Morale of AOL journalists hits 'rock bottom'Management at AOL UK's content department have said they are 'bitterly disappointed at a breach of trust' after details of a damning staff survey were leaked to

In an email to staff in the online customer experience department (OCE), David Gilbey, vice-president of content for AOL UK, said that the employee opinion survey was designed to "promote open communications from employees and full candour and transparency from managers" but stated that the leak had undermined efforts to build a more trusting work environment.

"Trust is an issue identified as important by all of us in OCE, but it must work in both directions," said the email.

Shabby journalistic standards

Mr Gilbey accused staff of demonstrating 'shabby journalistic standards' by passing on selective and 'unrepresentative' parts of the survey, which was conducted by an independent consultancy firm.

Staff say that frequent restructuring and redundancies have left them demoralised, and results of the staff survey showed that trust is a major problem in the content department.

Only 17 per cent of staff said they trusted management to communicate honestly with them and 62 per cent said they do not trust management.

Forty per cent of staff in the content department said they would not recommend AOL as an employer and only 33 per cent would recommend AOL as an internet service provider. The results were worse than any other department at AOL.

Elsewhere, the survey revealed only one in five staff said they believed pay matched performance, and less than a quarter felt managers were helping staff to improve their performance.

Just 15 per cent said that management is succeeding in reducing duplication of work - reflecting concern among staff that there might be further redundancies in the content department.

AOL UK's content division employs around 100 people, at least 60 of whom are working as editorial or production-related journalists. In May, AOL UK became the first standalone new media company to formally recognise the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) following two years of negotiations.

Company restructuring

AOL UK's communications director Jonathan Lambeth said that company restructuring is inevitable as the industry focuses on broadband delivery. The survey had been taken shortly after a department shake-up in which a number of staff had been made redundant.

"I'm confident that if we did this survey again now, the results would be better," Mr Lambeth told

"There are areas where we are not performing well and we will work on those."

He insisted that some of the figures presented to were inaccurate, although he said that the survey is a 'confidential internal matter' and would not discuss individual statistics.

But he added that the survey results compare favourably with other UK firms and that of more than 80 questions included in the survey, there were many positive results.

"The whole purpose of the employee survey is to get honest feedback and prioritise actions to improve the working culture, conditions and performance at AOL UK. We have an annual action plan that focuses on the areas with most room for improvement and this year's plan is already underway," said Mr Lambeth.

He blamed the leak on one or two members of staff with an ulterior motive for releasing some survey results, but that they were not reflective of the whole content department.

AOL has one of the largest content departments of any UK ISP and is part of Time Warner, the world's largest media organisation.

"As a media company, content should be at the core of what AOL does," one AOL employee told

"Instead, this survey shows the editorial staff are seen as a pain.

"AOL is a big US organisation and there's an element of control freakishness that doesn't sit well with British journalists. The content department is run by people that don't understand journalism and don't want to."

Nearly half of those surveyed in the content department said that they did not believe management would act on the findings.

Rock bottom

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ, said that yesterday's email showed that the situation had reached rock bottom.

"It is ludicrous that management have denied these findings. These journalists completed the surveys and were presented with the results - and they know they are true," he said.

"That management are denying these results highlights the divide in this department."

Mr Dear said that by making the 'outrageous claim' of shabby journalistic standards, AOL is undermining the credibility of its own editorial team.

"AOL is part of the world's biggest media company and we want to look to them to lead the way in editorial quality in online journalism.

"It is the management that has thrown away trust of staff."

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