A journalism trainer has raised concerns about newsroom pay rates and the “vulnerability” of journalists working in the industry today.
Paul Wiltshire, who lectures at the University of Gloucestershire, says there is “a lot of work to be done” on pay rates for both trainees and more experienced journalists after a report published by the National Council for the Training of Journalists revealed pay for graduates from its accredited courses has increased since 2015.
Writing on his personal blog, Paul said he was “pleased to see this progress”, but that he couldn’t “quite square the figure” with what he knew about industry pay rates – noting that in many newsrooms trainees are paid around £17,000 per year.
The former Bath Chronicle deputy editor, pictured, added that editors he had spoken to mentioned they had experienced difficultly in finding staff “within the tight budget constraints they are forced to operate under” – and noted journalists of today also “have a lot more on their plates” now than he did when he was at the same stage of his career.
On the blog, he wrote: “It’s not just the responsibilities of a ticklist that might include writing online, social and possibly even print headlines, of negotiating Facebook posting schedules, of shooting or sourcing video, and of getting involved in online discussions questioning your work, morals and parentage. And it’s not just the personal accountability now inextricably baked into page view metrics.”
Paul, who conducts an annual ‘work experience’ tour of regional newsrooms during the summer break, added: “Some newsroom managers may be part of three different WhatsApp groups, some of which may have membership well into double figures. But the newest reporters on that 17 grand will also be on at least one of these, with notifications pinging around the clock.
“Of course, the best reporters have always had a never-off-duty mantra. Before the days of mobile phones, I can remember trudging to a phone box to make evening check calls to the police – all without any extra pay or time back. And that’s without the Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day shifts. But I don’t think journalists have ever been more ‘always on’ than they are today.
“That’s why we should worry about pay levels. It’s not just the sometimes-disappointing starting salaries. It’s also the worry over the vulnerability of staff on more respectable money. I know one very experienced and talented journalist who quit a job they loved because they feared they would be next in line when redundancies were demanded.”
Paul went on to note there were “many reasons to be cheerful” in the NCTJ report, including an average salary of £27,500 for those who graduated in 2015.
But he concluded: “People don’t go into journalism for the money – and perhaps neither should they. As a boss, I would always be suspicious of applicants who were fixated on financial details.
“It’s a job where satisfaction, a feeling of making a difference, and of enriching community life by reporting and revealing key information are the main drivers. But it’s also a job where the demands have never been as high.
“Those job descriptions and lists of skills and requirements are growing all the time. It’s essential that the pay keeps moving in the right direction, too.”
Discussing the reaction his blog had received, Paul told HTFP: “There has been some welcome progress in recent years in terms of properly rewarding journalists for the increasing demands of the industry. But it’s clear from the reaction to my blog – and from what I already know – that in some areas there is still a lot of work to be done.”