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Trainer demands regional press action on ‘Dark Ages’ trainee pay

Paul WiltshireA journalism trainer has demanded industry action on the wages paid to trainee reporters – branding them fit for the “Dark Ages”.

The University of Gloucestershire’s Paul Wiltshire has sparked a debate on the subject in the regional press after revealing just two out of 17 of his most recent cohort of graduates are now working in news reporting.

In a blog on the subject, Paul claimed starting salaries in the regional press remain as low as £17,100 per year and stated his belief such wages are deterring would-be journalists from applying for jobs.

But his comments have provoked a response from Newsquest editorial director Toby Granville, who instead blamed “very negative” university lecturers as a reason why his company encounters a lack of candidates for some roles.

In his blog, Paul said he had recently received a “heart-breaking” email from a “young and talented reporter who quit their job because they see no way of ever qualifying as a senior”.

He wrote: “Too often, young journalists have to navigate their own way through the NCTJ system, hassling for shorthand teaching, before simply running out of energy.

“Those that manage it after a couple of years are rewarded with a pay rise which takes them to £21,000 – the sort of salary they should have been paid from the start.

“For decades, the industry built its business model on a belief that young staff will suck up poor pay and conditions because the media jobs market is so competitive, and that if it doesn’t work out with one reporter, there’ll be another coming round the corner in a minute to take their place at the interview table.

“If the difficulties so many editors are now facing don’t show the madness of that business model, nothing ever will.”

Paul went on to call for regional publishers to work more closely with the training sector on selling their industry and “ensuring their salaries really are competitive”.

But, responding on Twitter, Toby called for journalism trainers previously “made redundant from newsrooms” to change their attitude in order to encourage their students to enter the industry and described £20k to £25k as being an entry salary “typical for our main titles”.

He wrote: “Paul, our journalists rate job satisfaction as key reason for being in the industry – not salary. It’s a competitive market currently as all publishers are expanding.

“The main reason we encounter lack of candidates is because university lecturers have been very negative about joining us.”

Addressing Paul, who has recently undertaken a week working for free in a Newsquest newsroom, Toby added: “I’m not saying you’ve been negative in the least. But some made redundant from newsrooms who became lecturers tell students we’re a dying industry. That needs to change.”

“I’m glad you spent a week in one of our newsrooms Paul. Many lecturers should do the same as so many are out of touch with the modern newsroom. How can they teach what they don’t know.”

Toby also revealed Newsquest has introduced an “incentive scheme” based on page views for reporters and said some are now earning between £25k and £30k a year as a result.

The debate comes after Hereford Times editor John Wilson last month hit out at rival publishers over “unethical” attempts to poach his trainee journalists – claiming a recent recruitment boom in the industry had sparked an increase in the practice.

Speaking to HTFP, Paul said: “I hope my blog and the exchanges on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn prompted by it have shown beyond doubt that low pay can be a deterrent to talented young people joining – and staying in – the regional media industry.

“There comes a point – perhaps when your salary begins with a healthy figure in the 20s – where job satisfaction, newsroom camaraderie and a sense of shared community goals can be far more powerful than money in keeping people in jobs.

“But I have spoken to and heard from enough young reporters in the last few weeks for it to be crystal clear that below that figure, money does matter. And it’s not just about making ends meet. It’s about feeling valued and invested in.

“A starting salary of £17.1k a year isn’t going to give anyone that feeling.

“The pennies have literally begun to drop at Reach, and companies such as Newsquest and JPI are offering more imaginative salaries for some of the new – and hugely welcome – roles they have created. But the basic pay for their trainees on the ground remains in the Dark Ages.

“Now that the industry appears on the road to a more buoyant future, it is time for greater honesty and transparency – and generosity.”

HTFP has approached JPIMedia and Newsquest for further comment on Paul’s remarks, while Reach has declined to comment.