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  1. Publishers
  2. National Newspapers
February 19, 2016updated 23 May 2016 7:19am

Bullying, clickbait culture, pay, camaraderie, free coffee: National press journalists rate their employers

By William Turvill

Readers of Press Gazette's coverage of Express Newspapers may not be surprised to learn that it appears to be the least happy place to work on Fleet Street.

Earlier this month, staff were told they could face the prospect of bag searches and CCTV on editorial floors. Separately, the group father of chapel encouraged staff to complain to their MPs over an eight-year pay freeze. And last summer, the newspapers devoted pages of coverage to a book written by their chairman and owner Richard Desmond.

Asked to rate their place of work out of ten in an anonymous Press Gazette survey, 11 people working for the Express and Daily Star newspapers awarded an average score of five.

Breaking the newspapers up by group, Associated Newspapers – the publisher of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday – appears to be one of the best places to work, rated 7.1 out of ten.

The Guardian, Independent, Financial Times and Times were all fared slightly better on average but each had fewer of its journalists filling in the survey.

In total, more than 700 journalists filled in Press Gazette's survey last summer, with 137 working primarily – either as staff or as a freelance – for national newspapers. Some 59 participants in the survey named the national newspaper they worked for.

Overall, national newspaper journalists rated their place of work at 6.8 out of ten. This was below consumer magazine journalists (7.7), freelances (7.3) and broadcasters (7.1), but above business-to-business (6.7), online journalism (6.6), regional newspapers (6.1) and news agencies (5.9). 

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In general, national newspaper journalists were concerned about job security and the future of the print industry.

Of the national newspaper journalists who filled in the survey, 129 chose to answer a question asking how much they earn. The most common salary brackets were £30-40,000 and £40-50,000. 

Some 38 of the participants (29 per cent) earned below the £30-40,000 bracket, and the majority of these were freelances or worked part-time. Across the whole survey, this figure was 388 out of 695 (56 per cent).

The salary answers also show that national newspaper journalists are among the highest earners: 21 (16 per cent) earned between £60-70,000 and more, compared with 48 (7 per cent) overall.

Salary brackets of national newspaper journalists


Express Newspapers: 'It was always a laugh, like working on a sitcom. It's miserable now though'

Participants: 11. Average rating: 5. Number who enjoy job: 9/11.

Unhappiness at Express Newspapers comes from the top, according to the 11 responses to Press Gazette's survey.

Journalists told of a "supportive", "friendly" and "relaxed" atmosphere on the editorial floors. And despite the lower-than-average workplace rating of five out of ten, nine out of the 11 participants said they enjoyed their job.

Asked in the questionnaire what the positives of their job were, a Daily Star journalist said: "Very friendly newsroom, all editors friendly and approachable, no bullying, camaraderie among journalists."

A Daily Express journalist said: "The people – they put out a paper each day against the odds and, despite the pressure they're under, are really nice people."

And a Daily Star sub said: "Colleagues who pull out all the stops in the face of adversity and an owner hellbent on breaking our spirit."

But another Daily Express journalist wrote: "Until Desmond cut 30 per cent of the workforce, it was always a laugh, like working on a sitcom. It's miserable now though."

Asked what their concerns about their place of work were, one Daily Express reporter said: "Relentless cost-cutting driving down morale and journalistic standards. Kow-towing to editorial influences. Degradation of news values. Utter devaluation of the role of a journalist with integrity and skill."

Other complaints were made about cost-cutting, staff shortages, an online "emphasis on hits over quality" and the fact staff have not been given a pay rise for eight years.

One Daily Express journalist said: "Job security, commercial pressure (ie pages devoted to Desmond's autobiography at the expense of news), pay, mice, major staff cuts that have left the paper unable to do original journalism/ chase exclusive, lack of investment from owners, poor equipment (computers etc)."  

Mail newspapers: 'Camaraderie' and 'rampant in-house bullying'

Participants: 8. Average rating: 7.1. Number who enjoy job: 6/7.

The average workplace rating of the Mail newspapers was brought down by a reporter who gave it a score of one.

They said: "In-house bullying is rampant with strong pressure coming from senior staff to undermine sources and present them in a bad light."

The main concern shared by the other Mail participants was job security and the future of newspapers.

Asked what they liked about the job, Mail journalists listed "camaraderie", "professionalism" and "working with talented people".

News UK: 'There is a constant pressure to be the best, which often we are'

Participants: 15 (10 for Sun, 5 for Times). Average rating: 7.1 (Sun 6.8, Times 7.6). Number who enjoy job: 13/15 (Sun 9/10, Times 4/5).

Ten Sun journalists rated their place of work at 6.8 out of ten on average. 

Concerns were primarily focused on job security and fears over "the end of the print era".

One reporter said: "I fear the company is only interested in covering its own arse, with little regard for journalists 'on the ground'."

A production journalist said: "Content pointless, organised like a flock of chickens on It's A Knockout." Rating their place of work at one out of ten, in the 'any other comments' section of the survey they wrote: "Fuck this shit."

Sun journalists praised their workplace in the section asking what they liked about their jobs.

One said: "There is a constant pressure to be the best, which often we are."

A Scottish Sun journalist said: "Nice colleagues, attention to detail, high standards, decent work environment."

And another Sun journalist said they enjoyed the "free coffee machines".

Rating their place of work at 7.6 out of ten, Times journalists shared concerns over job security and pay for freelances.

