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Trinity Mirror journalists vote to strike over digital targets

nujlogoJournalists 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.

Titles set to be affected by the votes include the Daily Post in Wales, Liverpool Echo, Coventry Telegraph, Birmingham Mail and Newcastle Chronicle.

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.”

37 comments

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  • December 15, 2015 at 4:17 pm
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    Will the NUJ be publishing the exact results, and the percentage of employees who are in the union?

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  • December 15, 2015 at 4:30 pm
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    TM journalists have big concerns about these targets, and the union has rightly picked up on these, but what does striking achieve in our industry? I can see why the government panicked over the prospect of junior doctors walking out, and some sort of deal was obviously hammered out with them, but what is the desired result here? Is it an open-ended action or a tokenistic day to express anger? Genuine questions to which I’d like to hear some answers.

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  • December 15, 2015 at 4:38 pm
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    Best news I’ve read on HTFP for ages, best of luck!!

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  • December 15, 2015 at 5:47 pm
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    I don’t think strike action is going to achieve anything. I’ve been on several strikes when I was an NUJ member, and I don’t believe any one of them made a blind bit of difference.
    However, hearing Neil Benson say things like ‘we believe our plans are in fact securing a future for regional media’ sounds a bit too much like hit-and-hope for anyone with half a clue about digital.
    So on this occasion I’m minded to side with the union.

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  • December 15, 2015 at 5:47 pm
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    Hmmmm – have staffed voted to strike or voted to have the option to strike? That should be made clear.

    What people choose to forget is that the NUJ has its own horse in this race. Membership is dwindling, it’s alienated a lot of members by supporting Leveson and needs to be seen to be doing something to justify members renewing their subs. Their latest statement of accounts shows what dire straits they are in.

    The NUJ needs strikes to be seen to be doing something, but won’t want people to ask what strike action will achieve. Papers will still come out and the worst thing that can happen is people will decide it’s not worth buying the paper again or advertisers pull out. Then income goes down. We all know what happens then.

    I have friends who snark all the time at how backward the regional press is in its attitude towards digital. Measuring content is standard across the content (note not just journalism here) industry and in a much more draconian way than Trinity Mirror say they’ll do it. It’s not going to go away, no matter how hard the NUJ tries to whip up a storm about it.

    Like Dick says, we’re not doctors. The world won’t miss us for a day. The companies will just save a day’s wages.

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  • December 15, 2015 at 6:35 pm
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    The union did little to stem the swathes of job cuts so forgive me if I don’t expect too much from their latest round of sabre-rattling.

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  • December 15, 2015 at 6:51 pm
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    TM management will say that staff have been misinformed and got the wrong end of the stick about this plan. But that suggests they have not explained the minutiae to staff properly and woefully failed to allay concerns. The fact six chapels are voting to strike at the same time tells its own story. And someone above asks “what does striking achieve?” Hopefully it will send a message to TM management that this is a crazy idea and the plan will be scrapped.

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  • December 15, 2015 at 7:31 pm
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    The reason, Dick, is everyone has had enough!

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  • December 15, 2015 at 8:26 pm
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    Go on! Well done – about time – nothing to lose! go for it!

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  • December 15, 2015 at 9:48 pm
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    If individual performance is to be determined by “hits” on a particular item surely it will encourage the journos to go looking for unpalatable stories the public ought to know about rather than shallow, populist trash?

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  • December 16, 2015 at 8:29 am
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    The problem with people who thing the number of hits and shares you get is that they don’t understand branding. It’s possible for plenty of people to share your stories and still consider your newspaper to be a joke. Surely it’s better to get fewer shares of quality material than lots of shares of trash.

    I know people who go on the MailOnline site during their lunch hour but would only go to the BBC for serious news. It really does depend on what image you’re trying to project.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 9:11 am
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    The only way a strike works on weeklies is if it goes on for more than two or three editions, when the news really drops out of a paper, then people start to take interest, but a one of achieves very little.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 9:19 am
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    Everyone’s had enough? And balloting for a strike does what? Certainly won’t change the fact newspapers need to find a future online and for as long as that future is dependent on advertising income alone, getting people to read as many pages as possible is essential. Folk like northern sub sound like they just want the good old days to come back when readers just got what we gave them. Not going to happen.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 9:43 am
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    Good editors should take on an approach of collective responsibility for their web hits, the responsibility shouldn’t all be on individual journalists or digital publishers.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 10:02 am
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    All power to the TM staff making a stand. I’m amazed there are not more folk on here offering their support, instead of raining down negativity. Anyone who has worked for TM in the last 10-15 years knows there have been cuts, cuts and more cuts – and now this nonsense. Nobody is saying that developing a bigger digital audience is not important – it’s about how that is achieved. Individual targets will just sow division, where all reporting staff should be working together to create great stories, not purely thinking of their own stats.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 10:08 am
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    I don’t know if ‘Paul, Staffs’ was being ironic in his statement earlier in this thread – in which case, apologies.
    But if he WAS being genuine, then I would take his point and turn it around 180 degrees. It should read like this:

    “If individual performance is to be determined by “hits” on a particular item surely it will encourage the journos to go looking for shallow, populist trash rather than unpalatable stories the public ought to know about?”

