Journalists at Leicester Mercury condemn 'cavalier attitude to axing editorial staff'


The Leicester Mercury NUJ chapel has written an open letter to publisher David Simms condemning plans to cut 11 editorial jobs.

When the announcement was made earlier this month Northcliffe blamed a 45 per cent fall in ad revenue in the last five years, as well as a 30 per cent decline in circulation revenue over the same period.

In its letter the chapel accused the newspaper’s publisher, David Simms, of having a “cavalier attitude to axing editorial staff”.

Here is the full text:

The Leicester Mercury NUJ chapel condemns the latest ruthless round of redundancies in the Leicester Mercury’s editorial department.

The devastating job losses proposed amount to a 20% reduction in staff in a department – the people who produce this newspaper’s coverage of news, features and sport – that has already been savaged time and again by swingeing cuts.

Five years ago, editorial had 97 employees. If these cuts are implemented the departmental headcount will have halved. Put simply, we are are already doing

more with vastly reduced resources. To further undermine a department that is already stretched to breaking point not only jeopardises the wellbeing of those who will remain, it endangers the entire business.

The refrain that used to run beneath the Mercury’s masthead was ‘clearly better”. Now senior managers are telling us ‘good enough is good enough”. Quality, no longer, is a watchword.

We are being run by a man – you, Mr Simms – who recently told journalists here that you did not read a daily newspaper. You also said that you did not like sport – one of the main drivers of the Mercury’s sales. Neither statement inspired confidence, and now our fears have been abundantly justified.

For many of us, the Leicester Mercury is not just a place of work. It is our local newspaper; something that has been read and enjoyed by our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents; something some of us used to deliver as paper boys and girls long before we had the privilege of working in its newsroom.

To use one of the business buzzwords you seem so fond of, we are stakeholders in this newspaper – and we have grave concerns for its future viability.

The cavalier attitude to axing editorial staff is actually at odds with your own stated plan for taking the business forward.

Your plan is to develop new revenue streams by extending the Mercury’s brand into other areas and across other platforms. But how do you propose to do that Mr Simms if the core product of that brand – its daily newspaper – becomes a tarnished shell of its former self?

Our readers are not stupid. If we can no longer offer them local journalism that entertains, informs and stands up for their interests by properly scrutinising the decisions that affect their lives – holding our elected officials, public bodies and companies to account – then they will desert us in their droves. Advertisers will swiftly follow. The ‘brand’will command no respect whatsoever.

We are well aware that hard-working, loyal and talented people across Leicestershire are being put out of their jobs. We have reported their stories and we are not seeking special treatment.

The Leicester Mercury, in common with newspapers nationally, has faced a sharp decline in revenues. However, at a time when this paper remains the most profitable in the Northcliffe group, slashing editorial numbers by a fifth appears to be nothing more than profiteering.

Northcliffe’s parent company DMGT reported operating profits of £320 million in 2010. Its directors received £13.39 million in total remuneration last year, including £6.5 million in bonuses alone.

It has been stated that Northcliffe has asked for a set level of cost reductions from the Leicester Mercury.

We would like you to tell us how much money that is and whether you argued against those reductions or put forward alternative proposals. We also want to know why editorial is bearing the brunt of these so-called ‘efficiency’savings. Were they your idea? If not, who is the architect of these plans?

We are particularly concerned that loyal, long-serving staff are being shown the door. How does that fit with a commitment to maintaining the quality of the newspaper? It would appear to us that the company has no interest other than putting as much money as it can into the hands of its directors in the short-term.

What evidence can you give us that there is no alternative to these unwarranted and damaging cuts?

We ask you, the acting editor Richard Bettsworth and the Northcliffe board to give both us and the readers assurances going forward. Will these be the last of the job losses in editorial this year and for the foreseeable future? Are there any plans to make staff reductions elsewhere? What are your projections in terms of revenues and staff numbers over the next 24 months?

We would also like a clear acknowledgement that continued cuts in staffing will damage the quality of the newspaper, exacerbate the decline in its readership and, therefore, diminish revenues still further.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts on these matters. Please be aware that we also reserve the right to take appropriate action if the explanations and assurances we are seeking are not forthcoming.

Simms, the former managing director of Trinity Mirror’s ncjMedia (Newcastle Chronicle and Journal) was made publisher for the Leicester Mercury Media Group in July.

On the NUJ’s website Northern & Midlands Organiser Chris Morley said:

Our members at the Mercury are at the end of their tether. They have seen wave after wave of swingeing redundancies in recent years that have halved their number. These assaults on jobs may have helped prop up profits but they have also driven away readers in droves and hurt advertising.

Northcliffe titles have been performing the worst among regional publishers. This is not least as they have cut the hardest and insisted on morale-sapping reorganisations such as the failed East Midlands subbing hub that proved disastrous for the Leicester, Nottingham and Derby centres. Our members need to feel confidence that their bosses have the right plan to secure the future of their title, but this does nothing on that score.

Simms has issued the following response to the NUJ:

The editorial plans are 100% owned by the Leicester Mercury. Put forward by Richard Bettsworth and endorsed by me. These plans are necessary given the continued decline in both advertising revenue and circulation volume. Revenues in the past 5 years have declined by 45% with circulation volume down 30%

Editorial are not solely bearing the brunt of change. It is however, inappropriate to outline to you plans/changes affecting other people/departments. In the past 12 months  other departments have been affected by change/staff reductions with editorial over that period least affected

Editorial costs represent the highest percentage of our total cost base and this proportion has grown over time as other costs have been managed downwards to a much greater extent. Since 2007/08 people and people related costs across all other departments have reduced by c30% compared with the 24% reduction in editorial

No one can guarantee what the future looks like – with both cyclical and structural change happening in the market future job losses cannot be ruled out. However, other than the plans you know about we have no further/immediate planned changes.

We anticipate the current run rate on ad revenues continuing over the next 24 months. We are however doing our utmost to address the decline. The launch of the Business Magazine is one of the changes made which is showing growth.

Changes planned  in editorial are designed to protect both content and quality securing the long term viability of the paper.

The economic environment continues to be very difficult. It is unlikely that this will change in the near term. Our priorities are to continue with the change programme designed to make us more efficient and agile, while at the same time investing in those key areas of growth so important to our future. To carry on as we are is simply not an option.

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