By Dominic Ponsford
The National Union of journalists is debt-free for the first time since the early 1970s and membership has now passed the 40,000 mark for the first time.
This was the upbeat message delivered by general secretary Jeremy Dear as he opened the union’s 2006 annual delegate meeting.
Revealing that the NUJ paid off all its outstanding debts last month he said: "The union is today free and master and mistress of its own destiny". And he drew a contrast with the 1975 ADM at Cardiff when the union faced the options of either slashing staff, merging with another union of disbanding altogether because of financial problems.
Dear reported that average pay for journalists increased by 5.1 per cent last year according to government figures and that starting pay for many trainees on local papers had increased from £10,000 in 2001 to £15,000 or £16,000 today, thanks to the union’s efforts.
And launching an attack on "shareholder greed" over the last year, he described the Aim Higher cost-cutting campaign of Northcliffe as "a squalid cost cutting programme to line the pockets of shareholders and bugger the quality".
Dear pointed out that Britain’s biggest newspaper publisher Trinity Mirror made £400,000 every day last year.
He said: "Local newspapers are not in crisis as far as profitability is concerned. Media companies continue to make profit margins that are the envy of every other industry – yet shareholders demand more."
Dear spoke of the newspaper owners toasting their success at the Newspaper Society’s annual lunch last year, as NUJ members stood outside wearing top hats and pig masks.
And he said: "What kind of success is it that results in jobs being lost and circulation decline driven at least in part by failure to invest in quality journalism. In this industry of success specialist reporters are sacked, pages slashed and coverage is becoming less localised. It is the pursuit of profit at the expense of news and shareholder greed at the expense of quality journalism – what former Stoke Sentinel editor Sean Dooley called ‘corporate bollocks at the expense of the public’s right to know.’"
Dear is facing re-election this year after four years in the job as general secretary and revealed that he plans to stand again.