    Tidied.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 10:24 am
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    Of course the journalists in the respective TM chapels have a right to ballot for strike action – that’s what living in a democracy means despite attempts by this Government to make it more difficult in the future.
    I will always back the judgement of the journalists on the ground who are directly affected by a particular management decision, rather than the anonymous views (my own included) of people on here.
    And the bottom line is, who among us actually wants their professional work judged on the arbitrary clicks of online readers. I thought journalism was a creative industry not a sausage factory.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 10:30 am
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    As in many cases, the staff have a legitimate concern with this one, but once the NUJ get involved, the game is up. Serious discussion goes out of the window as the union goes about its stock-in-trade, anti-management, backward-thinking agenda. And for all the usual bluster, I strongly suspect the NUJ’s only real aim is…maintaining the NUJ. This has been the case for years as membership has fallen off a cliff. Anyone daft enough to be a pawn in their game (and pay for the privilege) should be up a for a Darwin award…

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  • December 16, 2015 at 10:33 am
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    Whilst it is hard to fault Neil Benson’s zeal and enthusiasm to grow his digital audience, I can see that his plan may have some unforeseen consequences.

    The best newsroom I worked in prospered across the knife-edge of competition and collaboration in almost equal measure.

    Once you tip that balance too far in the direction of competition you may incur detrimental side effects.

    I sometimes think that the rush to the brave new online world encourages the evangelists like Neil to lose sight of one basic fact: In journalism the message is always more important than the medium.

    Page clicks, like circulations 50-60 years ago, will grow on the back of good, relevant stories.

    I fail to see how this brand of bear-pit journalism will make the creation of such stories any easier.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 10:46 am
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    Having given over 30 years of service to a once-noble newspaper which was acquired (and ruined) by Trinity, I can only applaud the courage of those willing to strike for what is an insidious measure of journalistic quality.
    My only fear is that, if it does come to a strike, newspapers will still be published by a skeleton staff and the only thing proved will be how few bodies management can get away with employing to do the job, however badly.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 11:11 am
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    I don’t like targets anyway, they’re patronising, that’s the kind of garbage you give to stairlift salesmen, not journalists who – let’s be honest – only do the job because they love it anyway. Reporters don’t need to be micromanaged, they just need the tools to do the job and to be left alone to do it.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 11:17 am
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    The quality of ‘news’ on the MEN site has already declined since this policy was introduced. Last week it ran a picture story about a lingerie show in LA! (Cynical clickbait? Never!). Some MEN reporters also don’t seem to get that the public also has access to Twitter/Facebook. Regurgitating tweets that anyone who’s remotely interested has already seen for themselves is not reporting news!

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  • December 16, 2015 at 11:26 am
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    Vote to strike…Trinity Mirror don’t respect you now. They will regard you even less if you cave in to their reprehensible demands.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 12:56 pm
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    The sad thing is that the “best” stories do not always do well online.

    My paper’s top story last month was a non-fatal road crash which closed a busy road for a few hours on a Saturday,

    It was put online by the on call reporter from the police log and took off online, the reporter (me) will freely admit it took no effort but if my company had this in place my targets for the month would have been destroyed in one story.

    On the flipside the results of months of work for another reporter into a massive council mess-up that could cost tax-payers across our patch didn’t even make the top 50 stories.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 12:57 pm
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    Whilst the absurdity of this is one thing, it should (although probably won’t) prompt a discussion around what constitutes a good story? If it’s merely clickbait then why not just fill the sites with pics of the Kardashians and TOWIE. Alternatively, if a worthy story gets minimal views then what’s the point in publishing it?

