By: Tom Walters
Somalilandsun – With journalism becoming increasingly dependent on unpaid work experience, are we forcing out talented writers who just can’t afford it?
As the UK economy continues to stagnate and wilt under the pressure of a population that demands an increase in living standards, has our ability to push for real positive equality been pushed aside? As a country, it is not only the gap between the rich and the poor that has continued to rise, but the equality of opportunity. Opportunity that, if born and raised in London or the South-East, is increasingly defined by it’s advantageous position.
A few years ago an article that appeared in the Guardian exclaiming how occupations such as journalism were not a true reflection of society. The basis of the article was that by looking at the top organisations in occupations such as journalism, marketing or banking, there was an exceptional over-reliance on staff from the south-east. A fact that is compounded even more resolutely by the percentage of new staff employed with an independent school education.
With both internships and work experience becoming an integral aspect of gaining a foot on the career ladder, careers have become ever more dominated by the ones who can afford to do work experience in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Factors such as geography, wealth or parents prepared to pay the wages which employers will not, continue to undermine a large population of trainees and graduates who are forced out of the profession or simply take on roles which are irrelevant to their qualification. All due, in one way or another, by their inability to find work in a profession that is increasingly London-centric and work-experience dependent.
According to the report from educational charity, The Sutton Trust, they found that of the country’s 100 leading journalists – national newspaper and broadcast editors, columnists and news presenters – more than half had been to fee-charging schools and 50% to Oxford or Cambridge.
Look at the figures for postgraduate journalism courses, which have become the qualification staple for national dailies, and you will find that the overwhelming majority come from only four universities; Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and Leeds. All four are among the top elite which recruit the vast majority from middle class homes and fee-charging schools.
Undergraduate courses are, grade dependent, available to almost everyone in the UK irrespective of family background. Added to this are high levels of funding available from local authorities to support the most disadvantaged. Postgraduates on the other hand aren’t open to the same kind of funding. With fees now costing around £9,000 per year, not counting living costs, the cost could reach £20,000, putting it out of reach for most young people.
Added to this is a now demanded period of unpaid work experience or a long stint spent in an additional unpaid internship. Which leads you to think, who can afford this?
With 50% of the total journalism roles within the UK residing in London, including every single national daily, gaining work experience or an internship within any of these London-based publications proves extremely difficult to all of those outside the M25 corridor.
Prospective journalists haven’t always been made to stumble their way through the minefield of unpaid work experience and internships to find writing jobs and quite obviously writing jobs do exist outside of London. The difference now though is that to gain better employment requires better work experience which, due to the dominance of London as a media hub, means trying in some way to make an internship work in the capital.
Of course if you have family living in and around London or who have parents willing to offset the wages not earned by doing almost compulsory work experience, then this becomes a much more doable proposition.
But what does this mean? For one, the national newspapers, magazines, marketing companies and areas such as banking and finance will continue to be dominated only by the ones that can afford to do so. The ones who are able to live in a commutable or affordable distance to head into the capital for experience at a national daily or intern at a magazine. For journalism in particular this represents a worrying scenario where writing staff-teams lack a depth of understanding and empathy due to being staffed by a predictable majority of the same people from the same geographical region.
With such a non-representative workforce how can inner city youth crime or problems within the Muslim community (white journalists make up 95%) be written about without the hindsight of experience?
In the end, journalism is an industry that relies on a depth of variation to ensure engaging and informative content. Journalism needs writers from all walks of life, all upbringings and from every part of the UK, not just the ones lucky enough to stay with an uncle in Richmond.
The writer Tom Walters is an Exiled northerner, Smiths obsessive, student mentor and aspiring journalist