Mirror, Express and local newspapers face strike risk as NUJ rejects pay offer – The Guardian

Reach, which also owns titles such as the Manchester Evening News and Liverpool Echo, has offered 3%
Production of the Mirror, Express and hundreds of local newspapers could be disrupted by strike action after their parent company, Reach, said it could offer staff only a 3% pay rise.
The National Union of Journalists has rejected the offer. It said its members were already having to shoulder the burden of extra domestic energy costs after Reach closed the vast majority of its offices during the pandemic. Many reporters now work permanently from home.
The union said profits at the company, which owns major regional titles including the Manchester Evening News and the Liverpool Echo, had surged in 2021, when it paid its chief executive, Jim Mullen, a total package worth £4m.
David Higgerson, a senior Reach executive, told MPs on Tuesday that his boss’s pay was not excessive for the private sector, but confirmed that reporters on the group’s regional newspapers earned £21,000 a year, with the potential for senior staff to get £25,000.
MPs pointed out that this was not enough to start repaying the student debt that many young journalists had accumulated in order to enter the profession. At a meeting of the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee in Cardiff, they questioned whether clickbait articles on local news sites were undermining traditional public interest journalism.
Higgerson accepted that some of his staff were concerned about the use of click targets as part of their job appraisals, but insisted that many readers liked viral articles. “What sometimes gets dismissed as trivial is actually quite important to a lot of our readers,” he said.
The best way for local journalism to thrive was with a “successful commercial model”, he said. Reach has increasingly abandoned its traditional newspaper mastheads and focused on its city-based Live local news website branding. The approach has attracted 18 million readers a year to the Manchester Evening News website, six times the population of Greater Manchester.
He also said Reach had to hire a specialist employee to protect local journalists from online abuse, with one reporter telling him that she had had a good day at work because the abuse “had just been low-level misogyny”.
Higgerson said local Facebook groups caused problems for his company, but that it had little choice but to remain on the social network because of the large audiences it delivered.
“There’s very little we can do about it,” he said. “If we say we’re not going to put our stuff on that platform then that has a direct impact on our ability to sustain journalism. It’s a difficult place to be, both for the brands and the duty of care to our journalists.”
Prof Natalie Fenton of Goldsmiths, University of London, told the committee that journalists’ low salaries and demands for high productivity were affecting the editorial direction of local news outlets.
“If you have a precarious contract you’re more likely to be a compliant journalist,” she said. “You won’t object to having to file 17 stories a day. You just have to churn it out because your contract depends on it. You’re never likely to stand up and say you disagree with that particular direction or that particular story.”

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