Press agencies' body hits out at Reach's paltry rates of pay

  • 31 Aug 2022

Jon Harris, of the National Association of Press Agencies, has written an open letter to Reach Plc’s editor in chief Lloyd Embley to protest at the company’s ‘’paltry’’ rates of pay to freelances in the wake of today’s journalists’ strike.

Jon Harris claimed some agency reporters, photographers and proprietors had been fighting a cost of living crisis for "years" and said rates of pay from national titles such as Reach PLC had not increased in 40 years.

He warned of an existential crisis to NAPA members if the financial situation did not improve whilst he highlighted the millions of pounds paid to Reach's directors and shareholders. He also cited "outdated" freelance rates of just £60 paid by Mirror online for stories and pictures and freelance fee cutting exercises by sister titles the Daily Express and Daily Star which pays as little as £10 for a story.

Harris who is managing director of Cavendish Press (Manchester) Ltd hit out after being passed an email from an NUJ organiser in Scotland urging freelancers not to work for, or provide copy to Reach titles on the days of the strikes. Several NAPA members have now indicated they will not file copy to or work for Reach titles on the days of the strike action.

In his open letter he says:

Dear Lloyd,
Trust this email finds you well. On the back of the strike by 1,200 Reach journalists today over pay, I'm emailing as chairman of the National Association of Press Agencies to highlight the equally parlous financial plight of freelancers and agency journalists who contribute every day to the daily news lists of various Reach titles across the UK.

To put it bluntly, agency and freelance fees for words and pictures are now so paltry and outdated, our members have been fighting their own cost of living crisis for years – long before the current one engulfing this country.

The reality is rates have barely risen in 40 years and in many cases have been cut, despite our members tirelessly providing ongoing quality content every day to your publications. Sadly this stagnation in fees is now making it in many cases, uneconomic for us to keep filing material on a speculative basis and in some cases even taking on commissioned work.

For example Mirror online still pays a rate of just £60 pounds for a story/picture package – a rate agreed as long ago as 2012 with an unfulfilled promise from Mirror online of a rates review after two years.

The £60 pounds payment also represents the worst rate of online pay in tabloid 'Fleet Street.'

Only this month the Daily Express said it is now further cutting its already reduced picture rates (which were agreed in 2006) by up to 75%. I've refused to recognise those new rates.

As for the Daily Star apart from it reducing its news and picture rates last year, I have to invariably endure the frankly insulting process of having to disprove the Daily Star's utterly false claims our stories are 'free' to use.

The usual Reach PLC excuse of 'challenging trading conditions' is simply not realistic now given the multi millions of pounds paid to directors and shareholders at Reach and its substantial operating profits.

Historically freelancers and agencies are often celebrated as the 'lifeblood' of news lists for national publications yet over the last four decades they have been barely recognised when it comes to financial remuneration.

Whatever happens with the Reach journalist strike, there needs to be an urgent root and branch review of paltry payments made to our members not least in the interests of them providing ongoing invaluable newsworthy material.

I fear without a proper increase in rates, agencies and freelancers will gradually cease to exist, the ultimate losers being yourselves and your readers – and that can be of no benefit to anyone.

Please note I have forwarded a copy of this email to the NUJ who have urged all freelancers and agencies to stop filing material to and accepting commissioned work from Reach titles as part of the strike action. I've also forwarded copies to HTFP and UKPG for publication.

I would be grateful for your thoughts on this matter ASAP.
Jon Harris

Founded in 1982, the association draws the majority of its membership from the premier agencies providing news, pictures and features from every town and city in the UK. However, its membership also includes a number of agencies operating from the EU and the USA.

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