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Friday, 15 December, 2000, 17:36 GMT
Express web staff hold out for buyer

Internet staff who have become the latest victims of the shake up at Express Newspapers were on Friday holding out for an entrepreneur to save their jobs.

Investment bank Seymour Pierce, which has bought the bulk of Express Newspaper's new media operations for 4, has launched a search for a buyer willing to attempt a turnaround at the sites.

The four sold sites, including two launched within the last four months, are reported to have been losing money at the rate of 7-8m a year.

Richard Desmond, the celebrity and pornography publisher who bought EN for 125m last month, disposed of the businesses in an effort to raise profitability at the group.

He has forecast that a rejuvenated EN, which owns newspapers including the Daily Express and the Daily Star, will propel him to billionaire status.

Union pessmistic

The National Union of Journalists, representing some of the 46 staff affected, was on Friday pessimistic of the chances of saving the jobs.

"It is likely they will all be told to go," said Jonathan Dear, the NUJ's national organiser for newspapers, following talks with Express executives on Friday.

Staff will discover their fate after an official consultation period ends in mid-January, Mr Dear told BBC News Online.

Unions are also negotiating with EN managers over 56 lay-offs from the International Express operations, although NUJ leaders have been told of plans to develop editorial departments on major titles.

Staff action

Website staff on the four sold sites, which include the flagship Express.co.uk operation, staged a sit in on Thursday at their London offices after being told of the takeover.


We wanted to wait until we had a union representative about to make sure we were not being sold down the river

Express Newspapers source

"We were told to go home and wait for news of whether the new owners have, or have not, found a new buyer," one of the suspended staff told BBC News Online.

"We wanted to wait until we had a union representative about to make sure we were not being sold down the river."

Staff will be paid in the meantime, union leaders have been assured.

The sold sites, which also include SportLive, Allaboutparents and small business information address Companyleader, are to be kept live but not updated, the insider said.

Allaboutparents, which was launched in August, is a particular favourite of Rosie Boycott, editor of the Daily Express.

The site which the BBC's source helped launch had been "meeting all its targets".

Ownership changes

Richard Desmond with his new titles
Richard Desmond: believes Express will make him a billionaire
The latest sale is the third time in a year EN website staff have faced a change of employer.

EN's internet operations were first transferred to Xilerate, a specialist web division set up by United News & Media, the Express's former owner.

"We were told this was a really exciting venture, which they were going to spend millions and more millions supporting," the source said.

UNM has provided 370m backing for Xilerate.

The sites were then transferred to Express Digital Media under last month's sale to Mr Desmond.

'Sense of abandonment'

The suspended staff are going ahead with their Christmas party later on Friday.

"There will be a great sense of abandonment," the insider said.

Mr Desmond bought Express Newspapers through his Northern Shell company, which publishes the celebrity magazine OK! and pornographic titles such as Asian Babes.

He was advised on the deal by Seymour Pierce, which last week revealed underlying profits of 7.3m for the year to the end of September.

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See also:

22 Nov 00 | Business
OK! owner buys Express
22 Nov 00 | Business
Northern & Shell wins Express race
16 Oct 00 | Business
Last chance Express?
15 Oct 00 | Business
Billionaire brothers bid for Express
04 Aug 00 | Business
United News sharpens focus
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