Fleet Street A Distant Memory As Newspapers Continue To Slash Office Space
The newspaper industry once leaned so heavily into the power of the office that every major publisher in Britain had an office on the same street. Now, the UK’s newspapers are dramatically cutting the amount of office space they use, or, in some cases, getting rid of that space entirely.
Daily Mail & General Trust, or DMGT, the owner of the Daily Mail and Metro newspapers, has taken a new lease on 103K SF at its current building in Kensington, west London. On the face of it, the deal is positive news for the London office market. The lease at the Art Deco Barkers Building is for 15 years and is the largest letting in west London in 2021.
But the deal actually sees DMGT reduce the amount of space it occupies in the building by more than a third, from 160K SF to 103K SF. That brings it in line with other newspaper publishers in London and the UK, which have been slashing their office space in the past 18 months.
The newspaper industry has been suffering financially for more than a decade, and, in many ways, the moves being made by publishers now should be seen in the context of an industry that is taking every opportunity to cut costs.
But it also an experiment in whether a sector that has typically relied on physical proximity, both within individual newspapers and between publications, can function in a world of remote work.
Last week regional newspaper publisher Archant said that it would close two-thirds of its newsrooms by the end of March 2022, Press Gazette reported.
It said a combination of staff feedback and the fact few staffers were choosing to go into the office was behind the decision. The company’s HQ in Norwich can accommodate 400 workers, but only about 100 people a day use the building, Archant said.
It will keep four offices in Norwich, Ipswich, Huntingdon and Exeter, although the amount of space it leases in all four locations will be cut.
Offices in St Albans, Weston Super Mare, Wokingham, Stevenage, Barnstaple, Cheltenham, Great Yarmouth and Romford will all be closed by the end of March.
Archant follows in the footsteps of Reach, which publishes the Mirror, Express and Star, and more than 100 regional titles. In March it said it was halving the size of its Canary Wharf office in east London, getting rid of another London office on Lower Thames Street and cutting back on the number of regional newsrooms it operates.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Reach's staff said in a survey they could do their jobs just as well working from home, although 70% said they missed seeing their colleagues in person.
In addition to its diminished London operations Reach will have 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.
“I think it definitely allows reporters to be more with their communities,” Reach Audience and Content Director for the North West Alison Gow told the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, as reported by Press Gazette. “There were reporters here who would have to drive 90 minutes to get to the office because of the geography, and they don’t need to.
“They can work really efficiently from home. They can be in the corner shop because they’ve run out of milk. They can be a local voice and a face.”
These changes are a far cry from the 20th century heyday of newspaper journalism when all of the national newspapers were based on Fleet Street, and major regional titles also had offices there.
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 was the fact one end of the street was home to the Royal Courts of Justice and the other end, 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.
Then Rupert Murdoch moved the publication of The Times and The Sun away from Fleet Street to new premises in Wapping in 1986, a move that caused huge controversy and revolutionised the British newspaper industry.
Murdoch moved his newspaper offices to Wapping 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 Kensington.
The refurbished DMGT office sounds like it will be a far cry from the dingy, smoke-filled offices of Fleet Street.
“The works proposed to this magnificent building will deliver an exceptional workplace for its future occupiers,” the unnamed landlord’s Commercial Advisor and Asset Manager Sophie Willson said, “providing sustainable, high-quality and flexible office accommodation benefiting from excellent natural light and impressive floor to ceiling heights as well as fabulous amenity facilities ranging from atrium café, roof top restaurant and terrace, a gym, a large ‘opportunity space’ — flexibly designed to facilitate a range of uses, including housing conference/ events — and generous end of journey bike storage, showers [and] locker facilities.”
Emrys Architects designed the new space. The landlord was advised by Knight Frank and DMGT were advised by Chris Lewis at Devono.