What Rothermere said before the sell-off

By Sarah Lagan

Daily
Mail and General Trust chairman Lord Rothermere sent a letter to
journalists at Northcliffe’s Bristol Evening Post stating he was a
“fervent believer in good journalism”

just days before the company was put up for sale.

Lord
Rothermere sent the letter to Evening Post NUJ chapel FoC Derek Brooks,
who had written to him protesting about the company’s Aim Higher
cost-cutting plan, which journalists have dubbed “Aim, Fire!”

Rothermere
wrote: “I am a fervent believer in good journalism throughout my titles
and I totally agree with you on the merits of investing in journalists.
However, it cannot have escaped your notice that the Western Daily
Press and the Bristol Evening Post are newspapers which are not
performing as well as they should be. Sadly the steps we have had to
take were inevitable for the health of these particular publications.

“You
have my reassurance that in the context of the difficult choices we
have to make, we will make every effort to retain both the editorial
quality and integrity of our newspapers.”

Brooks told Press
Gazette: “Lord Rothermere believes in ‘the merits of investing in
journalists’ so much that he wants to sell Northcliffe and return a
substantial portion of the net proceeds to shareholders.”

He
cited the DMGT annual report, which showed that Northcliffe achieved
operating profits of £102m in 2005, advertising grew by 2 per cent and
that “on the back of a buoyant local economy Bristol was up by 10 per
cent driven by cost savings”.

The number of compulsory
redundancies being imposed by Northcliffe at its Bristol centre could
be revealed by next Thursday. A total of 47 editorial posts are facing
the axe in Bristol and Plymouth. Journalists staged their third day of
action in Bristol on Tuesday.

Staff at Northcliffe’s Cornwall and Devon Media are being consulted about possible redundancies.

Richard Vanhinsbergh, editor of The West Briton, has taken early retirement.

NUJ
general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “If this Aim Higher programme is
about anything other than getting the best sale price then they should
stop the programme now and allow any new owners to carry out their own
review.” Dear said the campaign against job cuts was about “nothing
less than the survival of a quality regional press”.

The papers
have had support from celebrities and politicians connected to the
city. Former MP and BBC correspondent Martin Bell said: “Newspaper
companies should know that it’s important to put people before profit.
And as long as newspapers are making a reasonable amount of money their
overriding responsibility is to the public interest and to their
readers.”

Bristol journalists are backed by author Jilly Cooper and the band Massive Attack.

But
Times columnist Julie Burchill, who is from the city, responded by
stating that she’s “not very interested in provincial journalism and
never really liked the Bristol papers”.

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