‘Love and passion can’t help you live’: Reach journalists set to join picket lines – The Guardian

Industrial action expected on Wednesday is largest strike to hit UK newspaper industry in decades
When hundreds of staff at the Mirror, Express and dozens of local newspapers join picket lines on Wednesday, they will be taking part in the largest strike to hit the UK newspaper industry in decades. Having spent recent months reporting on how the cost of living crisis is affecting their readers, many journalists at the media company Reach say they are struggling to meet their own bills – and management is refusing to listen.
One regional reporter described how three years of university, training and unpaid placements had secured them a job at a Reach outlet on £18,000 a year. Having only recently joined the media industry, they are already overwhelmed by the financial instability.
“I’m thinking of leaving soon,” they said. “I love my job – but this year will underline how love and passion can’t help you live.”
Other reporters describe having weekend jobs in coffee shops to supplement their journalism salaries, only to calculate that they earn more per hour from making coffees than they do from their full-time day job writing news stories.
Formerly known as Trinity Mirror, in recent years Reach has become the home to dozens of titles, including the Express and Star. It also has a sprawling local news business, combining a handful of traditional newspaper brands – such as the Manchester Evening News and Liverpool Echo – with dozens of web-first operations under the “Live” branding.
Of the two dozen Reach journalists who have spoken to the Guardian in recent days, none said they had gone into the media to get rich, and there was a widespread acceptance that working as a journalist is now a comparatively low-paid job. Yet staff say Reach’s management have pushed them to strike action by offering only a 3% pay rise – while the push to build a profitable digital news business with ambitious online traffic targets is undermining the core news offering, hitting morale and leading to high staff turnover.
As one senior journalist put it: “I don’t want to let down our readers by going on strike but what [management] expect us to accept isn’t sustainable.”
Senior reporters at Reach’s regional titles are on salaries of about £27,000, while middle-management newsdesk staff who edit copy make about £33,000. With little chance of salary progression for employees who often have substantial student loan debt, there is a steady churn of staff leaving for better-paid jobs elsewhere – often in public relations for local councils, where they attempt to outwit their replacements.
Others bemoan that their dream of being ambitious local reporters getting out in the area and breaking stories is overwhelmed by the need to chase click targets by “churning out whatever comes in”. With many regional staff now in effect permanently based from home after Reach closed many of its regional newsrooms, low morale can set in.
One journalist said: “You might get out to cover something but those occasions are rare and any request to do anything out of the house is usually met with something along the lines of ‘we can’t justify the time’.”
Another said: “We’ve got smaller [newsdesks] working towards bigger targets, meaning you already feel greatly compromised in how you go about working. The Reach model has largely become about quantity over quality because of the pressure for online traffic.”
A regular complaint is the high level of advertising on Reach’s websites, with one local journalist recounting how their manager had advised staff to install adblocking software to ensure their own website loaded on ageing computers.
The Reach chief executive, Jim Mullen, who joined from the bookmaker Ladbrokes, has been the particular focus of staff anger for his £4m pay package. His cheery all-staff updates – known among staff as the “hi folks” emails for their homely intros – have caused anger for their ebullience as the pay dispute progressed.
“We just hope he soon says ‘that’s all folks’,” said one.
In an attempt to placate staff, Reach management has been left in the unenviable position of emphasising that Mullen is unlikely to see most of his pay deal, since more than £3m was in a long-term incentive scheme linked to the company’s share price. Because Reach’s share price has collapsed by 82% in the last 12 months, he has yet to see the cash.
This argument does not go down particularly well with staff – and it may go down even worse with shareholders, who have watched the value of their holdings collapse.
Years of below-inflation pay increases – and a mandated 10% cut in the pandemic, only repaid in the face of legal action – have hit morale. Last week the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) postponed the first day of a planned month of strike action after Reach agreed to the union’s offer of further talks over the bank holiday weekend. Reach offered clearer pay structures and improved career progression but there was no improved pay offer, with the union blaming Mullen personally for that omission.
A Reach spokesperson said it was not Mullen’s decision alone but was based “on a consistent agreement at the senior level to protect the future of the business”, while a one-off cost of living bonus payment to staff is expected soon.
“The Reach negotiating team was clear about its remit with the NUJ throughout the process and was not able to accept an unaffordable proposal,” they said. “Likewise, it entered into the talks with a proposal which it hoped would lead to a resolution but the NUJ was not able to accept it.”


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