Journalists at five of Trinity Mirror’s regional newsrooms have voted to take strike action over the introduction of individual web targets for editorial staff.
The newspaper publisher is trialling its individual digital audience goals at the Manchester Evening News with a view to rolling them out across the group from January.
However the National Union of Journalists has announced that its chapels in Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle, Coventry and Llandudno have voted to take strike action over the move.
A further ballot is taking place at the MEN, with the union expecting the result next week.
The NUJ says it has been given some assurances by Trinity Mirror’s senior management about the scheme, but said members were concerned the targets would have “an impact on the culture of cooperation and collaboration in the newsrooms and harm the teamwork necessary for quality journalism.”
The union says members also believed they could undermine public interest journalism and long-term investigative work, because reporters would feel under pressure to go for quick hits and populist stories.
However Trinity Mirror’s regional editorial director Neil Benson has expressed frustration that the union is resorting to strike action, claiming the majority of the group’s journalists have given “positive feedback” to the plans.
Said Neil: “Trinity Mirror’s regional titles have led the industry in digital audience growth in the past 18 months, but it is essential that we continue to grow those audiences strongly, to build a sustainable business.
“The only way we can do this is by publishing content that our audience want to read, when they want to read it and how they want to read it. This means everyone needs to be focused on audience goals and using the analytics we have at our disposal even better, to make sure every piece of content and every journalist is playing their full part.
“We have worked hard to engage our staff throughout this process and have had positive feedback from the majority. We have also had extensive discussions with the NUJ, providing them with assurances on their concerns.
“It is therefore frustrating that they see this as the only course of action, when we believe our plans are in fact securing a future for regional media.”
Chris Morley, NUJ coordinating officer for Trinity Mirror, said: “It is unprecedented for six chapels to be balloting over the same issue at the same time at Trinity Mirror.
“With five of the results in, the discontent over individual goals or targets is clear to see and has been translated into strong votes for potential industrial action.
“This is a wake-up call to the company to listen to our members’ legitimate concerns and work with us in a constructive way to achieve the company’s goal of a bigger digital audience. The more members see of the proposals for individual goals/targets, the more they don’t like them.
“We are continuing to talk to the company about their need to boost the digital audience, but I hope senior managers now realise that they need to win both hearts and minds and that the proposals, as they stand, do neither.”
General secretary Michelle Stanistreet added: “Our members could not make their concern and fears about the individual digital targets more clear.
“They understand the need to measure the digital output and the need to increase the digital audience, but the solution is to encourage well-resourced and well-managed newsrooms where everyone can play their part, not put the staff under the pressure of having to hit individual targets.
“Let’s hope the result of these ballots will concentrate the minds of management to have constructive talks with the NUJ.”