Showdown looms at Telegraph over cuts

By Dominic Ponsford

The Telegraph titles are on the verge of a bitter industrial dispute
this week as union members began organising a strike ballot over the
proposed cull of 90 journalists.

The shock announcement of the
proposed cuts on Friday morning was followed by an emergency meeting of
the Telegraph Group Chapel in the afternoon.

More than 100
journalists unanimously backed a motion calling for management to give
an undertaking that the threat of redundancies would be withdrawn by
lunchtime on Monday.

In the words of one NUJ source, paraphrasing Neville Chamberlain in 1939, “no such undertaking has been received”.

The
union’s position remains that it wants the threat of redundancies to be
withdrawn until discussions have taken place. It is opposed to any
compulsory redundancies and it is concerned that the cap of 12 months
pay set on redundancy payouts for journalists is less than that offered
to production staff.

Journalists claim the cuts will harm editorial standards and add to existing RSI problems at the Telegraph titles.

According to management, cutbacks are needed to “secure the future of the Telegraph and jobs”.

Chief
executive Murdoch MacLennan said the cuts will fund a £150m investment
in new presses which will provide more pages and more colour. In the
short-term the company plans to increase pagination by eight, with
eight more in full colour.

He said: “Journalists are the
lifeblood of any newspaper and maintaining the quality of the Daily and
Sunday Telegraph for our readers is vital. However, action to improve
our production capability and secure our titles against the competition
is also vital.”

Father of the Telegraph’s NUJ chapel John Carey
said: “If you are going to produce more pages with fewer people that’s
guaranteed to damage the journalistic quality.”

He added: “People
work hard at the Telegraph, we work hard to produce what we think are
good newspapers. Is there fat? I don’t know, but sit down and tell us
where you think there’s fat and what you propose to do and let us tell
you what impact we see that having.”

Journalists were told by
post on Friday morning about the proposed cuts. NUJ members say
promises that they would be consulted about any changes have been
broken by the new management.

One insider said the news was greeted with a mixture of shock and fury.

“Shock
at the numbers being proposed, and fury at the way it was being done,
and the fact that the promises we were given were broken.”

Union members were due to meet management on Thursday. If the strike ballot goes ahead it is expected to take four weeks.

Telegraph
cuts already began to bite this week as several staff in the company’s
inhouse PR department were told their posts were being made redundant.

Public
relations duties for the Telegraph are now being handled by Brown Lloyd
James which also works for rival group Associated Newspapers.

A
report in Sunday’s Observer that the Barclay brothers were planning to
move the Telegraph from Canary Wharf back to Fleet Street, has been
resolutely denied.

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