The NUJ has said 300 journalist jobs are at risk under Reach’s plans for a “radical” restructure breaking down “historic barriers and silos” across its national and regional titles.
The National Union of Journalists urged Reach to extend its 45-day consultation period, due to end on 31 August, as the restructuring proposals which are putting a total of up to 580 jobs at risk are “extremely complex, involving multiple businesses and functions”.
“The details require considerable deliberation and liaison with those affected,” the union said.
Reach’s consultation pack for the company’s “digital specialists”, seen by Press Gazette, shows how the company has told staff it plans to fight back against “fierce” competition from rivals covering sport.
There will be a net loss of 29 sports roles across the country as a single team is created across all Reach’s digital and print titles, both national and regional.
Reach told staff: “We are the largest sports publishers in the UK – but competition is fierce, with companies who don’t invest in attending games and being local often taking audience on the back of our effort.
“We need to reduce duplication and focus on content which is distinct and original. We need to create a team which can move around the network as and when audience demand spikes, and create spikes in audience demand.”
Reach is also combining the two video teams currently working separately on the Mirror and Richard Desmond’s former titles the Express and Star to create “one single, leaner unit better able to operate flexibly and more cost-effectively across all our national titles”. They will also increasingly produce and edit video for use by the regional websites.
Staff were told this was necessary because of a “significant deterioration in the commercial environment for video across our industry, particularly pre-roll display advertising”.
“This means video revenues have been negatively impacted at the same time serving and hosting costs have increased. While videos will continue to play a key role in our digital publishing strategy, it is no longer sustainable to retain two large, separate teams doing very similar jobs.”
The reformed national video team will be made up of two digital editors, two assistant digital editors, six digital producers, two digital sport producers, and one overnight producer. Previously, each national team had a head of video with 12 producers between them.
Staff were given a map bracketing together the five regional areas that will now be supervised by five marketplace publishers tasked with owning their print titles, local commercial relationships and working with local brand editors to maintain a local profile.
They are: the South coast (from London to Cornwall), Wales and the Midlands, the North West (where two of Reach’s biggest regional papers, the Manchester Evening News and Liverpool Echo, are based), the North East, Yorkshire and Scottish regionals, and Ireland.
Within those five areas will be eight audience and content directors overseeing audience delivery in each region and the strategy to get more registered users signed up online.
Other editorial changes
A “networked” picture desk will be set up to serve the needs of all national and regional titles, while the showbiz, business and data verticals will share content on the new Reach wire “to fully exploit publishing potential”.
Reach is planning to renegotiate all of its agency contracts against the new editorial structure.
The regionals’ shared content unit and the nationals’ back of book print teams will be brought together into a new advance features unit producing content all Reach brands can use.
Press Gazette understands there are concerns among staff that not enough detail has been given on many of these areas, including what many of the new roles will look like day-to-day and what their KPIs will be, which is one reason why they want the consultation period extended.
There are also concerns of a deficit of trust between staff and the company, and of the mental health impact of the changes.
Chris Morley, the NUJ’s national coordinator for Reach, said members have “not bought into this vision that they believe threatens to weaken the company’s core revenue producer, print, still further”.
“The jury is still out on the company’s overarching digital strategy ever producing the money it needs to.
“Our members want the company to succeed but they want to be treated fairly and decently and if they are staying with the business, they want to have good conditions where they are not being put under undue pressure to deliver unreasonable expectations.”
A Reach spokesperson declined to comment while the consultation period is ongoing.
Burton Mail appeal to local figures
In the Midlands, the National Union of Journalists chapel at the Burton Mail has written to more than 100 prominent local leaders and contacts across the daily paper’s circulation area, asking for them to show support by writing to Reach group editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley and chief operating officer Alan Edmunds.
Kevin Palmer, chairman of the Derby and Burton branch of the NUJ, described the proposals in which the entire ten-strong editorial workforce of the Burton Mail have been told they are at risk of redundancy as “savage”.
The letter warns that titles like the Mail are “already running on skeleton staff” and argued that further job cuts and potential changes such as using more generic centrally-produced pages and fewer local news pages “will have a serious impact on the paper’s ability to stay a well-respected and powerful voice for the town and surrounding area”.
“It is right that those in public life and readers know how these cuts will affect staff and the paper’s ability to report what is happening and hold those in authority to account,” Palmer said.
“Staff worked very hard during the lockdown to keep people informed and it is deplorable that Reach, which received taxpayers’ money to furlough staff and imposed a pay cut, should reward them in this way.
“I hope that other Chapels will be inspired by Burton’s example and follow suit to garner public opinion and show Reach the error of its ways.”
Picture: Reuters/Russell Boyce