Newsquest “bonus scheme” places unprecedented pressure on staff

  • 11 Mar 2022

Findings from the NUJ reveal staff are struggling to meet high targets and cope with increasing pressure from Newsquest.

The NUJ is increasingly concerned about Newsquest’s use of bonus schemes accompanied by unrealistic digital targets, that lead to damaging impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of staff. Reporters working with large workloads, limited editorial resources and tight deadlines, now also face highly pressured newsrooms where a race to half a million views, may undermine journalistic standards and place quality journalism at risk.  

Newsquest reports an average of 'around' 200 of its reporters have received additional pay since 2019 under its page views incentive scheme. Under the scheme, reporters whose journalism generates more than 500,000 page views per month on average each quarter, are eligible for bonuses.

New survey findings from the NUJ, reveal staff are struggling to meet high targets and cope with overwhelming pressure placed on them by Newsquest. 72 per cent of survey participants stated they did not think their targets were achievable and the majority (62 per cent) did not receive any bonus in 2021. Of those that did trigger the organisation’s bonus scheme last year, only a small minority (9 per cent) received a payment in each of the four quarters, demonstrating the difficulty in generating the significant number of views required.

Newsquest’s American parent company Gannett, revealed last month in its latest annual report, that its UK subsidiary employed an average of 626 journalists. These figures from the company therefore show that two-thirds of Newsquest journalists received nothing from the digital bonus scheme.

The impact on the mental health of staff is considerable. An overwhelming majority (80 per cent) of participants confirmed they had suffered with stress as a result of the pressure of constant targets. Staff may not be unsurprised by such startling figures however, as some reported to the NUJ, that they remain unclear about specific measures they are subject to as part of the digital bonus scheme.

One journalist said:

“I have been set targets of engaged minutes, then page view totals, a group target and then 'conversions' all within three months.”

Chris Morley, Newsquest NUJ group chapel coordinator, said:

“Nobody should be fooled that Newsquest’s digital bonus scheme is generous, fair and equitable. Our members’ experience clearly shows otherwise and certainly does not make up for endemic poor pay and conditions within the company.

“We think journalists should be properly paid for the valuable job they perform within the democratic fabric of this country, not on how many clicks they turn in. As a union we want to see journalists have decent pay that they can rely on to meet the bills.”

Over half (55 per cent), of survey participants said they were actively looking for a job outside Newsquest, and the company risks exacerbating its recruitment and retention crisis, if it fails to improve working conditions staff face. Large one off pay rises that are not offered to all are unfair and do not fairly reward the hard work of members.

The NUJ is aware of poor rates of pay by Newsquest with almost three quarters (69 per cent) of respondents earning below £29,999. The union continues to press the company to improve staff pay in a climate that has included decade-long pay freezes and with a cost of living crisis impacting hard on members currently.

Without a review of the bonus scheme, Newsquest risks the erosion of collaboration between colleagues an increase in unhealthy competition and the encouragement of clickbait that damages journalism produced.

The union is calling on Newsquest to initiate a group-wide overhaul of editorial pay by setting up transparent and competitive salary structures through meaningful collective bargaining.

The NUJ survey to members was conducted in January and February 2022. Full survey findings will be reported to members, once analysis is complete.

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