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August 3, 2017updated 07 Aug 2017 5:49pm

Source: ‘Ripping culture’ at national newspaper website prompts most graduate trainees to leave journalism for PR

By Dominic Ponsford

The “ripping culture” at one national newspaper website has led to more than half its graduate trainee intake for the last two years abandoning journalism for PR.

This is what one verified source at the newsroom in question told me.

I’m not going to name the title because to do so might identify my source, and because the practices they highlight are apparently widespread on the web operations of some UK national newspapers.

The source painted a picture of a working life where journalists do little other than rejig the work of others, adding pictures, headlines and adjusting the copy to avoid falling foul of copyright laws.

The source told me: “The aggression in the newsroom is fine, they know that’s coming, and you know you are going to get abuse on social media – a lot of it is drive-by stuff.

“But what people can’t take is the culture of ripping news from everyone else because it is not what they are taught at journalism school.  They are totally deskbound and dependent on other websites for stories, the choice of which is dictated by the editors.

“The graduate trainees are all leaving and moving into PR and marketing roles. They are continually asked to do what is called a ‘rip’ – a copy and paste and a slight re-write, and no-one wants to do them.”

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The source was prompted to contact Press Gazette after reading of freelance Glyn Bellis complaining to The Independent about lifting some court copy (with attribution) which he filed to Wales Online. The Independent declined to pay a syndication fee saying there was no copyright in news.

This stance was apparently contradicted last month when Rochdale Online won a £200 payment from the Manchester Evening News at county court after the latter declined to pay it a syndication fee for a story which was based entirely on its original work.

The source told me: “Journalists want some clarity on this because no-one wants to do it.”

The source said they went for an interview at another national newspaper where it was made clear to them that their job as a news reporter on the website would only involve writing “news reviews”.  These followed a formula, he said, whereby stories are lifted from other sites and rewritten with around a third lifted content, a third social media reaction and a third linking to other background stories on the site.

The source said: “A lot of young journalists are falling by the wayside because of this culture.”

The source said that the news editors at their website don’t like the ripping culture either “but they live in fear that someone else has got a story they haven’t”.

They said: “The hours are tough, the abuse online is tough, holiday requests don’t get approved…and what’s disappeared is the creative part of the job that made all that worth it.”

They said they sourced and wrote an interview with a prominent foreign politician which attracted several thousands social media shares. But he said that a ripped version of the story, which appeared as a “news review” on a rival website, attracted more than ten times the number of social media shares: “It’s incredibly frustrating.”

Follow-ups are an integral part of journalism and are to be expected (and encouraged) whenever a big story is broken.

There has always too been an element of “ripping” where night editors scramble to lift stories from other titles, usually with attribution, for later print editions.

But it appears that “ripping” has become central to some websites’ business models. It is a cost efficient way of delivering the stupendous traffic numbers which are needed because of the low rates paid by online advertisers.

In the era of social media where readers flit from one site to another, many probably pay little notice to the original source of a story – especially when, as is often the case, a substantial amount has been lifted and the attribution is grudging and low down the piece.

It is easy to see why many journalists, faced with the prospect of working life as a ripper, decide that the game is not worth the candle.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

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