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NUJ delegation quizzes Trinity Mirror at AGM

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3 May 2018

The NUJ sent a delegation to the Trinity Mirror's AGM with a letter to shareholders outlining concerns about the level of redundancies, the company's digital strategy, the gender pay gap and Trinity Mirror's failure to protect journalist sources.

The company put out a statement blaming the "Beast from the East", the cold weather snap, for a fall in circulation in March. It said:

"On a like for like basis, group revenue at Trinity Mirror (excluding Express & Star) fell by 9 per cent with print advertising trends in March and April performing slightly better than January and February. March's performance was affected by the 'Beast from the East' which negatively impacted circulation revenue in particular. Print advertising fell by 17 per cent over the period, print circulation by 7 per cent and digital revenue grew by 2 per cent with display and transactional revenue growing by 7 per cent. Performance at the Express and Star (including magazines) over the 4 months was better with revenue falling by 5 per cent with print down 8 per cent and digital revenue up by a very strong 40 per cent."

The shareholders agreed to change Trinity Mirror's name to Reach. Simon Fox, chief executive office, said the firm’s brands and titles would not be affected, with most staff considering those their employers rather than the public limited company. “They work for the titles, not the umbrella name,” he said. “The name change is to build optimism. We want people to have a narrative and positivity.” He added that maintaining the name would have been disrespectful to former Express Newspapers employees.

The meeting gave an opportunity to quiz the board and following a question from Nottingham branch chair and NEC member Di Peasey, Simon Fox said that jobs at Reach titles vacated by journalists joining the Local Democracy Reporters (LDR) scheme will be filled. The scheme, which uses £8m per year from the BBC's budget, allows commercial newspaper companies to employ reporters to cover councils and other bodies.He admitted that it had taken longer than anticipated to fill the roles, which local newspapers had bid for.

Outgoing chairman David Grigson told shareholders that the company was making progress through a strategy that would result in expand its digital presence. The company was already the largest digital news channel in the UK, he said, with more products to come – such as the and “in your area” websites.

Reach group chapel FoC Martin Shipton asked how the board intended to reconcile the difference between print revenues decreasing by £86.4 million in 2017 while income from digital operations was just £4.9 million.

Simon Fox said the group believes print losses will match digital gains in between three and five years: “We need to reduce print declines as best we can. The trends in print suggest this this will stabilise but it will be three to five years before we see growth based on current trends. However, I would like this to be faster.”

Following a question from Express newspapers FoC Richard Palmer, executives said they remain confident that the £127m acquisition will be approved even though culture secretary Matt Hancock has referred the deal to regulator Ofcom, halting moves to merge the two organisations for the time being.

The minister had issueda Public Interest Intervention Notice and requested Ofcom to investigate on grounds of media plurality and "the need for free expression of opinion and concerns about the potential impact the transfer of newspapers would have on editorial decision making".

Asked about staffing levels after a year during which 100 journalists lost their jobs, as well as stress and below-inflation pay increases, the chief executive office said pay negotiations were continuing and added: “If people are stressed, they should talk to their line manager.”

Answering a question from NUJ organiser Jane Kennedy about the gender pay gap, Simon Fox said the company was really serious about addressing the issue and hoped that over time it would get rid of the differences in pay. He invited those with ideas about addressing gender pay to discuss them with the firm's HR head Julia Warren. The union will now follow up an offer to meet her.

Challenged about local knowledge and the branding of county “live” websites by Jane Kennedy, Simon Fox said the company’s greatest strength “is the people on the ground, nearest their communities. We must never lose sight of that".

He admitted it had been wrong to rebrand the Burton Mail as Derbyshire – rather than Staffordshire – Live.  “We did a lot of research. The Live brand is appealing to a younger, wider audience. It’s not just newspapers made digital; it’s a completely different product,” he said.

Tags: , trinity mirror, express newspapers, agm, ofcom, local news matters, local newspapers, national newspapers, digital journalism, digital, simon fox, matt hancock