Telegraph staff face points test
'Time-keeping, flexibility and ability to work against the clock' will be some of the criteria by which reporters are judged
Monday 21 February 2005
The absence of "artistic impression" from the five judging categories was a clue that told
Telegraph staff last week that they were being scrutinised on their proficiency in the practise of newspaper journalism and not their flair on the ice rink. Even so, the latest circular from Lawrence Sear, the newly appointed group managing editor, would have been received by journalists at One Canada Square with little less consternation if it had demanded they go into his office and essay a triple salko.
The absence of "artistic impression" from the five judging categories was a clue that told Telegraph staff last week that they were being scrutinised on their proficiency in the practise of newspaper journalism and not their flair on the ice rink. Even so, the latest circular from Lawrence Sear, the newly appointed group managing editor, would have been received by journalists at One Canada Square with little less consternation if it had demanded they go into his office and essay a triple salko.
Marked "strictly private & confidential", the document spelt out the five categories on which each and every one of the Telegraph's journalists (barring those who managed to escape by securing voluntary redundancy) would be given marks, ahead of a mass culling of up to 109 posts. The first four categories (or "criteria", as Sear called them), covered skills such as "time-keeping", "flexibility" and "role within the team", and each carried a maximum of five points. The last and most important criterion - "overall contribution to the paper, including quality of work, quantity of work and the ability to work against the clock" - was worth up to 15 points.
It will fall to departmental heads to tot up the scores out of 35. "The company's aim will be to retain a balanced, effective and talented workforce to compete in the marketplace," Sear explains in his memo. "Those at risk of selection for compulsory redundancy (i.e. those with the lowest scores in their areas) will be alerted at least seven days before formal dismissal notices are issued by the company."
Telegraph staff were not impressed. "This new system of marking people out of 35 is ludicrous," says one. "I am looking back rosily on the days of (former proprietor) Conrad Black, who was in many ways a benign newspaper baron compared to what we have now. It really is grim." But if the scores-on-the-doors approach caused upset, that was nothing compared to the effect of another chart in the Sear memo. The group MD spelt out exactly where he and Murdoch MacLennan, the group chief executive, wanted to perform the surgery that they believe will make the group a leaner and better-performing operation.
On The Daily Telegraph, this means between 46 and 77 job cuts from a staff of 410. The biggest hit of all will be taken by the newsroom and foreign desk, which have been asked to offer up between 12 and 16 names from a combined team of 70. By comparison, the paper's sizeable sport and City departments have been treated lightly. The sports desk will have to shed only three to eight posts from a relative army of 60. Neil Collins, the City editor, has to find between four and eight redundancies from his 45-strong team and is said to be fighting hard to retain the department's Square Mile-based office (a rare luxury in the world of business reporting).
Sears says in his circular: "Our aim is to be fair and equitable in dealing with all our employees." But that's not how the "restructuring" is seen in the newsroom. At the paper's deep end, the lack of respect shown for those who fill the Telegraph front page day in and day out is seen as a serious failing on the part of the management team installed by the group's new owners, David and Frederick Barclay.
One staff writer says: "The number of cuts they're making in news suggests that management haven't got a clue. News is the predominant reason why people buy that newspaper, but executives think you can do news from agency copy and that reporters are some kind of drones." That is clearly not a view shared by Martin Newland, The Daily Telegraph editor, who is a former home-news editor on the paper and who stated when he took up his current post in October 2003 that his primary intention was to improve the newspaper's "already strong" news coverage.
News staff are especially bemused by the Sear circular, because previous Telegraph surveys showed that the readership valued the paper's news pages above all other sections. Among some Telegraph journalists, there is a feeling that the imposition of a Daily Mail-style regime (which was much feared when the Mail's owners, Associated Newspapers, were in the running to buy the titles) is now happening by default. The Barclay brothers hired MacLennan and Sear from Associated to improve efficiency at the Telegraph. One executive, who suggested that there would be attempts to switch to a more promotions-driven sales agenda, similar to that pursued by the Mail, says: "They probably think people will start buying the paper for a 99p trip to Calais, but news has always been the Telegraph's strength."
Suspicion remains that the chief reason behind the Telegraph's cost-cutting is more than simply the putting into place of long-overdue efficiencies. "It's quite clear that the Barclay brothers paid too much for the newspaper and now the chickens are coming home to roost," comments one Telegraph source on last year's bidding war that saw the sale price for the group rise to £665m. But it is not all doom and gloom. In some sections of the group, notably on Dominic Lawson's Sunday Telegraph, staff have been almost falling over themselves to snatch up opportunities for voluntary redundancy. One Sunday executive says: "The daily has taken it very badly, but people are much more buoyant here and see it as an opportunity."
One of the earliest departures is the paper's literary editor Miriam Gross, who joins daily writers Charles Methven and Sinclair McKay on the way out the door. Staff on the Sunday Telegraph news desk and design department has shown keen interest in the redundancy terms, which offer up to a year's salary, plus a bonus for those who go before 16 May. Lawson, who has been asked to offer up 32 names from a total staff of 120, has gone on holiday before drawing up his final list. He may return to find the offer oversubscribed.
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