We Need More Working Class Journalists

A working class hero is something to be. A working class journo is something we need…

To use an industry wide clique, journalism is changing. As the technological era spawns new journalistic techniques and previously unseen areas of the profession more people should, in theory, be able to have their voices heard. However, one area of journalism that does not appear to be changing is the number of young working class people able to get their foot through the industry’s door.

In 2012, a report undertaken by the NCTJ discovered that only 3% of new journalists derived from a background of parents who worked within “unskilled” jobs. In stark contrast to this, the report also found that 65% of the industry’s new intake came from a background of parents working within “professional, managerial or director positions”.

These statistics represent a worrying lack of young working class people getting into journalism as the industry steers towards being a profession for the privileged. However, in an industry that is supposedly more democratic than ever what caused these statistics, albeit from 2012, to portray such a startling account of contemporary journalism?

The first obstacle that comes to mind is the financial situation of young journalists, which is heavily influenced by the socio-economic group that their parents fall into. This can affect aspiring working class journalists immensely as the thought of being effectively priced out of their intended profession is both daunting and frustrating.

As journalism is an industry that requires experience to break into, a large majority of young hacks invest their time in taking internships. However, internships represent a substantial challenge for working class journalists as most placements do not pay participants. In fact, a report by the “Intergenerational Foundation” discovered that 92% of journalism internships were unpaid.

For student journalists like myself, the prospect of an unpaid internship is worrying as my financial situation will more than likely prevent me from gaining crucial work experience, which could postpone the chances of obtaining a permanent position.

These worries are only emphasised by more recent Sutton Trust analysis that discovered young individuals who undertake a six month unpaid internship in London are forced to cough up a minimum of £6081 without support. For journalists wishing to take a six month unpaid internship outside London, a slightly less but still hefty sum of £5087 is required.

This automatically prevents certain individuals, even in areas known for their large working class populations, from gaining crucial experience whereas young people of higher socio-economic backgrounds would be more likely to cope with costs.

The fact that aspiring working class journalists are forced to relinquish potentially career changing internships while others don’t due to the pretence of their socio-economic background is fundamentally wrong. In simple, this is class inequality within an industry that strives to highlight injustices.

There are off course other options to break into journalism with most aspiring hacks now undertaking BA courses at university. This is the route that I decided to take as it was the only “financially viable” way to enter the increasingly London-centred industry, albeit after £27,000 worth of debt.

Despite sometimes receiving criticism, journalism BA’s do teach young hacks crucial industry knowledge and skills. However, as many courses are not NCTJ accredited, student journalists can graduate in a position of disadvantage to others who obtained the qualification while studying. For working class journalists this can be a major setback as additional costs exceeding £700 are required.

On the NCTJ’s own website it states that “journalism in the 21st century is full of opportunity”. This is strange suggestion as an organisation that issues crucial industry qualifications could in fact be pricing out working class people while boasting about opportunity.

If students follow an alternative path there is always the option of undertaking a postgraduate degree. However, similar to NCTJ courses, postgrads are expensive as the funding that undergraduates receive aren’t necessarily transferable. This means that another £9000, excluding living costs, is added to the £27,000 already amassed from three years of undergraduate study.

The evidence analysed provides a clear picture that journalism is an expensive industry to break into. The days of building your career at a local paper are long gone as young journalists face years of debt to obtain essential qualifications and experience that still may not be enough for employers.

From personal experiences at university, I have seen plenty of working class students show huge journalistic potential. However, it is extremely important that these aspiring individuals do not fall short at the last hurdle due to their socio-economic background.

We all know journalism does a lot of reporting but it is about time that the industry addresses this problem, which ironically exists under its very nose. If it does, a more diverse range of voices will have a platform to be expressed which can only lead to a more democratic industry.

Fear not, not only do we have very close links with employers, a wide range of courses, and a state-of-the-art Centre for Creative Industries, we also offer NCTJ accredited courses to help you to move smoothly into the industry!

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