Northcliffe South East research suggests most journalism trainees leave local newspapers within five years

Less than half of the 60 trainee journalists who joined Northcliffe South East between 2008 and 2011 are still working in local papers.

A study by former Northcliffe editorial director Alan Geere has shown that of 60 trainees who joined during the period, ten (16.6 per cent) have gone into PR and marketing, while four (6.6 per cent) have moved on to completely different careers. A further two have set up their own non-journalistic businesses.

Meanwhile, 13 (21.7 per cent) of the 60 have stayed with Northcliffe South East (now part of the Local World group) and another 13 are working for other newspapers: of these six have gone to work for local rival titles and three have moved on to a national newspaper. Of the original 60 who joined Northcliffe as trainees, 22 were still working in the UK regional press according to Geere's research. 

Some 14 (23.3 per cent) are in other journalism jobs – trade publications, online publishers, consumers magazines, news agencies and television – and four (6.6 per cent) remain as freelance journalists. Geere notes, though: “It is perhaps too easy to confuse ‘freelance’ with ‘unemployed’.”

Asked for reasons behind 'jumping ship', trainees generally cited pay. During the period, maximum pay for a trainee stood at £17,000 a year and one respondent complained about having to work 50 hours a week for £14,500 a year.

One former reporter said: “The pay can be very difficult to live on. It’s not all about the money, but as much as you can romanticise the idea of doing something as a passion, it is important to be able to pay your bills and eat properly…”

On those who switched to PR and marketing, Geere said: “Salaries are undeniably higher in PR and marketing…

“As one ex-reporter says: ‘I’d reached the end of my patience with local journalism and the way it was going. My editor at the time did not make the job any more enjoyable with his panicking ways and high stress levels.’”

As for those who stayed at Northcliffe South East newspapers, including one journalist who remains as a trainee after six years, Geere said: “This group are either loyal and committed of cautious and unambitious.”

For many who stayed in local journalism the deciding factor was the variety of the work, as one said: "I love meeting lots of interesting, funny, strange, scary people and being able to share their stories."

Alan Geere's research appears in What Do We Mean By Local? The Rise, Fall – and Possible Rise Again – of Local Journalism. It is published this week by Abramis priced £19.95.

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