Not satisfied with making 150 voluntary redundancies at the end of last year, Richard Desmond, the owner of the group which runs the Express and Star titles, is seeking another 25 compulsory redundancies from the group, including three from the sports desk of the Express.
The three sports reporters on the Express facing redundancy are understood to be John Dillon, John Wragg and Niall Hickman. First-stage consultation meetings were held on Monday, with at least one of the affected staff taking the decision to appeal. Other cuts include casual subbing staff having their contracts ended.
The voluntary process has already seen motor racing correspondent Bob McKenzie leave the paper after 35 years, deputy sports editor John Burton departs this month, and Colin Bateman, the paper’s former cricket writer-turned-Olympics expert, opted last year to retire.
Now the Express is considering not staffing its coverage of some motor racing grands prix and tennis tournaments.
In November, the NUJ chapel issued a motion which condemned a decision to scrap the regionalisation of the sports pages. The management had previously promised that regionalised sports editions would be “ring-fenced”. The chapel motion described the U-turn as short-sighted: “Distinctive areas of the papers that have driven sales, circulation, and online traffic are being jettisoned without real thought or care for the consequences.”
The union appealed to the owners – who turned a £37 million operating profit in 2013 – to sell the titles to anyone, provided that they actually wanted to run a newspaper group. “If there is no real commitment to the future of these titles, if there is no interest beyond managing their decline using measures that will only hasten their demise, then it is time for the company to actively seek new buyers prepared to turn these papers around,” the NUJ motion stated.
Now, former England football manager Graham Taylor, once an Express columnist when the paper still had a budget for such things, and David Platt, the one-time England midfielder, have joined the criticisms of the cuts for fear that the paper won’t even be able to cover football properly with just six staff sports reporters.
“I am showing my concern at the consistent dismissals of sports journalists since the takeover by the present owner,” Taylor said in a statement to the NUJ and reported by The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade.
Taylor is the son of a sports writer, and although he has had more than a few run-ins with the press during his career in charge of the national team, as well as when managing Watford and Villa, his plea to the Express was made with some feeling.
“I am hearing that there are more cuts to be made and this is likely to include three sports reporters.
“I do hope very careful thought, other than just saving money, is put into the decision of dismissing any number of sports journalists as, for me the present sports coverage in the Daily Express is as good, if not better, than any other comparable newspaper,” Taylor said.
“That is why I buy it. In my opinion, if these dismissals take place, the quality of the sports coverage will be impossible to maintain.”
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