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March 15, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:08am

Rival accuses Newsquest and Reach of treating journalists like ‘battery hens’ with page view targets

By Andrew Kersley

Regional news publishers Reach and Newsquest have been accused by a competitor of treating their journalists like “battery hens” by giving reporters page view targets.

A senior insider at National World told Press Gazette that, unlike Reach and Newsquest, it uses publication-wide rather than individual page view targets for journalists on its titles, which include The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post.

Reach last week announced the Accelerated Personal Development pilot scheme, which calls on journalists to hit minimum benchmarks of between 80,000 and 850,000 page views per month depending on their role and the size of the outlet they work for, according to a document seen by Hold the Front Page.

The document suggested that journalists who fall below half of their benchmark number would be expected to increase monthly page views by 40% by July 2022 and by 70% by the end of the year. SEO or trends writers will be expected to generate 1.3 million page views each month within six months, and two million per month within the year.

Reach publishes more than 100 titles, including regional dailies such as the Liverpool Echo and the Manchester Evening News.

The National Union of Journalists’ Reach national coordinator Chris Morley said of the targets: “As a union, we are particularly concerned about the effect constant and relentless scrutiny of members’ performance around page views will have on their well-being – something that Reach also tells us that they take very seriously.

“We do not see the case for the setting of ‘benchmarks’, ‘goals’, ‘objectives’ or however targets may be described, with the negative behaviour and outcomes that can ensue.”

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The NUJ also expressed concerns about similar readership targets being set at Newsquest, the publisher behind 205 different news brands across the UK including the Northern Echo, Brighton Argus and Scottish outlet The National.

A senior insider at rival regional media group National World told Press Gazette: “Unlike other publishers, it’s not our policy to regard journalists as battery hens. We treat every journalist as an individual talent, whatever the role, with new, unique skills that can be deployed across all platforms.

“Our policy is to have content and brand targets rather than individual targets and to work as a team to achieve them. We’re extending automation in order to free journalists from the industrial past, so they can all concentrate on sourcing the best content to properly engage with.”

On Friday Newsquest released details of its Page Views Incentive Scheme, under which journalists working on daily titles that generate more than 500,000 page views per month on average each quarter are eligible for bonuses.

The company reported that 200 of its reporters had been given bonuses to their pay since the scheme was introduced in 2020.

The NUJ subsequently released a survey of its members at Newsquest that found that the vast majority of those surveyed thought Newsquest’s targets were unachievable and more than half said they were looking for jobs outside of the company.

The results of the NUJ survey found:

  • 72% of participants did not think their digital page view targets were achievable
  • 62% received no bonuses from the scheme in 2021
  • Only 9% of those who received a bonus got a payment in all four quarters of 2021
  • 80% said they suffered from stress as a result of the pressure of constant digital page view targets at work
  • More than 55% of respondents said they were already actively looking for a job outside Newsquest.

The NUJ did not disclose how many Newsquest journalists had taken part in the survey.

According to its parent company Gannett, Newsquest employed an average of 626 journalists, meaning two-thirds of its reporters had received nothing from the digital bonus scheme since it launched in 2020.

The NUJ’s Morley said: “Nobody should be fooled that Newsquest’s digital bonus scheme is generous, fair and equitable. Our members’ experience clearly shows otherwise and certainly does not make up for endemic poor pay and conditions within the company.

“We think journalists should be properly paid for the valuable job they perform within the democratic fabric of this country, not on how many clicks they turn in. As a union, we want to see journalists have decent pay that they can rely on to meet the bills.”

In its most recent financial results, Reach reported that it was on track to double its digital revenue by the end of 2024, with its pre-tax profits rising to £143.5m for the 52 weeks to 26 December 2021.

Neither Newsquest nor Reach commented on their new schemes when contacted by Press Gazette.

However Newsquest’s editorial director Toby Granville tweeted: “Interesting that Reach has copied our very successful individual page view targets strategy for reporters. Only difference seems to be we offer ££ bonus of up to 10% salary at Newsquest if reporters hit them and Reach offers its reporters.. er nothing!”

Picture: Andrey Rudakov / Bloomberg via Getty Images

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