Relations between the National Union of Journalists and the UK’s biggest regional newspaper publisher were looking strained today as journalists in the Midlands again began a ballot for industrial actiuon.
The NUJ has said that the whole union will support journalists working on the Birmingham Mail and other titles. Trinity Mirror has condemned the ballot as “highly irresponsible”.
The move comes amid NUJ fears that Trinity Mirror wants to close eight weekly newspapers in the Midlands and scale back the frequence of the Birmingham Post to either weekly or twice-weekly.
The NUJ also believes that Trinity Mirror is proposing to change flagship evening title the Birmingham Mail into a morning paper as a further cost-cutting move.
Trinity Mirror today refused to confirm or deny any of these claims.
Some 150 journalists working for Trinity Mirror in the Midlands are involved in the ballot.
NUJ organiser for the North of England Chris Morley said: “In the last year these titles have lost more than 70 editorial posts and the journalists who work for them have had their workloads expanded to serve websites as well as papers. More cuts will mean an impossible workload and a drastic reduction of the local news and information service.”
And NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “These journalists are proud of the titles they work for which have a place at the heart of their communities.
“They want to protect jobs and provide a service-to-be-proud of for readers and advertisers. If such major cuts go through the viability of all the papers will be in doubt. The whole union will support them.”
A Trinity Mirror spokesman said: “We are very disappointed that the NUJ has chosen this course of action without even engaging with us in our agreed dispute resolution procedures. It is highly irresponsible and does absolutely nothing to address the very real issues facing our Midlands businesses, and puts into stark perspective their recent claims to be working constructively with us.
“They would do better to start acknowledging the true scale of the commercial challenges facing newspaper businesses and be prepared to have meaningful discussions with us.”
Independent regional press owner Chris Bullivant has offered to buy some of the weekly Midlands papers and also signalled his interest in acquiring the Birmingham Post and keeping it daily.
Bullivant said last week: “I would love to take part in negotiations over the future of those titles in the Midlands that Trinity Mirror wants to close that aren’t in conflict with our existing publications.
“We would undertake to save the jobs of as many staff as possible, given that the newspapers were viable.
“We would even consider allowing Trinity Mirror to keep the contracts for printing and distributing the titles – which would have considerable benefit for their workforce
“I have always admired the Birmingham Post and felt that with better marketing it could be a real success.
“If anyone wants to join me in a consortium to take over the paper I would jump at the chance.”
Trinity Mirror declined to comment on whether it is in negotiations with Bullivant.