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DM 2012: Future of the Media

11 October 2012

Delegate Meeting 2012

While the NUJ contemplated another depressing year of "terminal decline"in the newspaper industry, Barry Fitzpatrick, NUJ deputy general secretary, recorded a number of victories for the union as the crisis in the regional press deepened.

He said:

"Despite the prevailing climate, with newspaper titles closing by the week and our members not receiving pay increases, we have had a number of successes and our members should be proud of the disputes they have led. We can also be proud of the successes we have had at tribunals and the cases we have resolved.  I am pleased to announce that we now have a settlement for Matt Nixson, former features editor of the Sun, who sends his thanks to the union. I hope this sends out a message to the rest of Wapping and our general recruitment programme."

DM heard about the eight-week strike by members in Doncaster, who were driven to action by the "flashpoint" of union-targeted redundancies.  The union also claimed victory for the departure of Trinity Mirror's Sly Bailey, who the NUJ shamed in front of shareholders for pocketing £14million and presiding over failure.

Martin Shipton, FoC of the Trinity Mirror Group chapel, described the level of debt  the group incurred by the ill-advised purchases in online businesses. He said that the only way it could meet bank repayments was to cut labour costs and the quality and quantity of newspapers.

He said:

"We are now seeing weekly titles in Wales operating with one reporter. These papers were once thriving community hubs. Some of these titles have a proud history of 150 years. Now they are cobbled together in a haphazard way and produced 20 miles away from the community they are meant to serve. The readers have noticed that they are not being served properly and are stopping buying the papers.

"Very large council areas are not being covered and journalists are no longer able to fulfil their vital function of holding elected councillors to account."

DM heard about the desperate situation among Northcliffe titles where half of all employees have been shed in recent years.

Paul Breedon, Bristol branch, said that, in 2005, there were 190 journalists working on the three Northcliffe titles in the city, now there are fewer than 50. Bristol's daily paper had notched a 10 per cent circulation fall in the past six months according to latest ABC figures.

He said the cuts and decline across the sector was due to corporate greed, with, for example, Johnston Press in its heyday enjoying a profit of up to a 40 per cent.  He said: "That is an astonishing margin in the corporate world, with 6 per cent being more the norm. It was pure greed."

DM unanimously passed a motion which called for the union's NEC to launch a campaign to lobby "for the securing of guaranteed revenue though public sector advertising and direct injection of public funds" to protect quality local journalism. It also voted to have the Localism Act amended in regulation to enable local papers to be protected as "assets of community value".

Joyce McMillan, Edinburgh Freelance branch, said the situation in Scotland was the "worst case scenario". The Scotsman, which sold 120,000 copies a day 10 years ago, now sells 35,000. She said: "As the nation faces one of its biggest decisions, the question of independence, we have the BBC under severe attack and newspaper circulations plummeting.  This is having a major impact on civic life."

DM passed the motion calling for the establishment of a Scottish-government-backed commission to examine  the future of media in Scotland.

One of the first motions to be debated was one which questioned Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield's vision of a brave new world of a 'platform-neutral' future. But, for Irish organiser Nicola Coleman, it was more a tale of members working in Dickensian conditions. She told of a woman journalist at the Roe Valley Sentinel, Limavady, County Derry, routinely sharing her office with rats, where the place was so badly wired it was a 'fire trap'.

At the Irish midlands paper Leinster Express, staff found a dead mouse in the training room, while water dripped from a leaking roof on to electrical equipment so the computers had to be covered with bin-liners.

Pete Lazenby has spent just short of 40 years on the Yorkshire Post in Leeds. He introduced a motion which noted that its owner Johnston Press, because of debts incurred, was now being "crucified by a publically owned bank", the Royal Bank of Scotland. But despite the debts, the newspaper group's executives' remuneration totalled more than £2.5million.

Meanwhile, Georgina Morris, from Leeds branch, who has worked in West Yorkshire since 2007, described life for rank and file employees of Johnston Press. "When I started there were 19 in my office, now there are six. Six offices have been shut and the sports staff and pictures staff have been moved out of our patch into a centralised hub."

At Newsquest, the picture is similar. Will Lodge of the group chapel said: "Figures from Gannett UK, the organisation's UK arm, released in 2011, revealed the highest paid director received £600 million. That compares to £15,000, the average salary for a reporter."

DM passed a motion applauding the victory by Glasgow members at Newsquest who after eight years of attrition, won a landmark legal battle, defeating attempts to destroy enhanced redundancy terms and protecting employment rights of Newsquest employees across the UK.

Tags: newspapers, trinity mirror, northcliffe, dm2012, newsquest