The British Association of Journalists has written an open letter to Reach chairman Nick Prettejohn to “demand” he raises concerns about the company’s proposed cost savings and 450 job cuts with chief executive Jim Mullen and the board.
They want the implementation of the cuts to be stopped until an independent review is carried out – although some of the proposals are already underway. Ten of the 13 regional sites that are closing have announced they will end operations at the end of November, while journalists across the country have begun to reveal on social media they are set to leave the company. Some 320 of the job cuts are expected to be in editorial roles.
The BAJ letter, seen by Press Gazette, said: “This union, together with our members, believes the strategy is wrong. Unlike its competitors, the business has been too late adapting to the changing consumption of news. The current proposals are a desperate attempt to catch up, but this is impossible with Reach’s IT infrastructure, where there is consensus among staff and consumers that it is not fit for purpose.”
However a Reach spokesperson said: “The board fully supports the strategy that the management team has outlined.”
The BAJ is the officially recognised union for journalists at the Mirror and was founded in 1992 out of a split with the National Union of Journalists. Its bargaining agreement on behalf of journalists at the Mirror titles was secured 21 years ago.
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The union said it has never before written to the non-executive directors of Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror) and it had decided to take the “unprecedented” step “because of the extraordinary actions of ExCo [the executive committee] and Jim Mullen in their relentless adherence to their current strategy”.
It cited an unnamed spokesperson for the business who it said told a town hall meeting last week that the proposals were about “doing less with less”. It said this was “a devastating indictment for the Mirror, especially as the UK’s oldest tabloid newspaper”.
“Habits change over time; therefore, the changes must not be made at the speed of the current plans but be intelligently responsive.”
The Daily Mirror had an average circulation of 248,035 in October, down 46% from four years earlier before the Covid-19 pandemic.
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The BAJ added that its members at the Mirror have “inundated” it with its views that Mullen is “manically bulldozing their careers” with a “callous disregard”. In a poll, 100% of those who voted, it said, said they had no confidence in him or his strategy.
A sample of feedback from BAJ members saw them describe themselves as “exhausted, anxious, overloaded, side-lined, disrespected, taken for granted and neither valued nor listened to”.
They said Mullen and his team had “lost sight of… why we are all in this business”.
One said the latest cuts and digital-first proposals “will almost certainly sound the death knell for the national newspapers in our group, each [of] which boasts its own unique identity”.
And some “recognised and respected” sport journalists are at risk, with BAJ feedback saying “to just axe them and believe that one size fits all makes a mockery of what we try to achieve, which is to maintain our respect and status alongside other well-known brands in a highly competitive but shrinking marketplace”.
Prettejohn has been chairman of the Reach board since May 2018 and the board has praised his “strong leadership and chairing skills”. He is a former member of the BBC Trust and is also currently a non-executive director for Yougov, but many of his previous roles have been in financial services.
Mullen told staff at the start of this month Reach needed to reduce “costs against the backdrop of continuing pressures on the business from the economic environment we’re operating in” with inflationary pressures expected to last into 2024.
Chief digital publisher David Higgerson told staff each newsroom would become “future audience-led – putting digital audiences of the future at the heart of our operation”.
The NUJ represents most journalists across Reach and its group chapel has already expressed no confidence in the publisher’s senior leaders.
“While publishing market conditions are difficult, the collapse of Reach’s digital income in 2023… is a disaster that no one in senior management is taking responsibility for,” they said.
The NUJ said two weeks ago it reserved the right to ballot members to see if they were interested in taking industrial action.
Update: On Thursday (30 November) the NUJ sent a letter of its own to Reach’s directors and shareholders.
It said the business plan needs a “radical rethinking” as it is “endangering the economic health of the company and the livelihood of workers, including more than 1,000 journalists represented by the NUJ”.
According to the NUJ, the redundancies “involve the wholesale dismantling of coverage of women’s football and other club specific content, rugby, and cricket”, as well as specialist arts and entertainment coverage for England.
“The dash to digital has proved illusionary and does not provide the single answer to Reach’s problems,” the letter said.
Reach has said it will “remain committed” to women’s football which will be covered by its football writers across the country.
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