‘Endless night shifts and daily bollockings’: Why talented grads are quitting the MailOnline trainee scheme
‘There was a constant culture of fear and apathy’
Every year, MailOnline recruit the brightest young journalists in the country to join their graduate reporting scheme.
But in 2017, 10 of the 16 trainees who started in 2016 had allegedly already quit, according to one current member of staff. It’s become such a problem that MailOnline started forcing grads who quit early to repay up to £1,500 for the cost of the training they received. This is pretty much an entire month’s salary.
So what exactly is driving these talented reporters to leave a job at the most-read English website in the world after just months of working there? We spoke to an ex-trainee and seven other former employees to hear their war stories about what goes on behind closed doors.
The shifts are horrendous and the job becomes your life
“On the grad scheme you get the shit shifts. You will work through the weekend, a lot of us were working nights, 5pm-2am, Friday to Tuesday, or Thursday to Monday.
“One trainee got put on seven weeks of nights and his weekend was Tuesday and Wednesday.
“It is all-consuming, and there is this perverse pride people take in the fact you’re not going to have a life if you work for the Mail. You’re going to work for them and that’s your life and you know this.”
Your colleagues will cry on you, a lot
“I had loads of people cry on me. People reaching breaking point of expectations and pressure. When you did something amazing, there was never praise. There was never a closed loop of feedback or increasing gradient of expectation. It was just like ‘what’s next then?’”
It burns you out until you feel apathetic
“There was a constant culture of fear, but it was more the apathy of the place that gets to you. The editors and senior editors are under so much pressure from the top, it seeps down.
“You’re operating on a breaking news view all the time, and for actual breaking news, like for Westminster Bridge, it’s a real rush. But if you’re doing that for every single story you do, all the time, you just become apathetic, you burn out, you stop caring.”
You are expected to work on Christmas Day and be OK with it
“I wasn’t allowed to take my holiday for the whole year so had to take it all at the end over the Christmas period. I was then told of the 14 days I had off, I would have to work remotely on 12 of them so we’d hit our commercial targets.
“I worked until midnight on Christmas Eve and then also worked on Christmas Day. That was fun.”
The work isn’t reporting – it’s copying and pasting
“What you actually do all day is take an article from a news agency, and copy and paste it over to your article, and then add bullet points and captions. That’s about it really.
“You’re given an hour to do an article and any longer they start getting pissed. They expect eight stories a day.
“Then you just do another story, and another one, and another, for the whole day. There is very rarely any editorial feedback on your ‘writing’.
“People on the showbiz desk liked it a lot more compared to the news desk. It was a lot more relaxed. The stress, the apathy, the burnout, it all came from the news desk.”
You go to work hoping to avoid a bollocking rather than trying to get praised for doing something good
“People get bollocked all the time, it wasn’t just us, everyone gets bollocked. I didn’t really have a problem with editors telling you ‘this is shit, you need to redo it.’ People are highly strung, it’s a high pressure place, and people should be prepared for that.
“Frankly, after a couple of times, it toughens you up. But it does beat you down. You go into work hoping not to get bollocked as opposed to hoping to be told ‘this article was good’ or ‘that was a good idea’.”
A special Tuesday bollocking was reserved for senior management
“Senior management on the commercial side of the business would tend to get a bollocking during their weekly Tuesday meeting from Martin Clarke, the Editor-in-Chief.
“So quite a lot of the fear was thrown back into the grad schemes. The thinking was ‘You think you’ve got problems, don’t even go there.'”
It’s not the job that is advertised
“The Mail shouldn’t falsely advertise. The problem is that they spend a good six months to a year, from the recruitment process through to placements, hyping it up as this big, proud journalistic enterprise.
“You get to Derry Street [where their office is based after spending six months at a local paper on placement] and realise that you will not be doing your own reporting, that is not the sort of thing that you’re going to be asked to do.”
A MailOnline spokesperson told The Tab that they make “no apologies for being a demanding place to work”. They explained that the training they provide to graduates is “first class” and therefore “only reasonable should a trainee leave before making a contribution to the website then they will be liable to repay some of the costs associated with the training course.”
In full, the MailOnline told The Tab:
Each year MailOnline offers recent journalism graduates placements in its trainee programme, giving them the unique opportunity to learn from the best and brightest in journalism.
This is a robust and demanding programme that sets them up for success as journalists at both MailOnline and throughout their career.
Trainees are advised that this programme will be both extensive and exhaustive and that a website that reports the news 24 hours per day, seven days a week will involve working weekend and evening shifts.
MailOnline invests substantial sums in the first-class training course it provides, which is respected industry-wide, so it is only reasonable should a trainee leave before making a contribution to the website then they will be liable to repay some of the costs associated with the training course. This is up to a maximum of £1,500, depending on their length of time in the programme.
MailOnline makes no apologies for being a demanding place to work.
We have high standards which is why we are the biggest English-language newspaper website in the world and why our alumni populate the higher echelons of many other leading news and entertainment websites, both in the UK and US, and why our model has been imitated multiple times but never equalled.