the outcome we would have wished for, 2022 continues to be extremely challenging for the whole publishing sector with reduced demand for advertising and energy inflation driving the cost of newsprint to record levels.

“We therefore remain focused on protecting the interests of all our colleagues and stakeholders, ensuring the group has a sustainable future in the face of an uncertain economic climate.

“We continue to be open to further talks at any time to resolve this dispute and move forward.”

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