Less than an hour after Sunday Times editor John Witherow congratulated his staff on News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch describing the title as the group’s most "outstanding" newspaper, his journalists were facing the threat of redundancies.
And not only Sunday Times journalists. Across the four News International titles, heads of department were being told of cuts of around 80 staffers, contract workers and casuals, and in the number of casual shifts.
The disastrous downturn in his newspapers’ advertising revenue following the 11 September terrorist attacks in the US has cost Murdoch at least £70m. In Murdoch’s own words, bookings for the two weeks after that day were "virtually non-
Witherow was able to rescue some comfort from Murdoch’s comments on his paper at News Corps’ annual general meeting.
But Sunday Times staff who read managing editor Richard Caseby’s later memo learned that the recruitment freeze and editorial savings over the past year had not been enough to remedy the problem. Further wide-ranging cost reduction was necessary.
The Sunday Times is looking at up to eight staff jobs disappearing, with 12 going at The Sun and eight at The Times.
Caseby says the worst-case scenario would include nine retainer contracts going at The Sunday Times. The paper’s online staff will be made redundant and its website content will be carried by The Times’ site.
Headed by Keith Blackmore, an integrated seven-day operation will keep the newspapers’ content online free but will start charging for the their archive material in November.
Some 50 shifts per week are to be cut across The Sun and 30 at The Times. The latter is also thought to be losing up to 15 retainers and a maximum of five contract journalists.
The News of the World is likely to lose the bulk of its five website staff but the newspaper is understood to be actively negotiating a placement of the website elsewhere to keep it alive.
One or two journalists are expected to leave the paper but not as a consequence of NI’s current cost-cutting exercise, Press Gazette understands. It is thought there will also be a modest reduction in NoW casual shifts.
The managements of all four papers are trying to keep redundancies down by making other savings.
They are discussing the situation with the News International Staff Association but the cuts are not thought to be optional.
At The Times, staff are taking the news relatively calmly, having expected worse in the light of the biting recession.
At The Sun, where it is believed to be the first time there have been editorial redundancies, sources say it is a very worrying time. "I’m completely shocked," said one senior staffer.
By Jean Morgan