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Votes of no confidence over 'click-bait' targets

© nuj

12 June 2015

Trinity Mirror (TM) group journalists are in revolt over being forced to write "click-bait" stories and new targets to measure their work by the "click-ability" of their stories on the web.

Journalists in Birmingham and Coventry have passed motions of no confidence in the management over the proposal to introduce individual audience targets. The staff are also under threat of redundancy, with TM announcing it would be cutting 19 jobs in Birmingham and six in Coventry.

The NUJ chapel in Birmingham said:

"The introduction of individual targets continues to be a huge area of concern for members. As such chapel members unanimously backed a vote of no confidence on the proposal to introduce individual audience targets. On the face of it these targets would be unworkable, counter-productive and unprecedented in the industry.
"The chapel welcomes the decision to move back the deadline for voluntary redundancy applications to Monday June 22. Members urge the company to use this extra time to present clear proposals to members on how these targets would work."

Journalists at Coventry believe the new targets will be a threat to journalistic quality, as easy, fluffy stories and listicles will be rewarded, rather than long-term investigative projects and stories which need time to develop and check.

They say it will force them to go for "click- bait" stories at the expense of covering important, local issues and community stories which may attract fewer clicks but are the strength of the brand. The members said it would be harmful to team working and devalue journalistic integrity. They felt the individual targets would demoralise rather than motivate staff.

The TM management has made clear it no longer sees its titles in major cities as being newspapers of record, saying in a memo: "The days are long gone when we could afford to be a paper of record and dutifully report everything that happened on our patch." In Scotland, where 20 jobs are to go on the Daily Record, Sunday Mail, Paisley Daily Express and various local titles, Alan Rennie, managing director, admitted in an email to staff: "With fewer people, there will be fewer checks."

The NUJ chapels in the Midlands have also expressed no confidence in aspects of the redundancy process and are concerned at the lack of information about what the newsroom will look like after the proposed job cuts. This has led to fears that unqualified staff will be asked to do reporting jobs. Another area of concern is "acting up". Reporters are regularly working alone in the office and publishing directly to web. They feel they are doing an editor's job – with no extra pay.

Chris Morley, Northern & Midlands organiser, said:

"The proposed introduction of individual web targets for writers is a major departure from industry norms. It raises all kinds of questions about what sort of journalism will emerge and how stories are selected and covered. Our members in the Midlands are rightly uneasy with what they have so far been told about these targets, how they will be used and what effect they will have on their journalism.
"The company said it has no plans to link these targets to pay; this must remain the case. Targets by themselves imply potential sanctions, if they mean anything at all, and that needs very careful examination. We need to be given a lot more detail to determine what place, if any, individual audience targets for journalists can have in any newsroom. This is a very unwelcome distraction at a time when members are still reeling over the proposed jobs cuts which will damage the newspapers in the Midlands.
"The management said it no longer sees its newspapers as papers of record. This is an insult to their readers, who need to be told about what is happening in their councils, health and police authorities, schools and environment. That is why, as part of the NUJ's Local News Matters campaign, we have written to the Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, calling for a short, sharp inquiry into the future of local papers. He must call the management of Trinity Mirror to account."

Tags: , local news matters, local newspapers, coventry, brimingham, trinity mirror, digital, vote of no confidence, redundancies, chapels