Analysis by betterRetailing shows that out of 55 wholesale depots, only one received a full supply of newspapers on 5 September when climate activists blockaded News UK’s Newsprinter owned print sites.

In an exclusive interview with betterRetailing, Newsprinters managing director Darren Barker responded to retailer concerns and outlined how the industry united to get papers to the newsstands.

Can you outline how the industry came together?

“We had no warning of the protests, so it came as a shock to realise that both our Broxbourne and Knowsley sites were being blockaded, with no one coming in or out, during the key phase of production. It was therefore a huge task for the teams to deal not just with what they thought was business as usual but also recognising that copies from these two sites were effectively locked in.

“One real positive of it all was how it united the industry, creating an operational collaboration focused on making sure we could print as many copies of The Sun, The Times, the Daily Mail, The Telegraph and the Financial Times as possible from partner sites across the UK. The blockade created a massively complex logistical headache but the industry helped to ensure that as many copies were belatedly distributed around the country, minimising the damaging impact on retailers.”

What did Newsprinters do to protect the supply of print titles into stores on Saturday?

“Once it became apparent that there would be no output from our presses at Knowsley and Broxbourne we immediately put plans in place with the help of the industry to ensure we could print all of these volumes elsewhere, regardless of when they would complete. Our primary distribution partners and wholesalers did their utmost to source additional drivers and carry out double runs. Unfortunately due to a limit on driver resource and legal duty hours this impacted our ability to achieve full distribution. That said, we had a full contingency plan in place for Saturday night in case of repeated protesting.

“Our teams worked throughout the night and well into Saturday. All our efforts were designed to minimise the significant impact to many of our retail partners and readers. There are always things to learn but I’m extremely proud of the ingenuity, collaboration, clear thinking and sheer hard work from all the teams involved. I’d like to thank our retail partners for their patience, and I want to thank our industry partners who worked with us to get as many copies into retail as possible.

“The News UK Field Team were back out on Saturday and will continue to support retailers with extra merchandising support this week, including an additional 200 visits planned for next Saturday morning.”

Why were titles unable to reach all stores later on in the day once the barricades had been cleared?

“We managed to supply many areas of the country late, but the logistical complexity of reaching some areas of the UK under such tight timelines proved just out of reach. Hundreds of additional journeys were required to get copies printed elsewhere into the supply chain. On that basis alone the Extinction Rebellion protest backfired.”

Can you describe the impact of this incident on yourself and the rest of the team at Newsprinters/News UK?

“It’s important to note that Extinction Rebellion were blockading key workers. The team at Newsprinters, along with our retailer partners, have worked tirelessly throughout the height of the pandemic to ensure that readers could still access vital news and information. Those same people worked all night on Friday to get as many papers out the door and around the country as possible. It’s really important I take the chance to thank the hugely dedicated team at Newsprinters. Many of those who were not working were straight on the phone asking to come in and help and did not stop until the trucks started moving. Many are still catching up on sleep. It’s also important to thank the rest of the industry and their teams for providing back up print facilities, additional vehicles and just the general offers of assistance we received over the weekend.”

Will Newsprinters or News UK be taking legal action against Extinction Rebellion to recoup the cost impact on their business?

“Our focus is on ensuring millions of copies of our newsbrands travel through our supply chain to retail and into the hands of our loyal and engaged readers everyday.”

What is News UK’s message to stores that incurred additional costs from rerunning deliveries or lost a significant amount of sales due to the incident?

“When Extinction Rebellion blockaded our printing plants they sought to stifle the free press, damaging retailers and impeding consumers from accessing their trusted newsbrands. It was an action that has backfired. We’ve heard from retailers speaking out against the protest across the media – and we are glad we have also been able to give them a platform to tell their stories. We know how hard you all work. The leader in The Times on Tuesday was clear “newsagents are citadels of civic duty and community spirit: where children learn the value of work for the first time, small indulgences are permitted without judgement, and the public interest served by bulging newsstands. We salute their dedication.” The protests have been widely condemned by the public, the wider media and politicians on both sides of the house. Freedom of the press is a fundamental principle of our democracy. We will continue to defend it.”

Is Extinction Rebellion’s critique of News UK’s role in the climate crisis warranted?

“Our journalism has championed the environment in numerous ways over the years: from The Times’ clean air and cycling campaigns to The Sun’s exclusive last weekend giving voice to Sir David Attenborough’s environmental call to arms. We have often given platforms to Extinction Rebellion itself. Because our journalism means not shying away from difficult or polarising issues, and presenting our readers with facts, as well as a range of opinions.

“As a company, we have a clear commitment to ensuring we work to meet our environmental goals. Indeed this weekend we began the final phase of a major project which has seen the removal of over 800 tons of single use plastic wrapping a year, in favour of sustainable paper banding. One of many things we do to play our part – you can find out more here.”

Do Newsprinters have a plan to prevent this happening again, and how confident are they that it can mitigate the impact of a repeat incident?

“We now have a united front from across the industry with backup presses on standby and full contingency plans so that together we can tackle such organised anti-democractic action again. The Government is also exploring legislation that will stop groups from blocking the work of Parliament, the courts and the free press. The sites have also funded extra security to protect printing staff, our ability to operate and the fundamental right of a free press.”

Read more: Newssellers react to Extinction Rebellion blockade of Newsprint’s