One said their concern was: "Whether I'll make it into my 60s before getting chopped."

A Sunday Times journalist suggested their newspaper lacks "a long-term plan".

Participants praised The Times as "prestigious" and "well resourced" with a "great feeling of competence". 

Telegraph: 'A brand you can trust for accuracy, although in jeopardy'

Participants: 8. Average rating: 6.4. Number who enjoy job: 7/7.

Rating their place of work at 6.4 out of ten, Telegraph journalists expressed concerns over cuts and clickbait content.

A Daily Telegraph reporter listed their concerns as: "Job security, constantly-changing targets and demands of editorial staff, quality of some 'shareable'/'social' stories."

A sports journalist complained about: "Lack of diversity and depth of sports coverage in relentless pursuit of populist, click-bait stories. Trying to compete with organisations to be first with everything on a fraction of the resources."

Another Telegraph journalist's concerns were: "Commercial, decreasing budgets and staff cuts, increasingly downmarket."

And a senior journalist said: "Pressure to make money is resulting in constant cost cutting, which senior editorial team completely refuse to acknowledge.

"They pile endless amounts of extra work onto everybody else while squabbling endlessy among themselves, demanding instant results while totally failing to consider how they might actually be achieved."

Asked what they approved of, one journalist said: "Quality analysis and comment, brand you can trust for accuracy, although in jeopardy."

A reporter wrote: "Learning from colleagues, training opportunities, chance to write for other sections, the newspaper's reputation, never pressured to behave unethically, fair pay."

A senior staffer said: "There are still a few very good people here, but not much else."

Mirror: 'Klondike rush for gold on the internet at the cost of quality'

Participants: 8. Average rating: 6.4. Number who enjoy job: 8/8.

The Mirror was also ranked at 6.4 by eight participants.

In their concerns section, one reporter wrote: "Pay, and digital charlatans selling snake oil to executives and editors who don't know the first thing about the internet, pursuing clickbait over proper journalism.

"Instead of integration under the One Trinity Mirror banner it seems digital gurus are actively engaged in a Machiavellian fight against print departments."

A sports journalist said: "Lack of investment, job security, lack of motivation in senior editorial staff."

A Sunday Mirror journalist said: "Lack of resources threat  to quality by drive to cheap untrained digital labour and content."

A features journalist said: "Ineptitude of senior executives and Klondike rush for gold on the internet at the cost of quality."

Asked for the positives, one journalist said: "Family atmosphere: staff genuinely care about product, want to do their best despite the circus."

Another said: "A good working environment, supportive bosses, regularly aspire to higher ethical values than our direct competitors."

Independent: 'Corrupting influence of clickbait on brand'

Participants: 4. Average rating: 7.8. Number who enjoy job: 4/4.

Four Independent journalists filled in last summer's survey, with two highlighting concerns over job security. Last week, it was announced that the daily and Sunday newspapers would close, with the loss of 100 jobs expected.

The other two listed their concerns as: "Lack of staff to ensure error-free publication." And: "Lack of investment, staff turnover (inc possibly me), corrupting influence of clickbait on brand."

Asked what they liked about it as a place of work, each listed the people they worked with and the "values" of the newspapers.

The Guardian: 'Relaxed but busy atmosphere'

Participants: 3. Average rating: 8.3. Number who enjoy job: 3/3.

Three people from The Guardian newspaper group filled in the survey, with two rating it eight out of ten and the other nine.

Two, including a casual staff member, were concerned about job security. And the other complained about their being "no obvious/ fair opportunities to progress".

Asked what they liked about the job, a production journalist said: "Relaxed but busy atmosphere." The others praised a "good environment" and "ethical management".

Financial Times: 'Bad communication between management and staff'

Participants: 2. Average rating: 7.5. Number who enjoy job: 1/2.

Two journalists who filled in the survey said they worked for the Financial Times. 

Under their concerns section, a reporter said: "Poor staff management when it comes to job moves, which are handled very badly. Bad communication between management and staff and a lot of time is wasted unnecessarily as a result."

The other complained about a lack of opportunities and pay.

On the positive side, the reporter said: "Good pay, smart, nice colleagues, innovative environment, no sales pressure – strongly encouraged to find good stories."

Others: 80-90-hour working weeks 'have become the norm'

In addition, 77 other journalists – freelance and staff – said they worked primarily for national newspapers.

A common concern among journalists was job security, with freelances also complaining about having to take unfavourable shifts.

One freelancer, who said they earn £30-40,000, said: "The pay is decent. I try not to take shifts for less than £150/day, but usually get £160 or more. Some shifts at nationals – 12-hour shifts – work out at more than £260.

"However, I'm concerned that there's little prospect for promotion and the associated wage increases enjoyed by full-time staff. I'm also keen to stay relevant and well-trained; some of my employers train me in their tools, but with others it's more a case of turn up, do the shift, go home."

One reporter, who did not say where they worked, listed as concerns: "Bullying, verbal abuse, story lines already decided before the facts are fully known. Incompetent management and senior edtiorial staff letting the general reporting staff down."

Another reporter complained about: "Verbal absue from dawn to dusk, incompetent senior managers and editorial staff who seem lost and have no understanding of the job, pressure to write a specific angle on a story before the facts have emerge, constant pressure for comment before the facts are known.

They said 80-90-hour weeks "have become the norm" at their newspaper.

On the positives of working as a national newspaper freelance, one participant said: "Working for myself rather than psychopaths."

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