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March 14, 2023

Reach warns of ‘online attention recession’ as it tells staff of ‘significant’ new job cuts

Reach editorial staff have been told "tough decisions" need to be made because of current headwinds.

By Charlotte Tobitt

Reach has told staff it is planning to make “significant changes” to its editorial operations, which will mean more redundancies.

According to the National Union of Journalists, the plan is to cut 192 editorial jobs in total, from more than 420 journalists put at risk.

In January the national and regional publisher announced plans to make 200 redundancies because of the “double whammy” it was facing of decreasing consumer spend and rising costs, although according to the NUJ this ultimately resulted in 80 job cuts. Chief executive Jim Mullen said at the time Reach would need to make cost savings of at least £30m in 2023.

Its full-year results published last week have since revealed a revenue drop of 2.3% to £601.4m in 2022 and a fall in operating profit of 27.4% to £106.1m.

Chief digital publisher David Higgerson and group editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley (pictured above) said in an email to staff on Tuesday morning that “tough decisions” need to be made because of the current headwinds.

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They pointed to a “combination of unprecedented cost inflation, a challenged consumer economy and an industry-wide decline in open-market advertising yields”. Later in their email they also referenced an “online attention recession” leading to a need “to return our digital audience to growth”.

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Similarly a Reach spokesperson said in a statement “decisive action” needed to be taken “to review costs across the entire business including print production, energy sourcing, external suppliers, as well as, regrettably, the size of some of our teams”.

They added: “This work is ongoing as we review all aspects of our strategic transformation, to ensure we continue to deliver on our Customer Value Strategy and are well placed to benefit once headwinds subside. We will continue to work closely with all impacted teams and continue to be committed to delivering a sustainable business and a long-term future for our journalism.”

Higgerson and Embley told staff they will later outline proposals that will mean “significant changes” across Reach’s editorial operations.

“We’ve explored every option and prioritised alternatives to redundancies including closing vacancies and non-labour costs, but we’re expecting to need to make a number of redundancies as we implement these changes,” they said.

“We believe that the proposals we’ll outline today are, under the difficult circumstances, the right ones to set us up for the future.”

The pair said: “In editorial, our goal of establishing a secure, sustainable and ultimately growing business remains at the heart of our strategy. We’re hugely proud of what our teams are achieving. We’re committed to and confident in our plan to make Reach a place where quality journalism; local, national and international, can thrive and be read by as many people as possible.

“But we simply cannot afford to ignore the headwinds that are buffeting the whole industry. We must be realistic about the fact that working through them and staying on track to achieve our goals means taking some decisive action and difficult decisions along the way.”

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said in response: “Plans will come as a major blow to our members hard on the heels of recent redundancies. As the company seeks to make good on its commitment to cut costs by £30m this year it is our members who are yet again feeling the pain. Our objective in this process will be to support our members who have been buffeted every which way by the business since the new year. They have had enough of words and will be looking for tangible ways the company can mitigate the impacts of this announcement.

“Reach’s focus has switched to launching a US operation, but it remains to be seen what this will deliver in reality and in the meantime more core jobs are being lost. While the cost-of-living crisis is impacting everyone, including Reach staff, it is the leadership that decides the strategy. 

“We are a far, far cry from the period when Reach was investing in new local sites and expanding its footprint across the country, claiming to have created a sustainable model for digital-only local journalism.”

However a Reach spokesperson said: “We continue to be wholly committed to delivering trusted and award-winning local journalism across our portfolio – from our city titles, which set the national agenda, to our specialised hyperlocal titles, which boast fiercely loyal audiences. 

“While we take these decisions and the impact on our people very seriously, the current macroeconomic conditions mean that we must continue to rethink how our range of local titles can best serve their communities, to ensure their success now and far into the future.”

At the end of 2021, the latest annual report available from Reach, the publisher employed 3,119 staff in editorial and 4,671 in total.

Reach’s national newspapers are the Mirror, Express and Star titles while its biggest regional brands include the Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo, Birmingham Live, Daily Record and Wales Online.

The Mirror is the third biggest news brand in the UK, reaching 25.3 million people – or 51% of UK adults – in January.

According to data from Ipsos Iris, Reach is the UK news publisher with the biggest overall monthly audience – some 39.1 million people a month (or 80% of the online population).

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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.
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