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Reporter opens up on escape from ‘miserable world of clickbait’

Abi WhistanceA reporter has claimed readers are being turned off by online strategies designed to maximise page views after leaving a daily newspaper for an independent title.

Abi Whistance has spoken out about her time working for National World daily the Yorkshire Evening Post after moving to independent website the Liverpool Post.

Abi, pictured, joined the Leeds-based YEP in 2021.

In a first-person piece for her new employer, entitled ‘The miserable world of clickbait’, she described her former colleagues at the title as “bring profoundly disillusioned with their work”.

Abi wrote: “The newspaper was owned by one of the big companies that control the vast majority of regional news in the UK. And it suffered from exactly the problem that all of these companies do: an obsession with chasing online traffic and a modus operandi of getting lots of young journalists to churn out massive volumes of stories in order to get that traffic.

“I was expected to produce a minimum of three stories per day, but often wrote more like five. This sort of output is often — uncharitably but truthfully — referred to as ‘churnalism’.

“It’s all in the word: this number of stories meant it wasn’t possible to spend time researching the topics I cared about; I didn’t have enough time to head out and do the kind of on the ground reporting that leads to valuable stories. Instead I just had to bash something, anything, out.”

“A year into working there, I decided it had all been a huge mistake. My years at university studying journalism? A waste — this clearly wasn’t the career path for me. I started talking to my colleagues, many of whom felt the same, but we all agreed there was very little we could do to change things.

“Our audiences wanted this quick, mechanical content, we’d tell ourselves. This is our only choice. It was only when I began to question the model of mainstream news that I realised this perception of our audience was wrong.

“One day, scrolling through our social media channels, I realised something uncomfortable. In actual fact, most of our readers resented us for what we’d churn out on a daily basis.

“They might click, because the headlines were alluring and the stories were about topics they wanted to know about, but they would often leave comments like ‘You call this real journalism?’ and ‘I wouldn’t wipe my arse with this’.

“They didn’t seem to enjoy reading hastily-produced journalism any more than we enjoyed churning it out. There was a joylessness in writing that stuff that clearly showed through — not to mention the robotic element of trying to shoehorn in trending phrases and buzzwords that would make the stories perform better on Google.”

Abi joined the Post at the end of last month.

Comparing her old role to her new job, she wrote: “It’s been a little under a fortnight since I joined the team but it’s amazing how different my working day is now. In an average week at The Post I’m expected to file one or two stories, rather than 15. And they’re the kinds of stories that are supposed to make Merseyside a better, more transparent place.

“I have time to make dozens of calls for a story, go hunting for documents and make trips to interview people in person.

“That’s the foundation of why The Post has made such a massive impact so early in its life — it allows journalists to do journalism again.

“I must admit, producing longform journalism about the city I love seemed like a bit of a pipe dream just six months ago, but already I feel things are being set in motion. Everything feels impossibly exciting.”

HTFP has approached National World for a response to Abi’s comments.