Chief executive grilled over pay of Johnston journalists

Bowdler: refuted £9,000 figure

Johnston Press chief executive Tim Bowdler was unexpectedly attacked over the pay levels of his journalists as he gave the third annual lecture at the Society of Editors’ conference this week.

After Bowdler had extolled investment in editorial excellence in his group, NUJ northern organiser Miles Barter asked why virtually none of Johnston’s journalists was paid the average national wage of £24,000 and why trainees started on salaries as low as £9,000.

Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade wanted to know if Johnston’s pursuit of high profit margins accounted for its journalists being paid so little.

"We are certainly not setting out as a company to screw the wages of our employees," Bowdler averred.

He refuted the £9,000 figure, saying the company’s scales of pay for graduates were significantly above that. And he maintained that the comparison in wages should be with what journalists were paid across the industry and not with the national average.

"In those terms, we strive to make sure that we pay competitively," he insisted. "We recognise the need to pay journalists a fair and sensible wage. We are not finding it difficult to recruit journalists to the industry – far from it – and we do produce quality newspapers in which we make a continual investment in journalism. We are sympathetic to the view that we need to keep journalists’ wages moving forward in a sensible manner."

The fact that the company was profitable enabled it to invest, Bowdler emphasised, a theme he had expounded as part of the lecture. Advertising revenues underpinned proprietors’ ability in this respect and 70 per cent of Johnston’s total revenues came from advertising, he said.

His lecture also contained a clarion call to editors and the Government to take up the challenges facing the industry. The Government wanted the UK to have a world-class media industry, he said, and the Government’s role was pivotal to that.

Slamming the suggestion by Lord McNally and Lord Puttnam that the Press Complaints Commission should be brought under the supervision of Ofcom, Bowdler said such a development would "crystallise the industry’s worst fears over the role of Ofcom in relation to newspaper content".

The Data Protection Act, the Lord Chancellor’s efforts to stop payments to witnesses and the growing practice of courts forcing journalists to reveal their sources were all impacting on freedom of expression, said Bowdler, adding: "It seems that as an industry we are under constant attempts to undermine these freedoms."

By Jean Morgan

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