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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

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BLOODBATH AT REACH

▶︎300 journalists face sack in jobs cull

Digital switch is death knell for papers

Boss Mullen flees question session

By RICHARD DISMORE

Bosses at Reach, owner of the Mirror and Express titles, have warned 300 journalists they face the sack – and admitted they were replacing some of them with social media influencers.

 

Altogether, the company told 450 employees – 10 per cent of its workforce – that they faced redundancy. The proposed cuts will take place next year after a 45-day consultation period and are aimed at slashing costs by 5-6 per cent.

 

One victim of the cull called it “a total bloodbath across the titles, including magazines.” The journalist said the company planned to merge picture desks.

 

This comes after informed sources told the Daily Drone that bosses planned to merge the Daily and Sunday Mirrors.

 

Jim Mullen, Chief Executive of Reach, confirmed the move to hire social media influencers. He said customers, particularly those under 35 years old, had begun shifting towards sites such as TikTok in the last 18 months.

 

This has led to Reach’s decision to hire “non-professional journalists” who have a significant social media following around a certain subject matter, such as football teams.

 

Mullen told the Daily Telegraph: “They don’t like me using the word influencers in here, but we have brought in people who have a following and what we do is put them through our formal training to make sure they can write things in the right way, make sure they know how to edit copy, make sure they don’t get into trouble.”


Later, as Reach’s share price dipped slightly, Mullen denied that he was hiring influencers to replace journalists and claimed the Telegraph misquoted him.

 

The sackings and the shift in focus to online operations sounds a virtual death knell for the newspapers in the Reach stable and shows up the lack of understanding and experience of the news business among Mullen and his board.

 

But even as they ditch the papers, there is deep disquiet among remaining staff about the alternative.

 

One journalist, who asked not to be named, said: “Our news websites are full of utter made-up flyers and the Reach website model is broken – users find the Mirror, Star and Express sites unreadable.

 

“One reader complained that it looked worse than most university student websites. That’s why traffic is so bad.

 

“And Google rate stories by credibility, reliability and quality and won’t touch Reach ones, such as the recent one about Harry and Meghan’s being marriage in trouble … according to a body language expert.”

 

The journalist said the pop-up ads in the stories made it seem like “dodging gunfire in a computer game.”

 

The latest round of cuts does not include more than 300 people who have left so far this year. The company has sought volunteers for redundancy but the take-up has been limited because of what one staffer called “pisspoor terms.”

 

They said the Mirror was offering two weeks pay for every year of service, capped at 18 months’ salary.

 

“I believe Express terms are a little better, but not much. They don’t even offer any sweeteners, like a retraining allowance, that other newspaper groups do.”

 

Before yesterday’s proposed cuts were revealed in detail, Mullen said the changes were aimed at delivering better customer value, developing online products and growing new audiences.

 

He went on: “Hard work over the last few years means we have established ourselves as a leading digital publisher.

 

“But there’s more to do and today is about organising our business to deliver against that challenge.”

Mullen, who earns £504,000 a year as CEO of Reach and took home a bonus of £1.5 million in 2022, faced a barrage of hostile questions from journalists on his papers.

 

He was asked if he would take a cut to his own pay, while others demanded that he resign. One journalist told him that he was not a CEO but an executioner and that he and his executives had killed journalism.

 

Someone asked why he had prioritised giving an interview to the Telegraph for clicks before he told his own staff they were to be made redundant.

 

Yet another demanded to know whether, since he rated influencers so highly, he would make the winner of TV’s The Apprentice the new CEO.

 

Mullen, who had promised to answer questions, declined to address the points put to him and left the meeting, drawing jibes of “Coward”.