Reach, the UK’s largest commercial news publisher and the name behind over 130 print and online brands including nationals The Daily Mirror and Express and regional titles including the Manchester Evening News and Liverpool Echo, has announced 450 redundancies.
Reach employed 4,305 people at the end of 2022, 2,862 of them journalists, although it has already made two major sets of cutbacks this year. In January it announced plans to make 200 redundancies prompted by decreasing consumer spend and rising costs. This was followed in March by plans for “significant changes” to editorial operations which involved cutting 192 editorial jobs, with 420 journalists put at risk. Another smaller restructure in September announced a further five jobs would go, with 13 roles at risk.
Reach chief executive Jim Mullen told staff in a note on Wednesday morning that the company was changing “the way we operate, the way we’re structured and the way we’re meeting the challenges facing our industry”, and that “there’s no hiding from the fact” this would involve making an estimated 450 roles redundant.”
Mullen cited “continuing pressures on the business from the economic environment we’re operating in” as well as “customers’ habits evolve rapidly.”
The CEO went on to highlight the growth of Reach’s digital platforms, as well as its “successful expansion into the US,” including with recently launched with US-branded versions of The Express, Mirror and Irish Times, as cause for optimism in trying times, and said: “The changes will help sustain our print products while enabling us to pursue a greater digital audience.”
A second message from chief digital publisher David Higgerson revealed that 320 of the 450 jobs to go would come from editorial, meaning the cuts represent the loss of at least 11% of editorial staff, even at late-2022 staffing levels.
Higgerson laid much of the blame for the change on the rise of social media, and predicted further upheaval as the BBC increasingly pivots towards online news. He wrote: “Increasingly, referrers like Facebook and Google are opting to keep readers on their platforms rather than sending them on to publishers – the authentic, trustworthy sources of information. Newer platforms like TikTok have no mechanism to send audiences to websites at all.
“The impact we’re seeing is significant, and we can only expect further change to come – the BBC’s ramp-up of its online journalism operations will also likely change the media landscape as we know it.
“The scale of their impact, paired with continued audience behaviour change, mean we need to fundamentally change what we do and the way we do it, to build a growing and secure audience for the future.”
The publisher went on to describe the current period as “the most challenging period for commercially-funded journalism since I entered the industry 26 years ago.”
In its half-year results to June 30 Reach reported HY operating profit of £36.1m, a 23.5% decrease on the first half of 2022. Total revenue in the first half was £279m, a six per cent year-on-year decrease. Print newspaper circulation and advertising accounted for £217m, or 78% of total revenue, whereas digital income sources contributed £61m, or 22%.
Reach told Prolific North via a statement: “In March 2023, Reach plc announced a cost reduction programme which committed to a 5-6% reduction in the company’s operating costs for 2023. This programme is on track to be delivered.
Furthermore, Reach will deliver a 5-6% in-year reduction in the operating costs for 2024 as part of its ongoing planning process. This cost reduction programme is part of the Company’s drive to strengthen its position as a leading digital publisher, and mitigate against the backdrop of continuing inflationary pressures that we expect to impact 2024.
As part of this programme Reach proposes to reduce its total workforce by an estimated 450 full time roles. The savings will allow the business to deliver on its long term plans, while continuing to invest to drive better customer value, develop online products and grow new audiences.”
The NUJ expressed “dismay” at the news. Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said: “Today’s announcement comes as yet another blow to Reach journalists who have adapted at pace to company demands. Members will be understandably shocked at the scale of redundancies, particularly with previous rounds already withstood in recent months and in the run up to Christmas.
“Reach’s efforts to address economic challenges must not come at the expense of journalists who fear for their job security and the impact of quality journalism only able to thrive with the experience and talent of staff.
“We will be liaising with both our reps and the company to ensure the best possible outcomes for members at this immensely difficult time. Reach must act in the spirit of genuine and meaningful engagement, allowing for a flexible and transparent consultation process that dedicated journalists deserve.”
Reach management has committed to keep compulsory redundancies to a minimum, and said that all members at Reach will be supported through the upcoming consultation process, while members will be kept updated on next steps as the union obtains information. A livestream on updates is being held for staff by CEO Mullen at 4.30pm today.
Reach’s share price jumped four per cent to just over £80 on opening this morning, although by 10am had settled at around £77.50, a drop of around 0.5% on yesterday’s close.