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January 29, 2016updated 01 Feb 2016 3:27pm

Online journalists’ survey: ‘Public will soon live off attention-seeking, fact-free, gossipy clickbait’

By William Turvill

Journalists have concerns about the "dumbing down" of content on their websites, a Press Gazette survey has found.

More than 200 of the 700 participants in the anonymous survey said they worked in website journalism, with many also expressing concerns over the "quality" of journalism online.

Despite these misgivings, website journalists rated their jobs at just below 6.6 out of 10 – the average of all participants and ahead of news agency journalists (5.9) and regional newspaper journalists (6.1).

Positives of working in website journalism included the experience of breaking news, freedom to try new things and the opportunity for progression.

'Real journalism?'

One deputy editor asked: "Is there a future for real journalism online when hits (and cat videos) are the holy grail?"

Asked in the survey what they disliked about their job, they said: "Quality of journalism, need for vitality making us collate crap from the internet instead of doing real research."

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These concerns were echoed by other participants.

A senior journalist at Mail Online, the biggest English-language newspaper website in the world, bemoaned "pressure to produce endless copy" and a "culture of copying other people's journalism".

A Mail Online reporter, meanwhile, described a culture of staff being "bullied and intimidated". They also complained they are "not allowed to take annual leave".

An International Business Times editor listed "target pressure, low pay and focus on quantity over quality as concerns.

A reporter for the same website also complained of "quantity over quality" as well as low pay and a "pressure to build traffic with questionable articles".

Another said: "Traffic-related bonus structure creates the wrong incentives." They also said a more senior staff member at the organisation has "the social skills of a mountain gorilla".

In response to this story, an IB Times spokesperson said: "There is no shortage of comment about the state of British journalism. Here at the International Business Times we are a trusted source of news information for our ever-growing readership in the UK.  We uphold a very high standard of editorial output, we continue to receive prestigious press awards and commendations for our quality journalism and content production and strive to super-serve our readers' needs on a daily basis.

"IBT is absolutely committed to developing our growing team through the imminent introduction of a learning and development programme, which is designed to nurture, improve and retain our journalistic talent. As we continue to grow our business we will set ambitious but reasonable targets and explore new and exciting territories in which to grow IBT."

A reporter on the Daily Express's website also complained of an "emphasis on hits over quality".

Other concerns, from journalists who did not identify their place of work, included being "treated as problem to be managed rather than resource to be tapped".

A regional deputy editor said: "Websites mean nothing is ever online quick enough and I often feel rushed to complete stories, which has led to mistakes and several complaints.  

"Generally I feel our employees are overworked, find less time to pursue 'proper' journalism and spend more time sat in front of a computer screen re-hashing national stories in the hope of picking up stray hits from Google."

An online reporter said: "We have performance-related pay, which is often used to add extra pressure. Our news editor recently started emailing round monthly lists of the most productive staff. I often feel stressed in the job."

A regional journalist said they were "frightened" about the "shift from proper journalism to 'clickbait' stories about things like giant, killer spiders". They added: "I fear for my job, the young people coming into the industry and the public who will soon live off nothing but attention-seeking, fact-free, gossipy clickbait."

'Shaping the agenda'

Asked to rate their place of work out of ten, online journalists voted just below the 6.6 average for the 700 journalists overall. This compares with a 6.7 score for business-to-business journalists, 5.9 for news agency journalists and 6.1 for regional journalists.

Overall, more than 200 journalists out of the 700 said they worked in website journalism. But in a lot of cases they also worked in print or broadcast also. From the job descriptions, Press Gazette cut this list down to 102 journalists whose jobs appeared to be primarily online and averaged their scores.

Asked in the survey what they liked about their job, a journalist for a business website said: "Freedom to try things."

A Mail Online reporter said: "Breaking news. Shaping the agenda. Not being guided by political view of a newspaper."

And a Trinity Mirror online reporter said: "Room for progression, friendly office, enthusiastic about new ideas and encouraging."

An IB Times reporter said: "There is some freedom, probably more so than in other newsrooms. It's a young organisation and has a lot of potential. The non-management people (i.e. the ones actually doing any work other than permanently staring at Chartbeat) are great. It's a good platform from which to move on to a better publication."


There are 64,000 people in the UK who call themselves journalists, according to the Government's Labour Force Survey.

And in June last year Press Gazette – as part of a project to mark the publication's 50th birthday – launched a survey to find out who they are, where they work, how much they earn, what they do, what concerns they have about their work and whether they enjoy their jobs.

Over three weeks, more than 700 people filled in the survey after it was promoted on the Press Gazette website, on Twitter and via email

The full survey, which is no longer open for entries, is below.

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