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Greedy Gannett: shareholders get $1.3bn, UK staff get pay freeze

28 February 2013

Gannett, the American owner of Newsquest, has announced a bumper pay-out to shareholders as its employees on UK papers face another pay freeze this year.

In a statement, Gracia Martore, president and CEO of Gannett, said:

"Through its strong guidance and our employees' terrific efforts, we are already delivering great results on our growth strategy and delivering increased value to shareholders. We remain on track to return approximately $1.3 billion to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases by 2015."

Yet its staff have had a pay freeze for four of the past five years. Typically a journalist working for the group can earn £21,000, once they have qualified as a senior reporter with two years' experience. This is £2,000 less than a plumber or bus driver's annual wage and only £4,000 more than a refuse collector or shop assistant. A teacher with two years' experience will get a wage of £26,000.

Latest figures show that Paul Davidson chief executive of the Newsquest newspaper group received £598,441 in salary.  Mr Davidson, who is paid in dollars, is also enjoying the benefit of a weak pound to the dollar. The figures, for 2011, also show that directors were awarded an additional £881,000 in "share-based payments" (compared to £872,000 in 2010).   Meanwhile, the amount paid out to staff fell 7.5 per cent overall to £123.08m and the number of editorial staff was cut by 6.8 per cent or 108 jobs to 1,465.

Newsquest is one of the largest publishers of regional papers with 17 daily paid-for publications and more than 200 weekly publications, magazines and trade publications. Its daily titles include The Herald (Glasgow), The Northern Echo (Darlington), Telegraph & Argus (Bradford), Evening Times (Glasgow), Southern Daily Echo (Southampton), The Argus (Brighton), The Press (York), Oxford Mail and South Wales Argus (Newport).

In its annual report, Gannett notes the achievement of its UK papers. It said:

"Recognition for Newsquest's editorial achievements included a variety of Scottish Press Awards won by The Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times, which included awards in the following categories: front page, campaign, scoop, reporter, financial journalist, journalist, cartoonist, columnist and young journalist of the year prizes; as well as seven European Newspaper of the Year awards for excellence. In addition, a campaign which seeks to encourage correct grammar and concise writing named the Worcester News as England's top regional daily."

The report  said that Newsquest revenues for 2012 were approximately $484 million (£320 million), down 5 per cent in local currency reflecting the continuing difficult economy. While print advertising revenue categories declined, digital ad revenues grew by 10 per cent in local currency.

Chris Morley, Northern & Midlands Organiser, said

"It is breath-taking that Gannett, the US owners of Newsquest in the UK can boast about giving away $1.3 billion to its shareholders on the other side of the Atlantic in the next two years while asking its British employees to take such pain. Journalists in this country are directly subsiding the pockets of wealthy US corporate shareholders with 2013 being the fourth year out of five without a pay rise on already miserly salaries. The attitude of senior managers in the group is a disgrace and I'm sure the next scandal to emerge will be how much the directors have lavished on themselves on both sides of the business."

Bob Smith, Father of Chapel of the NUJ's Newsquest Group Chapel, said:

"Newsquest's American owners are bragging about a pay-out due to shareholders on 1 April, but hard-pressed employees in its UK companies must think this is a sick April Fools' Day joke coming just weeks after being told they will have to endure another pay freeze. Gannett says it plans to give shareholders $1.3bn in the next couple of years thanks to growth, while journalists working on Newsquest's titles have all been told there is no money in the pot to give them a pay rise because the company is trading so poorly.

"It just doesn't add up. Gannett boasted dividends were being increased by 150 per cent but most employees have seen their pay frozen for four out of the last five years. In it together? It doesn't look like it from this side of the Atlantic."

Tags: shareholders, gannett, newsquest, pay freeze, magazines