Impoverished reporter begs boss for petrol to cover story

NewsquestThe NUJ has launched a pay petition after Newsquest bosses announced a fourth annual pay freeze – leaving journalists struggling to pay their food, energy, fuel and tax bills.

Employees of the US-owned group, which has regional titles such as The Herald in Glasgow, Northern Echo in Darlington, South Wales Argus and Southern Daily Echo in Southampton, said their already-meagre salaries have been savagely eroded by high inflation on food, energy, fuel and taxes. This has been particularly severe for staff who have been told by managers to take unpaid leave.

This is despite Gannet, the US parent company, announcing it will be presenting its American shareholders with a $1.3 billion giveaway over the next two years.  Latest figures show that Newsquest, Britain’s third biggest regional newspaper group, made a £58 million operating profit and its chief executive Paul Davidson was awarded a salary of £612,000, plus hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of “performance” cash and shares.

NUJ Northern & Midlands Organiser Chris Morley said the pay freeze was causing real hardship among Newsquest staff. In one case, a reporter had to beg a hand-out from a news editor to enable her to cover an important story because she could not afford to put petrol in her car. A senior journalist revealed to the NUJ she was spending half of her net weekly pay on child care. These stories are typical of the problems faced by newspaper staff.

Typically, a journalist working for the group can earn £21,000 once they have qualified as a senior reporter with two years’ experience. This is £2,000 less than a plumber or bus driver’s annual wage. A teacher with two years’ experience earns £26,000.

The NUJ is urging supporters of fair pay and quality journalism to add their voice to the staff and families of Newsquest staff asking out-of-touch Newsquest directors to begin negotiations for decent pay.

The petition can be found here.

Chris Morley said: “There is huge anger about the cavalier way Newsquest staff are being treated. This petition is an opportunity to publicly air their disenchantment and send an important message to the handsomely-paid Newsquest directors that their staff can’t tighten their belts indefinitely to give massive rewards to US shareholders.

“We want to make sure the directors know they are not going to get away with paying poverty wages without a challenge.   The NUJ will challenge them all the way and expose greedy Gannett for what it is. Please support Newquest staff: sign the petition and it pass on.”

The petition reads: Latest figures show that Newsquest, Britain’s third biggest regional newspaper group – owned by US giant Gannett Inc – made £58 million operating profits and lavished its chief executive Paul Davidson with a salary of £612,000 and hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of “performance” cash and shares. Meanwhile, parent company boss Gracia Martore said she would be presenting American shareholders with a $1.3 billion giveaway bonanza over the next two years. Yet in the UK, Newsquest’s staff are being forced to endure the fourth year (of the last five) of flat-lining salaries, while at the same time being told to accept unpaid leave, hundreds of job cuts and office closures.

Pay is now so desperate, news editors have paid out of their own pockets to enable reporters with no money to fuel their cars to cover the story – and a senior reporter with two children is now paying half her pay in nursery fees just to keep her job. Newsquest staff and their families should not subsidise wealthy US shareholders and obscene, undeserved payments to executives which serve to undermine quality journalism in their UK titles. We demand that Newsquest immediately breaks its salary freeze and enters into full negotiations with staff representatives to start to tackle financial hardship among its employees.