NUJ urges Richard Desmond to sell critically-endangered Express titles
© Tom Halliday
8 January 2015
One of Britain’s most famous newspaper groups is in danger of disappearing after years of mismanagement , the National Union of Journalists warned.
Journalists at Express Newspapers appealed to the company’s billionaire owner, Richard Desmond, to sell his four national newspaper titles, which have been plunged into crisis after he demanded a 30 per cent cut in the workforce as part of a £14 million budget reduction.
A statement from the NUJ chapel at the company, which publishes the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday, said:
“We fear Richard Desmond will go down in history as the man who killed four national newspapers. It is clear there is no future for these titles under the current ownership.”
The appeal came after it was reported that Mr Desmond, 63, has asked bankers at Barclays Capital to find a buyer for the company, which once boasted the world’s largest selling newspaper.
"To add insult to injury, staff learned that Mr Desmond, who made £360 million profit on the sale of Channel 5 earlier this year, has also refused to give his entire workforce a pay rise for the seventh consecutive year. Last year his Northern & Shell company, which controls Express Newspapers, made a £37 million operating profit. Sources at the company have estimated that Mr Desmond has taken £500 million out of the newspapers since he bought them in November 2000."
The NUJ chapel at the papers has insisted that the newspapers and their accompanying websites could flourish with the right investment and owner. Instead, Northern & Shell has said its strategy is simply to manage decline and hope it can find a way of making money out of the internet, years after rivals invested in a digital future.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary said:
"The impact of these cuts on staff and journalism at the titles will be immense. It’s disappointing that the company has chosen to move to a compulsory selection process. It’s still possible for us to conclude this redundancy process through voluntary means, if the company commits properly to a redeployment exercise. Despite all of our efforts to propose alternatives and urging the company to commit to a genuine plan to secure the future of the titles and boost its digital presence, there is no sense that there is any real belief on the company’s part that these titles have a future. Richard Desmond has effectively put the papers on the critically endangered list.
“A strategy of giving the readers less and screwing more out of already stretched staff amounts to no strategy at all. The only interest Richard Desmond appears to have in his newspapers is the millions they afford him and in the political leverage and influence they provide him, which is why courting UKIP and keeping the Tories dangling in the run up to the General Election is clearly more of a priority to him than giving his staff a pay rise for the first time in seven years, or providing them with the tools to do a professional job. Given that, it’s high time the company is sold to someone who cares about the titles and about journalism."
When he took over the papers, Mr Desmond revealed that his parents had been Express readers and he vowed to invest what it took to make the titles great again and challenge the dominance of Associated Newspapers’ rival Mail group.
But just over 14 years on, the Mail titles dwarf his newspapers’ sales and online readership. Mr Desmond, in contrast, could be remembered as the man who killed the papers his parents loved.
Staff have blamed a lack of investment in the products since his takeover, which followed years of penny-pinching by successive owners since the heyday of the Express titles under the ownership of Lord Beaverbrook.
In 1936 the Daily Express, the first newspaper to carry news instead of adverts on its front page, had the largest circulation of any paper in the world at 2.25 million. By 1949 it was selling four million copies per day. In September 2014, sales, which were at 985,253 when Mr Desmond took over, had dwindled to 467,000.