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Sixty trainee journalists: Where are they now?

A research study into the careers of 60 trainee journalists who began working for a regional press division has found that just 43pc are still working in newspapers a few years on.

The study by Alan Geere, left, former editorial director of Northcliffe South-East, found that many trainees had left the newspaper industry because of low pay and disillusionment, although only four had left journalism or PR completely.

He carried researched the destinations of 60 trainee journalists recruited by Northcliffe South-East between 2008 and 2011, finding that 13 remained with a newspaper published by the division, which is now owned by Local World, while another 13 were still working in newspapers but with other employers.

Alan’s research into his former trainees, which includes recommendations on training, has been published in the new edition of What Do We Mean By Local?, which is being serialised by HoldtheFrontPage.

He found that, as of June this year, 14 of the trainees were working in another area of journalism, including trade publications, news agencies and online publishers, while ten were in PR or marketing and six of the group had gone freelance or were running their own business.

The remaining four trainees were no longer involved in journalism – taking up careers as a a teacher, an author, a shop assistant and a stand-up comedian.

And Alan criticised trainees for using the excuse of low pay as a reason for leaving the local press, saying that the salary expectations were always clearly explained at interview.

He wrote: “So, what happens between accepting a job with salary expectations clearly explained and leaving just a few years later with poor money cited as a reason?

“The salaries are realistic for the creative industries and promotion to senior reporter, chief reporter, news editor and editor brings incremental rewards with the editor of even a small weekly paper earning more than £30k.

“Money is, I feel, is often used as an excuse to get out. Journalists who leave either during their training or shortly after qualifying can feel an embarrassment that they have abused their employer by accepting the training (at a cost of an average of £1,000 per head) and then jumping ship.

“Complaining that they are not compensated well enough is a convenient excuse when they are really finding the going too tough or they realise they are not good enough.”

Responses from the trainees when asked about the worst thing about being a newspaper reporter included long hours and the relentless nature of the job.

One trainee complained about “Working long hours for little reward”, while another highlighted “The never-ending cuts, which made it harder and harder to put in the time required to create the very best stories”.

Respondents also had mixed views on whether they would recommend newspaper journalism as a career, with one saying “it is an incredibly frustrating and bleak time for newspapers”.

There were also positive aspects of the job given by those who remained in newspaper journalism, such as the variety of the work and the privilege of speaking to people and covering stories.

One trainee said: “I love meeting lots of interesting, funny, strange, scary people and being able to share their stories.”

In his recommendations, Alan said he believes the system of training new journalists “often falls down at the newspaper office” and said there was no oversight of the quantity or quality of support provided by senior staff.

He suggested that an online training schedule should be devised to be completed at set intervals and work experience should set out in a formal contract, with a minimum period compulsory before a job offer is made.

Alan also said there needed to be a unified campaign backed by proprietors, industry bodies and training organisations to “sell” journalism as a “rewarding and viable career to the genuine brightest and best”.

He added: “The journalism industry needs to wake up and stop fooling itself that the brightest and best young people are queuing up to enter journalism. They are not.

“The lack of a defined career path, uncertainty over the future and direction of journalism and better offers from other creative industries mean journalism is not the first choice of career.”

Alan’s report can be read here.

15 comments

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  • August 14, 2013 at 10:13 am
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    “So, what happens between accepting a job with salary expectations clearly explained and leaving just a few years later with poor money cited as a reason?”

    If this man had an understanding or empathy he would realise that people’s circumstances change. They may start their career as single but, like most of us, after a few years, begin to think about settling down. They realise that a reporter’s salary is not enough to buy a house and raise a family. That’s why they leave for better paid jobs. It is laughable that Geere thinks that an editor’s salary of £30k is somehow good. You can earn more churning out press releases at a local council.

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  • August 14, 2013 at 10:17 am
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    “Journalists who leave either during their training or shortly after qualifying can feel an embarrassment that they have abused their employer by accepting the training (at a cost of an average of £1,000 per head) and then jumping ship”

    Would be very interested to see what this ‘average’ cost was based on and what went into it.

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  • August 14, 2013 at 11:09 am
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    The majority of trainees go into local papers because they know it is the best training ground. Naturally they accept whatever pay conditions are offered to get a start on the ladder, but few intend staying after they have qualified. That has always been the case, so what’s surprising about about this survey?

