NUJ debt-free and ready to take on 'greedy' shareholders

By Dominic Ponsford

The National Union of Journalists is debt-free for the first time in more than 30 years and membership has broken through the 40,000 barrier.

That was the upbeat message delivered by general secretary Jeremy Dear as he opened the union’s 2006 annual delegate meeting in Liverpool.

Revealing that the NUJ paid off all its outstanding debts last month, Dear 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 or disbanding altogether because of financial problems.

The union benefited to the tune of £4.7 million last year from the sale of former headquarters Headland House, which was used to pay off the mortgage on its current HQ and other debts.

The union’s annual report revealed that membership was up 1,126 on last year, "largely due to members recruited during the BBC dispute".

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.

Launching an attack on "shareholder greed" over the last year, he described regional press giant Northcliffe’s Aim Higher scheme to make savings of £30 million a year as "a squalid costcutting 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 each day last year. "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," he said.

Dear spoke of the newspaper owners toasting their success at the Newspaper Society’s annual lunch at the Savoy last year, as NUJ members stood outside wearing top hats and pig masks.

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.

Number crunching (year to 9/05)

– Salary of NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear: £54,403

– Total union income: £4,894,384

– Cost of holding last year’s annual conference in Scarborough: £134,125

– Membership: 39,407 of which 28,678 are full members, including: freelance, 6,985; regional newspapers, 5,795; broadcasting, 5,781; national papers, 3,313; and magazines, 3,003.

– Level of strike fighting fund: £1,074,549.

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