John Carey's progress from the 11th floor to the foot of the tower that is Number One Canada Square, London E14, has taken rather longer than expected. But then the deputy property editor of The Daily Telegraph is getting used to colleagues cornering him in corridors. That's because he's the father of the chapel, representing the 230 members of the National Union of Journalists, and as a raft of redundancies is being imposed, they are understandably anxious about their futures. "Three members stopped me at different times on the way down," he says, finally emerging at ground level.
Proclaiming his relief to be out of the office, Carey, 54, leads the way to a café table in the early-evening sunshine bathing Canary Wharf, gratefully accepts a large red wine - a brief moment of relaxation before the battle that lies ahead.
Today or tomorrow management is to be issued with seven days' notice of a ballot for industrial action. But any stoppages resulting from the vote won't begin until November at the earliest. Too late to prevent the latest round of redundancies (54 journalists out of 133 altogether) and far too late to halt the move from Canary Wharf to Victoria. The advanced guard of the City desk have already moved to begin their part in what promises to be a revolution in the way that Britain's most traditional upmarket newspaper is produced. The features department move on Saturday and news heads west the following weekend.
Eventually, 11 sections will fan out from the central hub of the newsroom. Apart from producing the Daily and Sunday Telegraph in their conventional broadsheet forms, the 381 staff journalists remaining will be expected to file copy for the online version as well as video and audio round-ups of the day's news and "click-and-carry" print-outs for commuters to read on the way home. "Reshaping the face of the industry," the Telegraph chief executive Murdoch MacLennan has called it. But Carey has another interpretation.
"The feeling is that MacLennan, Will Lewis [the editorial managing director] and Aidan Barclay [the chairman and son of one of the owners] are pushing through an experiment, a gamble without any consultation," he says. "Even some senior executives have been left largely in the dark about this. They're deeply, deeply unhappy."
Carey is an amiable and courteous character, the antithesis of what many Telegraph readers might imagine to be a typical union leader. So why is he so determined that his members have a vote on industrial action when the redundancies and the flight from Canary Wharf amount to a fait accompli?
"We want the removal of compulsorily imposed and drastically changed working hours. Under their new 24/7 production schedule, people could be asked to work rotas starting at seven in the morning and, more than likely, still be at their desks long into the evening. How is a reporter, for instance, going to file all these stories for different outlets and still find time for background research and for meeting contacts?
"We also want the removal of any compulsory Saturday work. Those who opt to work on Saturdays or do anti-social hours at other times should have a proper financial incentive."
To which a company spokesman responds: "Shift patterns will change, but journalists' overall hours will remain unchanged. Therefore staff will not be paid more." He goes on to say that higher management began consulting with staff and staff representatives on 4 September and will continue to "consult in the usual way". Not through Barclay, MacLennan or Lewis, however. "We've never had a meeting with any of them, despite many requests," Carey insists. The group managing editor Lawrence Sear has been the only point of contact, he claims.
"In 20 years at the Telegraph, I've never known such a mood for action, whatever it takes," Carey says. "It was bad enough last year when 90 journalists went, but at least they were voluntary redundancies. What the cuts amount to, over two years, is 25 per cent fewer journalists as well as a huge reduction in editorial support staff."
Even the Father of the Chapel, however, concedes that the redundancy terms look "not bad", particularly to long-serving staff members. They amount to six months pay plus another month for every year of service, albeit capped at 12 years. "Many people would rather take the money and go," he says.
So doesn't that undermine the union's stance?
"Not really, because this time the management is making the choices and there's little scope for volunteering."
He goes on to sum up the mood on the editorial floor as "angry, disillusioned, resentful, contemptuous of the way that higher management has carried out this operation and very cynical about how it will turn out." It is not surprised, though. "Why? Because of the way the company has behaved since the Barclay brothers took over the titles in 2004."
So does Carey detect a wistfulness at the Telegraph for the regime of Conrad Black?
"I wouldn't put it that way. Black tore up previous agreements, derecognised the union and gradually forced wages down while the newspapers were making handsome profits. The only thing I would say is that he did have some feelings for the traditions of the Telegraph which the current owners don't appear to share."
Could it be that an infiltration of former executives from Associated Newspapers (publishers of the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday) into the upper reaches of the Telegraph Group has changed the culture?
"Whatever else you think about the Mail," Carey muses, "it's a very professional newspaper and it pours more money into journalism than any other group. I've never worked there, but I get the feeling that anyone who does is expected to have no other life outside. People sign up to be slaves to the company - and that's very much the culture behind the sort of changes that are being pushed through at the Telegraph."
Over to the company spokesman: "We have made it clear from the start that every pound invested in the newsroom is a pound invested in the Telegraph as a whole. This move allows us to produce more online while maintaining and, indeed, improving, the quality of our newspapers and also across other platforms."
Other newspapers will be looking on with fascination to see whether the momentum of the Victoria revolution will be enough to override entrenched opposition from many of those charged with making it work.Reuse content