A look in the Mirror
THE NUJ at Mirror Group Newspapers has never been as besieged as it is now.
The latest conflict with the company arose over its "multi-skilling" programme, the "Academy of Excellence". This scheme was introduced arbitrarily, without consultation, and MGN chief executive David Montgomery announced it would lead to staff cuts.
First the Independent chapel (covering both the Independent and IoS) asked to be consulted. After MGN failed to answer correspondence, and journalists were rostered to the Academy, the chapel backed its request for talks with a threat to boycott both the Academy and the recent relaunch.
The following Saturday, 30 August, Mother of Chapel Barbara Gunnell, a senior IoS journalist, was sacked just before the paper's final deadline.
At the Mirror titles, there are joint chapels covering the NUJ, the breakaway BAJ and non-union members. In that same week (following Princess Diana's death and the biggest tabloid story for years), they too were hit. The most active joint chapel, at the Sunday Mirror, asked -- as the Independent had -- for consultation over the Academy. Father of Chapel and senior reporter Andrew Golden was dismissed, alongside deputy FoC and 20-year art desk veteran Bobby Bayliss. Like Barbara, they are considering the possibility of legal action against MGN.
An Independent chapel meeting on 1 September decided to renew a campaign through the Labour Party and trades unions to expose the anti-unionism of this "Labour" company. The campaign later won backing from the Canary Wharf NUJ Branch and Tower Hamlets Trades Council.
Inadequate as this is, it is hard to see an immediate alternative course of action. Sacking is the standard penalty for union activity.
MGN's heroic GPMU (Graphical, Print, Media Union) chapels are hanging on -- though at the end of September a deputy FoC was also "made redundant".
Another glimmer of hope is that David Montgomery, who never had the confidence of journalists, now seems to be losing the confidence of the banks, which had hoped that he would make MGN profitable. If their disquiet grows, perhaps he will lose his job before the remaining union officials lose theirs.
Ironically, MGN treats freelances slightly better than that paragon of liberalism the Guardian. The Independent pays £200 per 1000 words -- for first use. It does not try to chisel "all rights" out of freelances, but pays them 30% to 50% of the syndication fees it receives when copy is sold on. There are still problems over the use of free-lances' copy on the internet, so query that when discussing a commission.
Freelance rates on the Mirror and Sunday Mirror are more arbitrarily. They vary according to the position in the paper: a page lead, non-exclusive, on spec, should get at least £125 - £150 in the Mirror and £150 - £175 in the Sunday Mirror. A one-paragraph filler on spec gets £20 - £25; a non-exclusive picture on an inside page £80 - £85; and a set of four pix £300. Commissioned material should get at least £30 - £40 more, plus expenses for first use -- you keep your copyright. For big exclusives the sky is the limit.
MGN was Publisher of the Month at the London Freelance Branch meeting in September.
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