Last week, Crikey looked at the woes of Dubbo’s Daily Liberal, the newspaper that’s had four editors in ten months. But could this be the tip of the iceberg at publisher Rural Press, which owns more than 200 papers across regional Australia?

Rural Press is a “very strange company,” says one former editor questioned by Crikey. “They have a use-and-abuse policy and zero care for all editorial staff,” says an ex-NSW editor. “This is a common complaint across all RP papers.” It creates “fundamentally flawed journalism,” says another.

All of the former editors we interviewed talked about the massive workload for editors, who do everything from writing lead stories, to taking photos of the weekend footy match, to laying out pages.

But the the hard work wasn’t the problem – just Rural Press’s lack of recognition for it. Because of editors’ “care factor,” says one former RP employee, they end up working seven days a week to get the job done as well as possible (this is necessary, he says, because of how under-resourced the papers are). But my manager “told me it’s company policy not to pay overtime,” says another editor. So it’s said that editors end up working overtime but Rural Press refuses pay for the extra hours.

“I worked out that I did close to a month of unpaid overtime this year,” says one former editor who doesn’t expect to see a cent of it. Another says he did about 250 hours overtime but doesn’t expect to ever see any of the money for it.

One of the reasons journalists are so pressed for time is that they also write most of the advertising copy, says a former SA editor. “It’s part of the job description.” So anything that’s not supplied is “written by journalists,” he explains. What’s more, in a small town, the people you’re getting stories from are often your advertisers. So there’s a lack of separation which creates the “worst possible situation for getting news.”

We also received a tip that Rural Press’s Bendigo Advertiser have had unusually high turnover rates, losing 20 staff over the last two years. “Incorrect,” says General Manager Peter Dehnert. Although he does confirm losing staff, who he says have gone overseas, moved within the RP stable or left to pursue other careers.

It’s difficult to attract quality staff to rural areas, he says. That’s why RP employs a lot of graduates – which he’s “very happy” to do – even though it means that “three years down the track they’re looking for other challenges.” Rural Press provides a “terrific training ground,” he says and while at the Advertiser they “prefer not to pay people overtime,” the paper is signed up with the MEAA and overtime (or time in lieu) is given when required.

We contacted Rural Press CEO Brian McCarthy for his side of the story, but he hasn’t yet returned our calls.