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  • December 16, 2015 at 1:28 pm
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    Anyone who thinks data isn’t being used already across the industry is fooling themselves. Better that people know how they are being measured surely. It’s easy to pick random examples of stories and decry a whole website but it’s also not accurate. Jeff Jones says targets are patronising. Not as patronising as the view that journalists always know best and to hell with anyone else. Agree with the Nuj points above. Serious discussion goes out the window as soon as they get involved. Being an FOC is like trying to keep your mad granny at the Christmas dinner table under control when trying to deal with paid officials who are only interested in looking busy.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 3:56 pm
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    The problem is that this will encourage more of the click-bait style disposal rubbish, not decent stories. Yes the click-bait gets more hits (mostly because of how the headlines are written rather than actual content) while offering zero substance.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 4:37 pm
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    Some unbelievable stuff on here. So, “Damned”, would you suggest that the only alternative for staff is to “do nothing”? That is becoming the norm in the “grateful slave” syndrome that exists within regional (and to a lesser extent national journalism), so for SIX chapels to vote to strike should tell anybody that this is not a brilliant idea! The sensible option would be to scrap the idea and think of another one. Well done to NUJ members for having the gumption to make a stance. I hope it encourages other chapels to do the same.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 8:02 pm
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    Tell you what, let’s do away with advertising, cost, profit, margin and cashflow targets too. And why not do away with off-stone targets too.

    Quality is obviously vitally important, but so is a business model relevant for today, but a fight about this isn’t the way ahead for either side.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 8:05 pm
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    Local World reporter here. Quite worried about this. Good luck to those striking.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 8:33 pm
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    Northern Sub is jumping to conclusions without having all the facts, or he must have more facts than are published here. Has anyone seen the actual turnouts, and how big the union is in each newsroom? Northern Sub also makes a mistake in falling for the headlines from the union, and presumably doesn’t know that the local chapels all feed into a national chapel, who set the agenda. But why let the facts get in the way of a good rant?

    Regional journalism’s problem isn’t grateful slave syndrome – that’s just patronising tosh – it’s that it’ll be eaten alive if it doesn’t start to move with the times.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 8:50 pm
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    Interesting that Mr SEO in his defence of the idea says that “Papers will still come out and the worst thing that can happen is people will decide it’s not worth buying the paper again or advertisers pull out” when this is all about the great god digital. No mention of the money that could be lost from all TM’s digital advertising?…Oh yes, I forgot there isn’t any so maybe they should stop targets and recruitment of digital types who do who knows what and reinvest in the product that makes money and still has a future

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  • December 16, 2015 at 10:03 pm
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    Well said, Northern Sub. Sadly, I think we all know what the future will probably be for regional papers, but journalists who have any belief in their trade have to make a stand at some point, if only to send a message to their overpaid, incompetent bosses.

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  • December 17, 2015 at 9:23 am
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    Move with the Times in journalism seems to be a case of move yourself out of the office and train for another career the way these monopoly newspapers treat their staffs.

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  • December 17, 2015 at 1:45 pm
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    @oldhack – there is plenty of digital money, it’s just not enough to replace print at the moment. But your point is presumably that they shouldn’t bother with digital because if they didn’t then print would be fine. Anyhow, as you’d know if you paid attention, if there was a strike of course the priority would be getting the paper out because if they don’t, revenue from cover price is lost. Digital revenue, normally booked over weeks, is often based on page views, so can be delivered when all staff are in, not when they are off. Also, most websites only expect that day’s stories to drive a smallish number of page views when you add in other parts of a website. So of course the focus would be on the money which would be lost, rather than money which be recouped in following days. It’s not because the money isn’t there.

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  • December 20, 2015 at 11:32 am
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    Of course, no-one’s really looking at the detail of how this works in the newsrooms. An example. Two people on a sports desk. One writes about the local, big Football League club. One lays out pages, organises web content, writes about other sports when he has time. Quite a lot of the time, the second one puts the first one’s stories online.
    Firstly, obviously the football writer is doing the stories that’ll get most hits. Secondly, who gets credit for the hits if the second person is actually the one who sets up the web story? Both people are working hard, pulling their weight.
    Would it be too naive of me to credit TM bosses with understanding these nuts and bolts of how things actually work and taking them into account when they set this all up? I don’t know. I guess I may find out soon.
    The NUJ’s 1970s-style ranting, however? Irrelevant. To listen to some of them, you really would think the last 40 years hadn’t happened.

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  • December 22, 2015 at 11:20 am
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    Damned, the only “patronising tosh” is your one-eyed management view on this. I love digital journalism, it excites me and we all know that moving with the times is paramount. I’ve chatted to folk on both sides: management say their scheme is “misunderstood” while staff are genuinely worried they could be disciplined if their hit count is poor. At best, TM management have failed to explain their scheme and allay fears; at worst this is a silly idea that needs kyboshing. I know exactly how the union works so hopefully TM management will do what they haven’t done properly and reassure staff that this idea will not involve any potential disciplinary action. If they fail to do this then they deserve to be on the wrong end of industrial action.

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