The National Union of Journalists has described plans to cut 49 mainly print editorial jobs at Trinity Mirror as “savage” and said it would have a “major impact on already weakened newsrooms”.
The cuts fall as the UK’s largest regional publisher expands a new publishing model creating a “standalone” digital business, with print and digital newsrooms functioning independently.
The Birmingham Mail was the first to test out the new approach in September last year, with the creation of Birmingham Live, and it is now being rolled out across a further seven titles.
The hope is that this new model will create a “long-term sustainable and profitable business model” while daily news operations “continue to be based locally and cover live, breaking news”.
The NUJ has said it while these are “laudable goals” they will “not be achieved by the plans announced”.
It said: “The company want to achieve ‘efficiency’ savings by using more of the same content, they intend to rebrand a series of websites, and cut print journalism jobs.
“The company’s announcement includes no details that imply that locally-based work refers to anything other than where the office is based.”
The union said there would be a “significant impact” on journalists based in a hub in Tamworth, Staffordshire, where 11 jobs are at risk, including the group editor, representing a 60 per cent cut to the existing workforce.
It said the move risks the closure of the Walsall Advertiser incorporating the Great Barr Observer. Trinity Mirror has already stopped publishing the Walsall Observer.
In the East Midlands, 16 roles could be made redundant under the plans and this will impact on Derby, Nottingham and Leicester, the NUJ said, with the Burton Mail website to be shut and absorbed into Derbyshire Live.
“At the moment the workforce cover two counties and fear the changes will alienate many readers,” said a spokesperson.
In Liverpool there are plans for eight redundancies with three new roles created. In Coventry, one of three content editors is at risk and one of three specialist reporters but there are also plans to hire two trainees.
The Union said changes proposed for Bristol and the other South West centres were “still emerging”.
It criticised Trinity Mirror’s decision not to engage with it or staff in advance of the announcement and said it showed the publisher was “welded to a strategy of cutting costs, cutting journalists and reducing the variety of information and content provided to local communities”.
It said that while Trinity Mirror was “orchestrating these brutal cuts to their own workforce” they were also receiving public money to recruit 64 Local Democracy Reporters as part of the Local News Partnership between the BBC and News Media Association.
“The union is extremely concerned that Trinity Mirror may be using this public subsidy to plug the gaps created by getting rid of their own employees,” said a spokesperson.
It also comes after Trinity Mirror agreed to buy four national newspaper titles from Richard Desmond’s Northern and Shell company, including the Daily Express and Daily Star, in a deal worth £127m.
A Trinity Mirror spokesperson said the union’s comments were “hyperbole” from an organisation “more concerned with its own PR than with the future of local journalism”.
They added: “We are focused on securing the sustainable long term future of local journalism, by adapting to the changing demands of readers, while the NUJ have their heads firmly in the sand.
“Our strategy is working and our stories are reaching more local people per day than at any time since the 1970s.”
Chris Morley, Trinity Mirror NUJ coordinator, said: “In the days following the chief executive’s bragging that Trinity Mirror was a ‘very profitable’ company and putting millions of pounds in the pocket of Richard Desmond to buy the Express Newspapers stable off him, our members are incredulous at this savage blow to journalism across big parts of the group.
“We know that shareholders are being handsomely rewarded with a 6.4 per cent dividend pay-out and that the company has effortlessly stumped up a further £10m to try to smooth over the hacking scandal victims.
“We also know in recent weeks that Trinity Mirror has gobbled up the lion’s share of £8m that has been cut from the BBC’s budget for journalism to provide Local Democracy Reporters.
“Yet all the time, senior managers have been plotting these huge numbers of job cuts that will have a major impact on already badly weakened newsrooms.
“If digital is to be a success for the company, our members want to see a company committed wholeheartedly to it with investment in editorial.
“Instead, the same grim recipe of cuts, increasing stress for those who remain and a sapping of morale as members again feel let down by their own leaders.
“Shockingly, for those being made redundant in Local World centres, their exit will come with only the statutory minimum as Trinity Mirror continues to treat staff in these operations as second class employees when they want to take away their jobs.
This is unacceptable and shaming and something the union will continue to highlight.
“The inquiry that Theresa May called for in the media cannot come soon enough to shine a searchlight on newspaper companies who continue to enjoy huge profits but fail to invest in their staff.”
Picture: Trinity Mirror