Newspaper publisher Newsquest came under a raft of criticism on Friday as the National Federation of Retail Newsagents described a recent percentage margin slash as a "kick in the teeth" for retailers and the NUJ launched a petition over journalists' pay.
In a statement, the NUJ said journalists working for the group - which owns regional titles up and down the country, including the Herald in Glasgow, the South Wales Argus and Northern Echo in Darlington - were "struggling to pay their food, energy fuel and tax bills" because of a four-year pay freeze at Newsquest. The petition stated: "We demand that Newsquest immediately breaks its salary freeze and enters into full negotiations with staff representatives to start to tackle financial hardship among its employees."
Newsquest made a £58m operating profit according to latest figures, resulting in a salary of £612,000 plus bonuses for chief executive Paul Davidson. The group's US parent company, Gannett, recently announced American shareholders were set to enjoy a $1.3bn giveaway over the next two years.
Northern and Midlands NUJ organiser, Chris Morley, said in the case of reporter, she has to "beg a hand-out" from a news editor in order to cover a story because she could not afford to fill her car with petrol.
"There is huge anger about the cavalier way Newsquest staff are being treated," said Morley. "This petition is an opportunity to publicly air their disenchantment and send an important message to the handsomely-paid Newsquest directors that their staff can't tighten their belts indefinitely to give massive rewards to US shareholders."
"We want to make sure the directors know they are not going to get away with paying poverty wages without a challenge. The NUJ will challenge them all the way and expose greedy Gannett for what it is."
Meanwhile, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents revealed that despite a number of price increases across a range of titles, the company was "refusing to give retailers their fair share of the increased income", pointing to a slash in the percentage margin previously given to newsagents.
Figures showed the Bury Times suffered the highest cut in its percentage margin, from 26 per cent to just over 15 per cent. NFRN said Newsquest had put itself "on a collision course with newsagents who are incensed by this betrayal".
"As I visit each of the Federation Districts during my presidential year, I am finding an increasing groundswell amongst members who are rapidly losing patience with the constant abuse they are receiving from news industry suppliers," said NFRN national president, Alan Smith. "If it isn’t wholesalers robbing them blind through unjustified carriage charge increases, it is publishers lining their pockets at the retailers’ expense through their failure to maintain pro rata terms.
"What amazes me is that publishers and wholesalers don’t seem able to see that this mindless strategy is self defeating. In one breath they complain bitterly about diminishing sales and in the next they act in such a way that any news retailer who is anxious to survive, is being forced to diversify his business away from news that is providing an ever-depleting return."
The Drum is awaiting a response on the allegations from Newsquest, whose chief executive, Paul Davidson, was unavailable for comment.