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September 21, 2015updated 28 Oct 2015 8:16pm

‘Five years ago I loved it, now I’m quitting!’ Local journalism survey reveals pay, security and clickbait concerns

By William Turvill

Newsquest journalists are the least happy of those working for major regional newspaper publishers, a Press Gazette survey has found.

Over the summer, more than 700 journalists filled in an anonymous online survey marking Press Gazette’s 50th anniversary.

Overall, 205 people who filled in the survey said they worked in the regional press. Some of this number were freelances and so also worked in other areas.

Many of the responses reflect the increased commercial pressure the regional newspaper industry has come under in recent years, particularly since the financial crash of 2008.

Since then, estimates for the number of regional press editorial jobs lost varies from 25-50 per cent of the pre-crash total of around 13,000. One participant in this survey revealed that the number of reporters on their daily has decreased from as high as 30 in 2005 to 11 now. Another daily newspaper journalist said their title's editorial staff number has halved in seven years.

Asked to rate their places of work out of ten, regional press journalists gave the average score 6.1 out of 10. Meanwhile, 200 of the participants chose to answer whether they enjoyed their job – with 31 (15.5 per cent) saying they did not.

By comparison, in the survey as a whole, the average score was 6.6 out of 10, with 12 per cent of participants saying they did not enjoy their jobs.

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All of the regional press staff journalists who filled out the salary part of the survey said they earned less than £50,000.

Their answers were as follows:

  • £10,000 or less a year: 3
  • £10,000 to £15,000: 5
  • £15,000 to £20,000: 51
  • £20,000 to £25,000: 45
  • £25,000 to £30,000: 45
  • £30,000 to £40,000: 20
  • £40,000 to £50,000: 7.

People filling in the survey were encouraged to provide as much information about themselves as possible while staying anonymous.

The big four: 'Management thinks stories grow on trees'

Some 52 of those from the regional press filling in the survey identified themselves as working for one of the big four publishers – Trinity Mirror (19), Newsquest (15), Local World (10) and Johnston Press (8).

Newsquest was the most poorly rated of the four, scoring an average 4.3 out of 10.

The 15 Newsquest journalists complained of "heavy workloads", “poor (non-existent) communication from senior management”, “low pay” and “constant cutting of staff”.

One Newsquest journalist said: “[It] feels like management thinks stories grow on trees. It's not bullying but somewhere between that and wildly high and unrealistic expectations.”

Johnston Press was the next worst performing regional newspaper group, scoring 5.5 out of 10. Participants complained of being overworked, with one saying: “People have taken on more and more responsibilities without the financial rewards.”

One Johnston Press reporter said there is no union representation in their office and that to introduce it would be “career suicide”.

Another Johnston Press reporter said: "Great job, but can't help but feel that the important functions of the job are being surrendered in favour of funny cats, and pictures of Kim Kardashian's arse. Sad thing is, I don't think the public really cares." 

Local World scored an average 5.8 out of 10. “Pressure from management for web clicks over good journalism [is a problem],” said one respondent. “Pressure from the advertising department to tone down an award winning newspaper to appease their clients [is also a problem].”

Another said: “An ever shrinking workforce means more work for the remaining staff. Recently we have seen a number of people leave and not be replaced because there 'is no money'.

“The clickbait culture is also a concern in that it appears to be starting to affect what stories appear on the front page, which has resulted in some questionable splashes of late. The website is definitely a priority over the paper.”

Trinity Mirror was the highest-rated regional newspaper publisher at the time of the survey, scoring an average 6.2 out of 10. Some 11 of the 19 said they had concerns about staffing levels and job security.

One participant listed their concerns as: “Staffing levels, workload, lack of resources to adequately cover the patch, pay, the lurking feeling the whole operation will be shut down sooner or later.”

Others: Impact of staffing cuts 'on what we cannot cover is dramatic'

The majority of local newspaper journalists did not specify which company they worked for in the survey.

One journalist listed the following problems with their place of work: “Low-level commercial pressure not to annoy certain advertisers. Low pay. Chronic staffing levels – our newsroom now has about half the staff it had seven years ago. The impact on what we cannot cover is dramatic."

A news editor said: “Ownership/senior management's disgusting disinterest in actual news and production of a quality product in favour of pointless clickbait listicles/galleries for morons.”

A sports journalist said: “The company I work for treat us like cattle. The amount of work continues to mount as redundancies continue but there is no recompense for those of us who remain. We are given little editorial control, treated like children if we don't simply fill templates and try to show some creativity.”

A production journalist wrote: "Too much work, too few people to do, falling standards of writing & legal knowledge, lack of general knowledge and news sense." They added: "If you'd asked me to fill this in five years ago answers would have been so different. I loved it, now I'm quitting!"

A news editor participant also revealed they had recently quit. They said: "So disillusioned, depressed, angry, insulted,  abused, taken advantage of,  underpaid and overworked I have just resigned."

A North West England journalist said: "I wanted to be a journalist to uncover corruption, inform the public and make people accountable. Editors aren't interested in those stories any more – they prefer Z list celebs with their boobs out because it gets more website hits."

A deputy editor said: "The industry is changing, and we have to adapt with it to survive – I get that.  But generally this job isn't anywhere near as enjoyable or creative as it used to be and I am hunting for jobs in different industries."

What regional journalists enjoy about their jobs: 'The chance to make mischief in the public interest'

Participants were also asked to list what they enjoyed about their jobs.

One said: “Autonomy. The ability to write a story and get it in the paper with minimal layers of editors to decided whether it should run. The chance to make mischief in the public interest.”

Another listed “Amazing co-workers, newsroom banter, creative freedom”, and a Newsquest journalist said their place of work had “good parking”.

One South West reporter said: “I love my job, I love the pressure, I love my colleagues, I love the daily challenges and I love it when the figures are high.”

A Johnston Press reporter said: "Best job in the world, meet lots of interesting people, help to change society through telling people important information that they may not ordinarily know, holding elected officials to account."

Another participant said they enjoyed "causing mischief and upsetting the applecart" and another appreciated the "freedom to develop [their] own ideas".

A Trinity Mirror journalist praised the "ethical attitude" of their workplace.

Another journalist, based in Wales, valued the "lack of corporate bullshit".

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

And on 18 June this year, Press Gazette 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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