Production of the the Mirror, Express and hundreds of local newspapers could be disrupted by strike action after their parent company, Reach, said it could offer staff only a 3% pay rise.
According to The Guardian the union said profits at the company, which owns regional titles including the Nottingham Post, Manchester Evening News and the Liverpool Echo, had surged in 2021, when it paid its chief executive, Jim Mullen, a total package worth £4m.
David Higgerson, a senior Reach executive, told MPs on Tuesday that his boss’s pay was not excessive for the private sector, but confirmed that reporters on the group’s regional newspapers earned £21,000 a year, with the potential for senior staff to get £25,000.
MPs said that it wasn’t enough to start repaying the student debt that many young journalists had accumulated in order to enter the profession.
At a meeting of the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee in Cardiff, they questioned whether clickbait articles on local news sites were undermining traditional public interest journalism.
Higgerson accepted that some of his staff were concerned about the use of click targets as part of their job appraisals, but insisted that many readers liked viral articles. “What sometimes gets dismissed as trivial is actually quite important to a lot of our readers,” he said.
Prof Natalie Fenton of Goldsmiths, University of London, told the committee that journalists’ low salaries and demands for high productivity were affecting the editorial direction of local news outlets.
“If you have a precarious contract you’re more likely to be a compliant journalist,” she said. “You won’t object to having to file 17 stories a day. You just have to churn it out because your contract depends on it. You’re never likely to stand up and say you disagree with that particular direction or that particular story.”