Insight and analysis from Press Gazette news editor William Turvill

'Lions led by donkeys'? Online employee reviews lift lid on life at national newspapers

Publisher/ newspaper Average score (out of five) Number of votes
Associated Newspapers 3.2 4
Evening Standard (Independent not available) 2 1
Financial Times 3.2 40
Guardian News and Media 4.2 12
News UK (News International) 4 (2.8) 2 (6)
Northern and Shell 1 1
Telegraph Media Group 2.7 6
Trinity Mirror
2.2 16

Last month, Press Gazette delved through employee reviews website Glassdoor.co.uk to see what staff make of working at the BBC. The answer, in a nutshell, was that a lot of people enjoy working there (it scored an average 3.4 stars out of five from employees), but that over-management and bureacracy are common bugbears.

National newspaper publishers generally scored a lower satisfaction rating than the BBC, albeit with fewer reviews - some of which date back to 2008 - to go on.

Trinity Mirror - the publisher of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Sunday People and a number of regional titles - scored the lowest of any of the newspaper group, with 2.2 stars.

Telegraph Media Group, Northern and Shell and the Evening Standard also scored below three stars, but with fewer votes than TM's 16.

Guardian News and Media got the top score, with 4.2 from 12 votes, and the Financial Times scored 3.2, with employees praising the "brand" but describing it as an "old boys club".

One anonymous reviewer described Trinity Mirror as having a “terrible working environment” and said it was “quite simply [the] most depressing place to work”. Writing last month, they also criticised the management and claimed that a lot of people within the company were looking for a way out.

A digital marketer criticised the company for employing senior newspaper staff “with no digital knowledge”. Another employee, describing themselves as a senior manager, suggested there is a case of “lions led by donkeys” within the company.

Another anonymous former employee described the 'cons' of the company as: “Uninspiring management lacking in vision or leadership with an inability to enthuse or motivate staff. Constant (and well-justified fear) that cost-cutting means job insecurity and if that means sacrificing quality, so be it. Thoroughly dispiriting place to work. A once great institution in irreversible decline.”

"A once great institution in irreversible decline"

An anonymous former journalist from Newcastle wrote in the 'pros' section for Trinity Mirror: “It's still journalism and there are still a few excellent people left. By and large most of the people are decent and good to work with.”

But they added: “Constant cost cutting, redundancies and strategy changes. Lack of investment means plummeting quality and circulation for print publications while even though digital viewing figures are rocketing, the company has no real clue as to how to make money from that.”

Six voters gave Telegraph Media Group an average rating of 2.7, with one former employee praising the company for providing a “gym, nurse, subsidised cafe, massages etc.”. But they also described it as an “old boys club” in the 'cons' section.

The Telegraph was criticised for a lack of career progression opportunities, a high turnover and a “lazy approach to recruitment”.

Associated Newspapers has received just two reviews in the last two years. One former HR worker listed a 'con' of working there as: “Low self esteem working for the publisher of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday whose opinion on minority issues made it difficult to endure.”

A reporter gave the company four stars in 2008. They said in the 'pros' column: “Excellent pay compared to almost all other newspapers and media outlets in the UK. Very fair compensation packages, particularly for freelance journalists and stringers, whom they pay well and promptly.

"Because they are well off they have excellent resources, and can afford to send you to different locations, or to pay contacts. Consequently you can produce very detailed material, and obtain information other newspapers cannot afford to. Additionally, the office atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, much more so than other newspapers, and staff are generally very kind to new co-workers. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays in particular the office is fun, lively and friendly”

In the 'cons' section, they wrote: “Extremely competitive whenever stories are given out. Do less well than a coworker and you will be questionned as to why they were better than you. Very little respect for holidays, days off and working hours. You will be called at any time of the day or night, no matter where you are, and expected to reply immediately. This can make the office very pressurised, though it does mean that you can produce some very good work indeed. It is just tiring when you have not had a day off in a fortnight and they still pester you for more stories.”

"It is just tiring when you have not had a day off in a fortnight and they still pester you for more stories"

There were no reviews for the The Independent and just one for sister title the Evening Standard, rating it at two stars. Written last month by an employee describing themselves as a "writer", it warned that the job was getting bigger and the staff smaller.

They said: "As with many newspaper groups, we have had cuts, after cuts, after cuts. As a result departments have been cut to the bone even though the work has increased as we now have to furnish copy for the website on top of the paper. 

"This has led to longer hours and dissatisfied staff. Some departments have been merged with those from the Independent, which has added to reporters' workloads as the two papers run on different deadlines."

Daily Express and Daily Star publisher Northern and Shell also received one review, rating it at one star. Written last month by an anonymous former employee, it described the company as "some bizarre 80s throwback".

