The boss of That’s TV has denied the company relies on unpaid interns to run its stations after allegations surfaced from former employees this week that they were “constantly exhausted” while working for little or no pay.
A Buzzfeed investigation into the TV company, published last week, examined the use of BBC money for its local news coverage.
The report led to former employees taking to Twitter to share their experiences of the local news station.
Elle Rudd, who worked unpaid at local news station That’s Manchester from 2015 to 2016, told Press Gazette: “I collapsed twice with exhaustion on the job.
“Including my bar job I was working around 100 hours a week. The bar job just about paid my rent and gave me money for the bus to get to work.”
That’s TV receives funding via the government’s local TV initiative, introduced in 2011 by former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, which uses money from the BBC licence fee.
That’s Media founder and chief executive Daniel Cass told Press Gazette: “That’s TV and its associated companies have an agreement in place with the BBC which is the subject of internal checks and procedures, as well as externally by the BBC.
“The companies are open and transparent with the BBC and Ofcom. That’s TV uses BBC funds wholly for the purposes they are intended for – to fund the development of local television news services.
“This was the purpose of the programme and the intention of the government when the scheme was launched.”
Sharing his experience of the company Sam Tomlinson, who worked for That’s Lancashire in 2015, said on Twitter: “I once passed out in a taxi on the way to do a night shift at McDonald’s after doing over ten hours at That’s TV, unpaid with no lunch break.”
Rudd, who worked unpaid at That’s Manchester during her university placement year, told Press Gazette: “There was a constant rotation of students coming in.
“It got to the point where people didn’t bother to learn people’s names because there were always new people coming through in a constant wave just to try and push the workload forward.”
She added: “I’d say a lot of people dropped out because of the stress and the lack of resources to help them.
“We didn’t have time to talk them through the job which is what they expected from a work experience placement. A lot of the time they got neglected.”
She claimed only four to five journalists at That’s Manchester were paid, while “everyone else, technical directors, producers and directors were unpaid”.
Rudd said “the work was great” but that she was “constantly exhausted” working “long hours for no money”.
She said: “I would then leave the office at 7pm to go to my bar job and work until 5am so I was constantly exhausted.”
Rudd claimed that journalists would “beg” for better cameras and equipment and for paid roles, but that they were always told “there was no money”.
A former That’s York journalist, who lasted a week at the station in July 2017, described their time there as “the longest week of my life”.
They said: “There were four journalists, including me that made up the bulk of the team. The oldest there was 22 or 23, she was finishing off her Masters, and the rest had just graduated.”
The source explained that although the team working on That’s York were paid, it was at minimum wage, with no overtime, and on the condition that the first two weeks were unpaid in order to train them for the job.
The former employee said: “I was taken on as a contractor so was only paid from 10am to 5pm… The show was scheduled to go out at 6pm.
“At York we were often there until 8pm and we were not paid for those extra hours.”
The ex-employee said they were refused expenses when asked to go and help set up a new station 40 miles away in Scarborough on their first day.
In response Cass said: “The core purpose of the company is to develop a business to promote and support local TV which is commercially sustainable.
“That’s TV is operating a model designed to deliver the benefits of local television news services in communities and to provide opportunities to journalists to help to launch their careers.
“This includes successful collaborations with a number of universities, including as part of placement schemes on journalism courses.”
Despite the long hours and no pay Rudd stayed at That’s TV for a year.
“There were a few moments where I considered leaving but I liked working there, I liked the city and I liked being a journalist,” she said.
“I was made to feel that I’d never have a job in journalism if I left so I was scared of leaving just in case I had to be a bartender forever.”
Commenting on the local TV initiative and the BBC’s connection to That’s TV, a BBC spokesperson said: “We agreed to pay for material produced by Local TV stations as part of our charter with the government.
“Stations must provide us with a set amount of material to receive the funding.
“This is material they produce to broadcast themselves, under the terms of their own licence with Ofcom.”
They added: “Local TV stations supply a feed of material and are paid for the supply not use.”