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September 15, 2017

Backlash at Birmingham Mail over latest cuts as journalists back no-confidence vote in editor Marc Reeves

By Dominic Ponsford

The editor of the Birmingham Mail is facing a backlash from journalists over an editorial shake-up which it is believed will see up to ten editorial jobs cut.

Members of the National Union of Journalists chapel at the Birmingham Mail voted that they have no confidence in Marc Reeves and warned they will hold a strike vote if compulsory redundancies are made.

The union said it believes up to ten jobs could go as a result of Mail shake-up and national cutbacks taking effect in Birmingham. But a Trinity Mirror source said up to seven staff would go with more jobs created.

The changes will see a dedicated online team move back to the city centre, from the Fort Dunlop industrial estate, with a smaller print-only team focusing on the daily edition. It has been announced that a new website will be launched called Birmingham Live.

The cuts are also expected to see news and editorial features team merged.

NUJ members at the Birmingham Mail have issued the following statement: “The chapel is appalled to discover the true scale of the job losses at the Birmingham Mail. After initially refusing to announce how many of our jobs will go, we now learn the ‘small’ reduction will see nearly 20 per cent of editorial staff gone.

“Nobody is forcing our editor to make these drastic cuts but he has voluntarily put people’s livelihoods on the line, after telling us this project is his brainchild. To add insult to injury we remain in the dark about how this new project will look or work.

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“With the BBC’s limited presence here, this will be a further drain on journalism in our great city.

“Our editor Marc Reeves likes to refer to the Birmingham Mail as a ‘house that’s on fire’. There is no doubt he has poured petrol on that house this week.

“In a cruel twist only one week after production staff were told their jobs were safe, we are told that two more jobs will be axed in a ‘separate’ national cull.

“This is despite an overstretched workforce with staff working double shifts and countless hours to get the newspapers completed on time. The editor’s plan for our print production team was completely undermined by this national announcement a few days later. It is disturbing that our senior management are not talking to each other when making sweeping changes to the business.

“This operation has been run on the fumes of goodwill for too long. That goodwill has been extinguished. In light of this the Chapel has taken a vote of no confidence in the editor or the vague proposals being made.

“If compulsory redundancies are threatened by management on Monday, we will immediately ballot for industrial action over these forced job losses, low staffing levels and high workloads.”

Jane Kennedy, NUJ Northern and Midlands assistant organiser, said: “While discussions with the editor and the NUJ have already taken place; the clarity of what is proposed beyond everyone doing everything remains opaque.

“It is difficult for members to have confidence in the discussions when it is clear that during our last meeting with the editor he was aware that further job cuts would be announced within 24 hours. This kind of secrecy only undermines trust and confidence, and can be seen in the Chapel vote.

“We urge Marc Reeves to meet with us again early next week and provide a detailed plan of the proposed new structure and a strategy that will avoid any compulsory redundancies.”

A spokesperson for Trinity Mirror said: “The NUJ are being deliberately misleading, and attempting to muddy the waters. We have been open and honest with them about our ambitions for the business, so it is disappointing they have chosen to misrepresent the facts and mislead their members.

“The NUJ can bury their heads in the sand but we cannot, and change is necessary if we are to build a long term sustainable business.”

Reeves said last week: “The city is the youngest and most diverse in the UK, with a massive appetite for digital news and information. Birmingham Live is our response to this, and a bold move to take the initiative to create a sustainable digital journalism business.

“Regrettably a number of jobs will go as we restructure. However, if the model we’re building is successful, we will be employing more journalists and serving more readers than would be the case if we sat back and did nothing.

The Birmingham Mail has a daily print circulation of 18,000. In 2004 that figure was over 100,000.

The title’s website attracts more than 400,000 daily unique browsers.

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