They said: "There is no respect for the staff by the senior management, who try to rule over their employees using fear. I've witnessed people having mugs thrown at them and being shouted at through a megaphone, and otherwise intimidated. I survived a year there and moved on."

"I've witnessed people having mugs thrown at them and being shouted at through a megaphone"

Their advice to senior management was: "Show people some respect. Your industry is dying and you need smart people to help you innovate, but all the smart people leave and no-one wants to stick their neck up to innovate in a culture where they either won't be listened to or it will be bitten off."

News International scored an average 2.8 stars, with employees criticising a “top heavy” organisation. One employee was particularly critical of the “beards” in HR:  “They care not a jot for the welfare of staff - closing down a paper and firing a load of staff with one week's notice is just the tip of the iceberg. I know plenty of people who have been bullied out of their jobs and HR have either stood by twiddling their thumbs or assisted management in doing so.”

A reporter said in March 2012: ”It's a big company, with lots of different titles there's a lot of room for progression and career growth.”

They also praised the catering and flexible hours, before adding in the cons section: “When things go wrong, those at the bottom of the pile are first to suffer. Company seems happy to keep majority of staff on temporary contracts which I guess makes it easier/cheaper when they're making redundacies.”

An IT employee, who gave the company five stars, wrote last January: “The company has gone through it's fair share of trouble but believe that it is coming through this now with increasing digital sales, and deals such as the new Premier League one just signed.”

News International was rebranded as News UK last year has so far attracted two reviews in its new guise, with both giving it four stars.he two employees.

The Financial Times has been rated by 40 anonymous employees, scoring an average of 3.2 stars.

The “middle management” of the company was criticised along with the “old boys club” atmosphere cited by many.

One employee wrote in March: “To sum: glossy finish on the outside, horribly run machine on the inside.”

"Glossy finish on the outside, horribly run machine on the inside"

A digital marketer described the FT as “way too political, institutionalised mediocrity, with a strange 'good people leave' management culture”.

They said that although the FT is a great "brand" and has a nice office, there is a “bullying culture”, with “intense levels of insecurity” and a “very politically toxic working environment”.

An employee said in 2012: “The FT is extremely political and therefore many of the managers follow their own agendas, if you don't fit that agenda then you will have problems.”

Another said: “'Old boys club' previals amoungst the managers and staff. if your in it you can get away with murder. frustrating in the extreme if your new and have some good ideas.

“Management is ignorant of the needs of communication with staff members, you may as well talk to the desk.

“Many of the managers follow their own agendas, if you dont fit that agenda then you will have problems. This is especially the case with middle IT management.”

A further FT employee said: “The FT is a highly political company and if you are unwilling or unable to "play the game" you will get no where on the progression ladder. There is a layer of middle management desperately trying to justify their jobs and in doing so, block communication going up or down.”

An analyst programmer gave the company four stars, but said: “A few very angry people still at the FT, some might excuse it for passion - but seen some fits of rage in meetings that have amused and appalled in equal measure. This needs to be looked at - it's unacceptable and can be intimidating for some”

All but one of the 12 reviewers on Guardian News and Media gave the company four stars or more, but employees suggest that a lack of career progression has led to good workers being lost.

One reporter, who described the company as “highly political”, gave the following advice to management: “The company culture has encouraged too many ambitious people fighting each other, instead of pulling together to do good work. There are too many chiefs and job cuts have succeeded in getting rid of some of the most able people and left many of those who are problematic.”

An account manager said: “Its great to work for a company where your voice is actually heard, all senior management are approachable and friendly and make the time to listen to any member of staff.

“The staff benefits are really good covering everything from discounted gym memberships to annual staff conferences where staff that have gone above and beyond are recognised and rewarded for their efforts.”

Of the four major regional publishers, Trinity Mirror again comes bottom (using the same ratings as before), although Northcliffe, which has now been replaced by Local World (not yet reviewed), scored an average 1.7 stars from three reviews.

Johnston Press, meanwhile, scored 2.4 stars from seven reviews. One media sales advisor wrote this week that they were “stressed, over worked, bullied and underpaid”. In the ‘cons’ area, they wrote: “the managers, unrealistic targets and fleecing innocent people out of money”.

Archant scored 2.8 stars from six reviews. A reporter based in Norwich wrote in 2011: “Newsroom not plesant place to work, very tough, you work long hours, relentless...no transparency between management and staff..office politics, poor leaders, incompetent management, the usual.”

The latest reviewer, who works in HR, put in the cons section: “Not much to say here, I'm really enjoying my time with the company.”

Newsquest scored the highest rating of the regional publishers, with an average of three stars from four reviews.

But one anonymous employee wrote last month: “Utter shambles of a business, Luddite mentality to new media, fingers crossed approach to old media.”

Please note, the quotes from the Glassdoor website have not been edited to correct grammatical errors or spelling mistakes.

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