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  • August 14, 2013 at 11:46 am
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    Geere participated in Northcliffe’s halving of its staff from 2009 which vastly increased workloads, stress and working hours for journalists. It meant they were forced to cut corners and hindered their ability to carry out their professional duties. The jobs massacre particularly targeted those in slightly better paid editorial jobs and flattened the newsroom hierarchy, considerably reducing prospects for career progession for those who remained. I am surprised to hear him say editors on small weeklies get £30k plus – that’s news to me, particularly for those installed in the job in recent years. Pay was frozen for a number of years and the final salary pension scrapped. It is risable that Geere attacks trainees who leave when decent terms and conditions – as the basis for a lifetime’s career – have been laid waste by their bosses, offering them only joyless slog for pay rates bearing no relation to the responsibilities and effort put in. Instead of blaming everyone else, those who have drove the media ship on to the rocks should take some responsibility for their failure and get out of the way while those who believe that journalism requires proper resources get on with the job of rebuilding a great industry.

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  • August 14, 2013 at 11:51 am
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    As an outsider with journalists in the family, I am amazed at this man’s ignorance of real life. Pay aside, does he think trainees are going to stay at any newspaper when they see more experienced colleagues being made redundant with all the consequent misery? Not only that, two of my local papers are now so poorly written that they have become laughing stocks in the area.

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  • August 14, 2013 at 12:31 pm
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    I walk everywhere, usually have to borrow money to pay my rent and sometimes literally can’t afford to eat. I make £15 k and live in an expensive city. Everyone else my age can afford to go out and have fun with their lives while I am stuck in every night. I love the job but the money isn’t enough to live on.
    Rewarding?

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  • August 14, 2013 at 12:33 pm
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    Surely a lot of contracts have clauses which mean if a trainee “jumps ship” shortly after qualifying as a senior they are liable to pay some of the training costs back – mine did!

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  • August 14, 2013 at 12:45 pm
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    Try paying a mortgage and raising a child on 21k as a senior reporter. You have no chance. What I needed to live on as a single bloke was a lot less than I needed as a husband and father. That’s why I got out, not because I couldn’t hack it.

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  • August 14, 2013 at 1:15 pm
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    ““The salaries are realistic for the creative industries and promotion to senior reporter, chief reporter, news editor and editor brings incremental rewards with the editor of even a small weekly paper earning more than £30k.”
    I earn £16,500 from my local paper job as a senior reporter. I could earn almost the same working in my local Tesco. Alan calls it realistic, I call it abysmal.

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  • August 14, 2013 at 1:29 pm
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    Al continues the tradition of newspaper managers turning their face to the plight of their more junior staff. His superficial ‘report’ glosses over the practice of stuffing newsrooms with trainees while forcing senior journalists out to reduce costs.
    As Kendo points out, people’s circumstances change, that’s why many have to leave. Al mentions interviews and how salaries are clearly explained. I wonder how clearly the furture of his newspapers was explained to candidates? I can’t help thinking some of his trainees began drifting off once the reality started sinking in. As for being embarassed about the cost of their training, I feel, like me, most will not give it a second thought.

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  • August 14, 2013 at 1:41 pm
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    “Those who have drove…” Tut, tut, Mr Morley.

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  • August 14, 2013 at 2:12 pm
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    People put up with the poor pay in years gone by because the job was in other ways so rewarding.

    But bit by bit every fun part of the job has been stripped out by the natural march of progress and the newspaper companies themselves.

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  • August 14, 2013 at 3:24 pm
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    I was a local hack at one of the Kent papers taken on by Northcliffe and it was a horrorshow of a proprietorship. There was a period, albeit brief, where everyone thought it would be great/couldn’t be much worse as previous owners Trinity Mirror had performed so poorly under the depressing stewardship of shareholder value-obsessed Sly Bailey. How wrong that hope turned out to be. Within just a few short years – and by that time I had thankfully left – Northcliffe had proved themselves, incredibly, to be WORSE than TM. Pay freezes a go-go, training budget slashed, replacing experienced staff with trainees, etc.
    For Alan Geere to even have a platform to push his dubious ‘survey’ and to criticise reporters for wanting job security, decent pay and pensions literally takes the biscuit. Or not, if you worked for Northcliffe, where even biscuits were rationed.

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  • August 15, 2013 at 4:33 pm
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    “Work experience should set out in a formal contract, with a minimum period compulsory before a job offer is made.”
    Another way of staffing an office on the cheap?

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