Journalists at a series of regional titles owned by Trinity Mirror are set to be balloted on industrial action over plans for invididual traffic targets.
The National Union of Journalists is planning to ballot members at Trinity Mirror chapels in Birmingham, Coventry, Newcastle and North Wales over the company’s digital audience goals.
The targets were introcduced at the Birmingham Mail and Coventry Telegraph this summer in a bid to make journalists more focused on digital audience growth, and are set to be rolled out company-wide early in the New Year.
The NUJ says the targets will undermine public interest journalism and encourage so-called “clickbait,” but Trinity Mirror has rejected the tag, saying the scheme is based on creating relevant content to build a “loyal, local readership.”
Ballot papers are due to go out from Tuesday 1 December and Wednesday 2 December in Newcastle and other Trinity Mirror chapels are also meeting to consider balloting.
The NUJ says it has been given “some reassurances” by the company’s senior management about the scheme, but added members are “very concerned” at the impact individual targets could have on the culture of cooperation and collaboration in their newsrooms.
It has told Trinity Mirror the goals could add to significant stress on individuals who do not always have a choice on the stories they cover.
Chris Morley, the union’s coordinating officer for Trinity Mirror, said: “We very much want to resolve the key concerns our members have about these proposals, but because of the way the law forces our hand on balloting on industrial action, a number of our chapels feel they need to reserve their position on click targets because of the strength of feeling.
“We acknowledge that the company has sought to reassure on a number of points, but it is clear from what our members are telling us that that has not been enough to deal with fundamental concerns they have.
“We will be meeting the company in the coming days and looking to resolve these differences, but the company should be in no doubt that the fact chapels feel compelled to give notice of balloting shows that it is very important to members.”
Neil Benson, editorial director, Trinity Mirror Regionals, said: “Our proposals on audience goals are essential to ensuring we produce content that is reaching a relevant audience, which is absolutely crucial to survival for all media companies as we face up to the significant changes in our industry.
“It’s disappointing that the NUJ continues to refer to ‘clickbait targets’, which is a gross misrepresentation. As we have explained to them and to our staff, our audience goals are based on creating relevant content that builds a loyal, local readership.
“We have had extensive conversations with colleagues and the union at every stage of these proposals and have responded to all concerns in detail.
“The feedback following the staff sessions we have run is that the vast majority understand why audience goals are needed and are comfortable with their introduction.
“There will, of course, be a bedding-in period, during which the process and the goals themselves will be refined to ensure they reflect the different genres of content our staff produce.
“We pride ourselves on the hugely important role we play reporting on local news and issues affecting our communities, and we will always remain committed to that.”