NUJ speaks up for Newsquest journalists at Gannett AGM
16 May 2019
Chris Morley, NUJ Newsquest group chapel coordinator and Amy Fenton, MoC at Newsquest Barrow are both in McLean, Virginia (near Washington DC) today to link up with colleagues from sister union the NewsGuild-CWA to attend Gannett's annual meeting and speak up on behalf of NUJ members.
Approximately 800 journalists work for Newsquest and the union remains seriously concerned by Gannett's stewardship of Newsquest, its relentless job cutting programme, a looming hostile takeover bid and the dire conditions facing journalists who work for the UK company.
At the meeting today the union will highlight the plight of Newsquest staff, most have not had a cost of living pay rise in nine out of 11 years. The typical trained daily journalist working for Newsquest earns just £22,249/$28,500 and that represents approximately £5,079/$6,500 a year less than the pay of reporters working for rival companies.
The last time the union attended a Gannett annual meeting was 15 years ago. At that time the union demanded a minimum £20,316/$26,000 salary for senior journalists and £15,237/$19,500 for weekly journalists. It is shocking that in 2019 Newquest has decide to rely on apprentice workers as an integral part of the newsroom and they are paid the UK legal minimum wage of less than £7,814/$10,000. In response, the union is calling on Gannett to investigate the shame of low pay at Newsquest and will ask the board to establish a decent pay threshold for UK journalists.
The union will also warn the company that the actions of Newsquest senior managers threatens quality journalism and poses a health risk to employees. The NUJ carried out a survey of Newsquest journalists last year and found urgent action was needed to tackle unhealthy workplaces. Union reps raised these issues with the chief executive at the time but the earliest that senior executives would meet the NUJ was six months later. The survey was the second of its kind and found the same trends as the survey conducted the previous year. Comments from staff in response to the latest survey said:
"Stress and anxiety are big problems and frustrations are high at the amount of work piled on fewer staff. No one feels safe in their job and we are working longer hours. Breaks are seldom. I don’t feel valued by the company and lots of us are looking for other jobs."
"Too many changes. Constant shift pattern changes, understaffing, expecting reporting staff to work as digital reporters without adequate training. Juggling too many tasks, rushing through stories. Frustrating interruptions while working on stories. Basically just pulled in too many directions."
Newsquest has culled more 'expensive' experienced journalists and now there are about 80 per cent fewer journalists employed than 10 years ago. Higher workloads and less investment in front-line staff mean journalists cannot fulfil their main obligations - to hold those in power to account and inform their communities about what is happening.
Before speaking at the annual meeting, Chris Morley, NUJ Newsquest group chapel coordinator, said:
"The NUJ is at this critical Gannett shareholders’ meeting to stand up for quality news-making and the rights of our members in the face of corporate manoeuvring putting profits before journalism and journalists.
"We are determined to bring the realities of being a Newsquest journalist directly to the big decision-makers in the US. It is 14 years since a NUJ delegation last held the Gannett board to account, so this is a very timely intervention at a vital time in the company’s history."