Reach redundancies – what does this mean for PR?

Category: PR Insights

By: Rich Leigh

News broke today that the UK’s largest commercial news publisher, Reach, has let 450 employees go.

Of the 450 affected, 320 of those people work in editorial. It is the third round of cutbacks from Reach this year, according to Hold the Front Page.

I’ve heard that whole teams have been made redundant. Teams working across multiple titles, and not just across counties, but across regions. Those impacted have been told they can apply for any internal roles.

It should go without saying that this is incredibly sad news for those impacted and their families. I’ve many friends in and around journalism, including at Reach, some of which I’ve showed this blog to before publishing.

Titles were already struggling. Anecdotally, I know our local title well enough, and know that the editor is snowed under, handling the majority of output.

If that’s the same across the other regional titles (list here), we are surely seeing the end of any ability for Reach titles to meaningfully cover local news.

Not that it is as important as people losing their livelihoods right now, but there are implications for PR, too, and we’d do well to consider them – as it can and will (continue to) impact livelihoods in the imminent future.

In terms of recovery to pre-Covid levels of recruitment, ‘advertising, marketing and PR’ is one of the worst-hit industries, and we’re still seeing agency casualties.

Fewer, busier, evermore target-pressed journalists means fewer opportunities for client coverage in those titles.

I’ve written about why I think we’d reached the end in the race to the bottom for digital PR – back in April. Fewer opportunities for coverage in the UK’s largest news publisher inevitably means fewer opportunities for links in those titles. Fewer opportunities for regional, data-led stories, and far more importantly, less chance of local news being reported – a trend I’ve watched only worsen over the last few years.

Of course, we have the BBC in the UK, and thank the gods we do.

From a regional journalist, thankfully not impacted by today’s news:

“Facebook and Google have turned the taps off. Twitter does f-all traffic. Same with TikTok and Instagram, of course. This is a real tipping point for how publishers go about cultivating loyal audiences.”

Optimistically, if agencies are in the position to hire, there will be a fantastic group of journalists looking for work, with many transferable skills. Go, tweet, post on LinkedIn – I’m sure there’ll be plenty of interested applicants. I saw Alex Donohue at Pressbox call out for applicants, for instance.

Also optimistically, I think there is still an incredible bloat-free opportunity to report community-centric news. Substack and audio/video podcasts jump out to me as two monetiseable routes to audiences that are still more than keen to be reliably kept up to date with local news.

The Edinburgh Guardian Substack is a good example, subscribed to by thousands.

It’s not just parroting a point to say that local news is vital for democracy.

The enormous acquisitions of newsletters like Hustle, Morning Brew and Newsette give me hope. We got a client into the Morning Brew recently and the client said it was the ‘2023 version’ of getting a newspaper front page.

It’s another big bump in the road for media relations, and further reason to ensure our PR efforts are audience-first, brand-orientated and varied.

Media relations as a tactic isn’t dead by any stretch, but as ever, plodding ahead blindly will put agencies and clients on the back foot.

Update – ‘Mirror publisher to replace journalists with social media influencers’

Reach boss Jim Mullen told The Telegraph :

“They don’t like me using the word influencers in here, but we have brought in people who have a following and what we do is put them through our formal training to make sure they can write things in the right way, make sure they know how to edit copy, make sure they don’t get into trouble.”

It’s stated in that link that the company will hire ‘non-professional journalists who have a significant social media following around a certain subject matter, such as football teams’, adding that the company would ‘target influencers with a relatively small following and offer to boost their online presence through access to the publisher’s resources’.

Laura Davison, national organiser at the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), called it a blow to Reach journalists “who have adapted at pace to company demands”.