Free from fear or favour
No tracking. No cookies

Local Mega-Publisher National World Sees Staff ‘Pushed to Brink’ Amid Cuts and ‘Right-Wing Shift’ – While Journalists Could Be Replaced by ChatGPT 

A quarter of staff have been slashed in a year at National World, which owns a raft of city ‘World’ titles and renowned local papers.

A lesser-known media magnate: David Montgomery (lefT), then Chief Executive of the Mirror Group, speaks to former Irish premier Charles Haughey in 1996. Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

Newsletter offer

Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.

National World, the huge publisher behind regional titles including the Yorkshire Post, The Scotsman and the national title of the same name, has been accused of driving huge numbers of staff to quit as it mulls plans to use Artificial Intelligence to write news.

Former journalists and employees have raised concerns about the company’s editorial direction towards “clickbait”, increased use of AI, and the growing influence of 74-year-old chairman David Montgomery – leading to a wave of departures, cuts and plummeting staff morale.

Sources within the company reveal that National World has undergone a sharp editorial shift towards low-quality “churnalism” and culture war issues to drive up traffic over the past six months. 

One former journalist there stated the “sudden” changes bosses have implemented have been “nauseating”. The company’s alleged new focus on sensationalism and divisive stories to garner higher traffic has caused concern among employees and the National Union of Journalists about the company’s credibility and direction.

Don’t miss a story

Gutted for AI

The rise of AI in journalism has also been a mounting issue within the organisation, after the company revealed plans to explore the use of language generators like ChatGPT to produce content. 

One ex-reporter said the push to use AI for content-writing was “absolutely zero surprise from a company that has changed editorial direction exclusively towards clickbait and culture war issues to drive up traffic.”

One reporter was allegedly asked to write a piece entitled “Boris [Johnson] v Meghan [Markle] – who’s hated more?” was launched in 2021 to be an explainer-led, impartial competitor to The Independent – but to coincide with the restructuring and the removal of the editor in chief earlier this year, boss Montgomery allegedly decided on an editorial switch to the right.

Staffing numbers at National World titles have been reduced by about a quarter in just two years, resulting in increased workloads for remaining staff and a “huge” decline in morale. 

Deputy editor and audience editor roles at the flagship site have been entirely eliminated, leading to demotions for some employees and redundancy for around 20 staff. The company has been purchasing new outlets while paying dividends to shareholders – amidst staff layoffs – adding to employees’ frustrations.

Last week saw a surge of departures from the company, including from some award-winning reporters. 

Hands-on Approach

Chairman David Montgomery’s hands-on approach and influence on the company’s editorial direction have come under scrutiny. He frequently joins and leads editorial meetings, Byline Times was told – an unusual position for a CEO. 

Montgomery’s personal political views have been cited as the driving force behind the company’s shift in editorial direction. Former staff Byline Times has spoken to say Montgomery – a former News of the World editor and Mirror CEO – has been pushing staff towards more sensational and “borderline tabloid” style stories. The Northern Irish former tabloid editor began working in journalism in 1973.

Some story ideas from the leadership team have been shot down by some journalists within the organisation who refused to write up a tabloid “children identifying as cats” scare story in June.

A leaked internal memo from the chairman suggested the company is shifting its focus towards stories on people who, in Montgomery’s words, “do not contribute to society.” This has raised concerns among staff worried about perpetuating harmful narratives about people unable to work. 

The memo urges staff to write pieces that “promot[e] individual freedom and discipline…to succeed in family life, education and career[s]”. And it calls for the “exposure of those who wilfully make no contribution to society.”

Part of a leaked memo from National World chairman David Montgomery to staff on the firm’s editorial direction

Another former senior staffer said: “Dave Montgomery [was] basically saying he wanted to take a more hands-on approach with Having been in several meetings with him, it was definitely not a direction I was keen on staying with.”

With Montgomery at the helm, “some of the ideas that came up in [his] meetings were very borderline Daily Mail stuff,” they added. 

Some reporters were apparently “absolutely furious” about being asked by one editor to cover the Mail’s “kids identifying as cats” story – which later proved to be hugely exaggerated and based on a hypothetical situation. 

