From cheers to fears: battle lines are drawn at Telegraph

By Dominic Ponsford

When the Barclay twins finally succeeded in their six-month battle
to take control of the Telegraph titles last June the news was greeted
with relief from journalists – some even applauded.

Little was known about the billionaire twins, but they were seen as
preferable to rival bidders 3i, which was expected to slash costs, and
Daily Mail and General Trust, which would have met regulatory delays.

This
week that early goodwill appeared in short supply among journalists as
the battle lines were drawn for a potentially bitter industrial dispute.

Telegraph
Group’s NUJ chapel is furious at the way the announcement of 90
editorial job cuts was handled, and it has already started a balloting
process which could lead to a strike.

Crucially, they feel that two management promises have been broken.

Promise number one came shortly before the Telegraph Group changed hands in July.

Aidan
Barclay, son of Sir David, promised the paper’s NUJ representatives an
early meeting to discuss their concerns – it never materialised.

Then on Tuesday last week came promise number two – from editorial director Kim Fletcher.

Rumours
of redundancies in the paper’s production department had led Father of
the Chapel John Carey to seek a meeting with Fletcher, who until this
week had led management negotiations with the NUJ.

Carey said he
was told by Fletcher that editorial redundancies were a possibility “at
some stage” but there was no plan in place and the NUJ chapel would be
informed before any plan was put out more widelyTwo days later chief
executive Murdoch MacLennan sent letters to the homes of staff
informing them of the proposal to cut about 90 editorial jobs.

Carey said: “It is beyond our belief that that plan was not in place two days before.”

Telegraph
management has since said the apparent assurances were misunderstood
and that, although job cuts of 90 were an “objective”, no detailed
plans were or are yet in place.

“The measures we anticipate have the complete support of our editors,” MacLennan said.

Bosses said the high degree of speculation about possible cuts led to the announcement being brought forward.

NUJ
members responded by organising an emergency chapel meeting on Friday
afternoon which passed the motion: “This chapel deplores the company’s
proposal to make 20 per cent of the papers’ journalists redundant in
clear breach of undertakings given to the chapel only two days before.
Such cuts are guaranteed to seriously undermine journalistic quality of
the Telegraph titles.”

It added that the cuts could “damage the
company’s competitiveness” and create a threat to occupational health
through increased workload.

It said: “We call on the company to
withdraw immediately the current threat of redundancies. In the event
chapel officers do not receive such an undertaking by lunchtime on
Monday 7 February, they are instructed to organise a ballot on
industrial action.”

By Monday this week, former Daily Mail
managing editor Lawrence Sear had taken over NUJ negotiations. Sear was
taken on last week by the Telegraph on a three-month consultancy
contract.

Sear reportedly asked journalists to postpone the
strike ballot in order to create a better climate for discussions and
admitted there had been a “misunderstanding”

over the assurances given about job cuts.

Carey
said: “If there’s a misunderstanding they should withdraw the statement
and sit down with us to clarify what their objectives are and we could
explain what our concerns are.”

He added: “We have spent the better part of eight months trying to
talk to the new owners to find out what their long-term plans were for
the company and what sort of things they thought need to change and we
have not had a single conversation about that. Then suddenly we had a
press statement and letters sent out to all journalists.

“We have emphasised that we are not interested in the old-style confrontational sort of thing.

“We want to work with them as far as we can to make the company more successful.”

According
to a source who knows the business well, Telegraph management has
always expected the Barclays would need to make cuts.

He said:
“It’s absolutely clear that it could be done with fewer people. There
are lots of contributors and freelances – the number of staffers is not
always a true test of how you’re running that side of the business.

“[Richard]
Desmond has made a success of running a newspaper with fewer
journalists – but nobody is shouting from the rooftops that what they
are producing is fantastic.

“There are areas where you can make economies.

“It’s better to do these things with good, clear communications and they haven’t really done that so far.”

TELEGRAPH GROUP IN NUMBERS

Number of staff journalists: 521

Number of staff estimated to be in the NUJ: Around 300 (although there is said to have been a flurry of membership applications in recent days)

Price paid by Barclay twins for Telegraph Group (which then included The Spectator): £665 million

Cash needed for new presses: £150 million

Wage bill (from last set of accounts, in 2003):
£52.7 million for the majority of staff who were employed by subsidiary
Telegraph Publishing Limited, plus £8.2 million for those employed
directly by the company (including directors).

Turnover (2003): £305 million Operating profit (2003): £36 million Circulation: 904,647

 

£150 million proposal

PRESSING PROBLEM

The Telegraph is currently limited to 48 broadsheet pages, just 12 of which are colour.

By contrast, arch-rival The Times will be able to print 120 tabloid
pages in colour when a five-year re-pressing programme announced in
October is completed.

The Mail titles have already completed a
£135 million re-pressing, and The Guardian ‘s £50 million full-colour
Berliner-size presses are expected to come on stream in 2006.

The
Telegraph’s proposed £150 million presses will be revenue drivers in
their own right by being more efficient and increasing the number of
colour pages.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, newspapers can charge 66 per cent more for colour adverts than they do for black and white.

By
investment in the current main printing site at Westferry in East
London, and use of satellite printers, the Telegraph plans to go up to
56 pages, with 20 in colour, by the summer.

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