Credit: Photo by Klemen Vrankar on Unsplash

On 14 March 2023, the publisher of hundreds of local news titles Reach plc announced that up to 420 jobs are at risk, with up to 192 to be made redundant following the consultation process. This is only two weeks after the conclusion of another redundancy process that started in January this year.

This announcement was met with anger and shock, and begs the question: is this putting young journalists off local news as a career choice? Journalism.co.uk spoke to aspiring reporters, who wished to remain anonymous.

"I don't want my dreams to come crashing down"

A Reach journalist working for a South West title tells Journalism.co.uk: "I'm gutted and shocked because we've been doing so well, meeting targets and getting page views.

"It's demoralising. It really seems like we're commodities, and it doesn't matter how committed or able people are. Don't tell me all 420 staff at risk of redundancy are not hard-working."

These concerns are shared by a local senior reporter who says she really wants to stay in journalism, but has regrets about not choosing a more sustainable career choice. She thinks PR or communications could provide a reliable fallback option. Law is appealing, but that would require upskilling.

Another senior reporter explains: "Reporters and editors do not deserve to be continually stretched and be the ones to lose their jobs."

The announcement has also affected the morale of other team members, with one editor in a central team at Reach saying: “I’m relieved that my job is safe but, equally, I'm devastated for the multiple hardworking and talented people who have lost their jobs."

Reach’s chief digital publisher David Higgerson offered this statement: "We are wholly committed to providing a sustainable home for local journalism for years to come”, conceding it has been a challenging year but that he "would never let that take away from the brilliant journalism our teams have delivered or the huge progress we’ve made."


Some local reporters revealed that this round of redundancies could leave certain geographical areas without any local reporters on the ground, leaving communities worse off.

Higgerson believes that Reach still plays a key role in providing news to underserved areas: "In many areas, we are the only local title with boots on the ground, which is something our teams should be very proud of."

Keeping the flame alive

A piece by Media Voices published following Reach’s announcement offers an analysis of another pitfall: "Its push for pageviews at all costs and a garbage web experience are causing immeasurable long-term harm," writes Esther Kezia Thorpe.

This is an issue the Media Mentor, David Spencer, knows well from his work with young journalists. Few graduates truly understand what some newsroom jobs will entail upon first applying.

"Organisations don't put down 'trawling' social media and trying to find in Facebook groups or reformulating wire copy," he says. "It’s not dressed up that way."

Some of the young people he has worked with became burnt out after six months. Most use local news roles as a springboard onto other journalism positions, leveraging all they have learned about content creation, story gathering and news writing.

Pay levels, pay transparency and job security are all reasons why the flame of local news is flickering out for youngsters. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) tell Journalism.co.uk in a statement they aim to ensure journalism can be "sustaining and fulfilling career" but that it "requires a shift from algorithm chasing and an increased focus on fair wages and conditions, and robust ethical standards."

An ex-Newsquest reporter says: "It sometimes feels a bit deflating with the environment we are in just now. You start to question what the future will look like."

They are envious of higher-paying industries that their friends are enjoying. It is something that broadcasting veteran Spencer says is not helped by undisclosed salaries on job adverts.

This is likely to have long-term impact on recruitment and retention of talents within the industry. As a report from Adobe's Future Workforce Study conducted in December with Advanis published outlines: 85 per cent of recent and upcoming US post-secondary and recent graduates respondents reported they are "less likely to apply for a job if the company does not disclose the salary range in the job posting."

Isabel Sachs founder and Director of job board and career development initiative I LIKE NETWORKING (ILN) and Journo Resources’ Jem Collins have both been at the forefront of supporting pay transparency in the field, requiring from their clients that paid job adverts include a salary range. Both job boards appeal to junior and mid-level roles, many now belonging to Gen Z.

The ILN founder works across the creative industry. She has noticed young journalists tend to be the ones asking for help with pitching, negotiating freelance rates and balancing paid versus unpaid work.

One graduate hoping to work in broadcasting shares a bleak picture: "Freelancing seems like the best option, but it's also unstable and really hard when starting out."

Some recruiters, such as the BBC through their apprenticeship schemes, do offer a clear career path, permanent position and transparency on salary. However, due to their popularity, these opportunities are scarce and competitive.

One BBC apprentice tells us she feels “hugely privileged” to be part of the scheme: "There are a lot of good schemes like this but they are for the elite few, and I wish it wasn't that way. There is a wealth of talent keen to get into the industry."

Opening the doors, not putting up walls

The NUJ added that there are reasons to be hopeful as the strike action by BBC Local that took place last week "proves staff are willing to fight for quality local journalism that is accessible and can properly reflect the communities it serves."

Olivia Crellin, founder and CEO of host-mentoring scheme PressPad goes further: "While many so-called diversity efforts, superficially, appear to open the doors to new and neglected voices, squeezing staff pay and numbers directly slams the door in the face of class and economic diversity - perspectives sorely needed in the current news environment of strikes, food banks and unaffordable basic services."

More diversity and inclusion in the media is known to “build audience trust”, and as the 2023 "Sustainability of local journalism" parliamentary report summarises: "Local journalism is vital to democracy, enabling people to hold local government and public services to account for decisions that can affect their everyday lives."

The issue with the lack of locally-rooted media is not only about reflecting communities or holding power accountable, however. It also pauses practical recruitment issues, slimming down the number of entry routes into journalism.

Spencer, both mentoring new talents and a broadcast journalist, says there is a pipeline issue, especially in radio. "It's really hard to find broadcast journalists at a beginner level, partly because people aren't consuming radio the way they used to, so perhaps 19-21 year-olds aren’t thinking 'I want to be a broadcast journalist'," he starts.

"But also there aren't places for them to go to be nurtured and to grow. It's a huge problem for BBC Local and some of the global brands hiring broadcast journalists."

Another issue, he says, is what is considered remote work. It often transpires what employers offer is hybrid work and journalists need to be in the office a few times a week. That is a missed opportunity to be more creative in reaching diverse talents.

PressPad's Crellin notices some progress, however, with some early careers schemes since the pandemic "going in the right direction" by moving opportunities outside of London. She highlights "the need to be physically present in a newsroom has diminished, leading to better access to some opportunities for those regardless of geographical location."

There are some tasks that can only be done in-person, she accepts, but the burden of bringing these talents to London should be mitigated, if not offset: "In addition to schemes like PressPad, we would encourage media organisations and university departments for those coming via that route to be transparent about rights of work experience and interns have.

"At a minimum, daily expenses and travel costs should be provided by news organisations. They need to be telling young people that before they start their placement."

This article was updated on 21 March 2023 to include latest figures on Reach's redundancy process

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