Asked if Montgomery was bringing his personal politics to the title, they added: “100%…he is very much of The Sun and Daily Mail style. A Kelvin Mackenzie type guy.”

However, a third source said: “I personally didn’t feel there was a political slant on anything he was asking us to report. However, there was certainly a business focus. I got the sense he was steering the business away from local weeklies.”


Truby’s Truth – How Murdoch Made Dan Wootton into a Monster

All Alex Truby wanted to find was the washing powder. Instead, he says, he found the key to a scandal now rocking the British media

Cut to Shreds

The constant restructuring and layoffs have left many employees uncertain about their job security, and some are actively seeking opportunities elsewhere. The inability to offer job security has led to a “tense” atmosphere within the organisation, Byline Times was told.

“All of the audience editors and all of the deputy editors across the company had been removed, so that we were all gearing for one position of Deputy Editor. So that’s like 20 people or something. People interviewed for it, and then a few days later, they removed [the role altogether]. So it was just a very frustrating and stressful process for everyone,” one said. There are now understood to be no deputy editors or audience editors at the firm. 

Another source at a local outlet owned by National World said: “I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, morale in the company is at the lowest point in living memory. Journalists are being forced to work longer and harder than ever before. They need to do the roles of three or four people now – subs, photographers, videographers and reporters.” 

“Newsrooms are now running on fumes – operating on less than a skeleton crew. Reporters are stretched so thin, it’s outrageous. The numbers staffing a daily regional paper now would have been unthinkable two or three years ago. It’s scandalous,” they added.

And they claimed some staff are “close to having a mental breakdown…News desks across National World-owned titles have been ruined.” Some local and city titles have been left with just one reporter.

“A year ago, I was working 12-hour days regularly. At the most extreme, I worked two back-to-back 20-hour shifts to get a supplement finished. These sort of hours weren’t rarities but commonplace – at least twice a week on some occasions.  The pressure then was why I decided to leave the company. I enjoyed my job. But it was ruining my life,” they said.

The pressures have reportedly got worse over the past year, amid a major cuts programme. “The company has seen many talented and award-winning seasoned journalists opting for voluntary redundancy instead of remaining with National World. Some have done so amid concerns about the change to the company’s editorial direction”.


‘The Press Equivalent of the PPE “VIP” Channel’: Submission to COVID Inquiry On Newspaper ‘Bungs’ Calls for Answers on Use of Taxpayer Money

A government ad campaign poured cash into national newspapers during the pandemic. Byline Times is one of a number of signatories to a submission on the scheme to the COVID Inquiry

Hammer Blow

One former news editor branded reports National World is now considering using AI to write stories for weekly papers an “insulting hammer-blow” to local reporters remaining: “These are journalists who have already survived savage redundancies and soaring pressures.”

“An AI can’t door knock a grieving family and sensitively report on the death of a loved one; an AI can’t be sat in court; an AI can’t interview politicians and hold them to account,” they said.

At the same time as cutting staff, National World – a listed PLC with shareholders – has been buying up smaller media companies and newspapers. “They’re not increasing the salaries, but then at the same time, they’re buying new companies…Then we heard about shareholder dividends being paid out – while everyone was being made redundant,” one former staffer said. 

The use of AI to generate content for weekly papers has further deepened the discontent among the remaining local reporters. Many see this move as a threat to the future of traditional journalism and worry that AI cannot match the critical analysis and sensitivity that human reporters provide.

The cuts to local journalism – which are being mirrored at National World competitor Reach – will have big ramifications for communities outside Westminster.

One former reporter told Byline Times: “National papers rely on news agencies for copy – who rely on syndication deals from local papers for a majority of their stories. Destroying the local press is like allowing the humble bumble bee to die out – it will eventually spell extinction.”

National World did not respond to requests for comment.

Edit: This piece has been amended to note that the figure of staff being cut by a quarter was over two years, not one.

Do you have a story that needs highlighting? Get in touch by emailing

Written by

This article was filed under