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Britain’s Newspaper Offices Were Once All On The Same Street. Now One Publisher Is Getting Rid Of Offices Entirely

Fleet Street, once home of the British newspaper industry

When Rupert Murdoch moved the publication of The Times and The Sun away from Fleet Street to new premises in Wapping in 1986, it caused huge controversy and revolutionised the British newspaper industry. British daily newspapers were born on Fleet Street in 1702, and by the early 20th century, every major national and regional paper had its office and printing press on the Midtown street.

In a move just as radical, one of the UK’s largest newspaper publishers isn’t just moving away from print journalism’s spiritual home: It is getting rid of the office entirely.  

Reach, which owns the Daily Mirror, Daily Express and Daily Star, as well as more than 100 regional titles including the Liverpool Echo, told staff on Friday to expect to work from home permanently. It said that during the coronavirus pandemic its staff had said in a survey they could do their jobs just as well working from home, albeit 70% said they missed seeing their colleagues in person.

Reach is reducing its Canary Wharf HQ from two floors to one, and getting rid of a second London office on Lower Thames Street entirely. 

It will have a further 14 “hubs” across the UK in Belfast, Bristol, Birmingham, Dublin, Cardiff, Glasgow, Newcastle, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Greater Manchester, Nottingham, Plymouth and an office in the South East. Staff will travel to these hubs for occasional meetings, and some staff, mainly production staff, will be based in these offices permanently. 

“We carried out a survey of all colleagues that showed a majority found home working suited their needs,” a Reach spokesperson said in a statement. “Moving forward colleagues will either be home based or working mainly from home with around a quarter office-based, working from one of our 15 hubs around the country.”

“This solution provides increased flexibility with the ability to have access to meeting space to recapture face-to-face collaboration and a social element — when lockdown rules allow.”

The move to mainly home working will mark a significant change in an industry with a distinct culture, marked by loud, open-plan newsrooms with journalists constantly on the phone to sources, and editors barking orders and insults across the floor at junior staff. The famous (if rarely uttered) shout of “hold the front page!”, already something of an anachronism in the age of digital media, will now need to be uttered over Slack

For regional papers, the link to local communities will grow more tenuous in cities where the publication has no physical presence. 

Fleet Street is still a catch-all term for the British newspaper industry, despite the last major news outlet left on the street, Reuters, having departed in 2005. It had been a major centre of the printing trade since 1500, which made it an obvious location for newspapers to base themselves, as did the fact that at one end of the street the law could be found, in the form of the Royal Courts of Justice, and at the other end God, in the form of St Paul's Cathedral.

London’s first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant, was published from Fleet Street in 1702, and by the time the Daily Express moved there in 1931, every national paper was based on the street. Fleet Street pubs like El Vino were renowned for meetings with sources, eavesdropping on rivals and above all long, boozy lunches. 

Murdoch moved his newspaper offices to Wapping in order to break the power of the UK’s two main printing unions, which dominated the printing presses used to print newspapers on Fleet Street. He brought in his own workers to a purpose-built facility using updated computer technology. 

The other major papers soon followed in the 1990s and 2000s, with the Mirror and Telegraph moving to Canary Wharf, the Express moving to Southwark, the Guardian to King’s Cross and the Mail to west London. 

And now, for the Mirror and Express, the office is little more than a concept.