sexta-feira, 5 de agosto de 2016
Journalism's lack of diversity threatens its long-term future
Journalism's lack of diversity threatens its long-term future
Thursday 4 August 2016 07.00 BST
The barriers faced by those from poorer backgrounds or minorities are getting higher – how can newspapers expect to stay relevant?
At least the public agree on one thing in such divisive times: journalists, or the supposedly homogeneous “media”, are to blame for just about everything. These bleak, post-Brexit weeks have underlined the glaring disconnect between downtrodden public and “metropolitan elite” media in startling clarity.
Yet while many of those in the media increasingly realise how disconnected it is from the reality experienced by much of the UK, the barriers stopping those from poorer backgrounds or minorities making it into the country’s newsrooms remain dauntingly high, and may be getting higher.
According to the 2012 Milburn report on social mobility, “journalism has shifted to a greater degree of social exclusivity than any other profession” and it’s little surprise that this year the Sutton Trust found that 51% of Britain’s top 100 journalists went to private school – more than seven times the UK average.
As the National Union of Journalists said in its submission to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility this week, journalism remains “the preserve of the privileged”.
Roy Greenslade, Guardian columnist and professor on one of the country’s most respected journalism courses at City University thinks industry trends are not going in the right direction. He is pessimistic, suggesting today’s expected routes into the industry “militate against working class [people]”..
“Since I started in the 60s, there has a been a geographic and demographic shift (towards wealthy journalists from the south-east). It’s partly because of the closing down of Glasgow and Manchester offices, which were a talent pool.
“People once saw a career ladder, from a local weekly, to a regional paper, onto a national. But people are now going straight from master’s [degrees] to Fleet Street.”
The financial burdens of those courses are immediately obvious if you talk to anybody considering taking one.
A working class student, who wishes to remain anonymous, bemoans how the best courses simply are not available to “people without incredibly generous parents”.
“I spent hours applying for the bursaries on offer but was unsuccessful, so I decided there was no conceivable way that I’d be able to pay,” she says. “After working solidly since I left uni, I still [can’t] comfortably afford it. I’ve had to abandon my place and, painfully, the £500 deposit I put down.”
The Student Publication Association says it will be researching just how many people have a similar story over the coming year, but the organisation is already conscious of how problematic journalism training is: Niamh McGovern, its Ireland officer, labels it “financially crippling”.
Greenslade rejects the idea that there are enough scholarships around to allow more underprivileged students onto courses, though there are worthwhile initiatives. The government’s incoming postgraduate loans will also make a difference, though more debt – probably well over £60,000 when coupled with an undergraduate degree – is unlikely to entice those already put off university by the extortionate cost.
The likes of the Scott Trust, the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), the Press Association and the National Union of Journalists help fund a handful of aspiring journalists – generally from minority groups – every year.
For the rest, though, it is easy to slip through the net, particularly in Natasha Clark’s position. During her time at the University of Warwick, where she edited the student newspaper, Clark financed a plethora of unpaid internships with a job at Pret a Manger, before being offered a place on City’s postgraduate course.
“Financing was bloody difficult,” she says of her time there. “I ended up getting a career development loan. I’d be working 9-5 at City and then 5-9 or 5-10 at Pret.
“I strained all of my savings, paid for my fees, living costs, train fares. It was incredibly difficult. Absolutely, without the job, without a couple of grand’s worth of savings which I spent on living, I couldn’t have done it.”
Clark now works for the Times’s Red Box supplement and so proves that it is possible to “make it” without significant financial backing and parental contacts, though not without serious hard work.
Another major consideration for aspiring journalists is that getting a work experience placement is essential. Yet the majority are London-based, unpaid, and acquired through contacts. That means those living outside the capital, and without financial resources or well connected parents are immediately at a huge disadvantage.
Everyone in the industry acknowledges these issues in the same resigned how-will-this-ever-change tones. To become a journalist it clearly helps to be well educated, well connected and wealthy, so it’s not difficult to see why the public perceive us much like politicians: all the same and out of touch.
The Sunday Times journalist Rebecca Myers, however, takes a more optimistic stance. She reels off recommendations for self-help, including considering the shorter training courses offered by the Press Association, learning languages, searching hard for funding opportunities, taking all opportunities to contact current journalists and finding a mentor.
“Local paper experience is highly respected and you are likely to get more bylines than at a national. Doing work for free is frustrating but it can be a good way to learn – you are allowed to make mistakes and that’s how you learn fastest,” she says, noting how she could later tell editors about the success of her unpaid articles.
“Work experience cost me around £300 a month to get the train – without lunch! But if you’re looking at a couple of hundred for travel expenses versus a £10,000 master’s, unpaid internships can be a great way to train on the job … [And] I don’t believe you can learn [journalism] in a classroom.”
Myers, who funded her own travel to internships after a “lucky” first break into paid journalism, remains convinced that people from all backgrounds can become journalists, and that a master’s is not essential – as her career path shows.
Yet it’s still clear that if you are from outside the elite then, as Greenslade says, “the odds are stacked against you”.
And those odds are borne out in the results, with just 3% of new entrants into journalism in 2012 having parents in the “lowest, unskilled occupations”, compared with 17% in the wider economy.
That has consequences for the wider political agenda and society as a whole, as the writer Sunny Hundal points out. Hundal, who has written about diversity in the media for over a decade, is concerned that a homogeneous elite negatively effects the news agenda, the sources journalists use and media organisations’ culture, whilst also narrowing potential audiences. He does not see diversification as a solve all solution, though.
“Recruiting people from different backgrounds doesn’t necessarily mean that those audiences are more likely to trust and respect you,” he says. “It just means that you end up doing news from those communities, still fitting the kind of agenda and outlook you have of the world. The Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday have loads of Muslim journalists, but their job is exclusively to pick out the kind of stories that their white audience is interested in, like ‘there’s a terrorist plot’ or ‘some hate preacher has said something offensive’.”
Nonetheless, as a prominent journalist from an ethnic minority background, he views diversifying as a necessary if not sufficient step and “the only hope” as new media forces broadcasters to follow their lead.
However, he’s less convinced that newspapers, can escape the “vicious cycle” that has left them with so much difficulty representing the wider public.
That is only going to create more problems for newspapers already struggling to cope with changes in the way people – especially the young – consume news. Their failure to recruit from a beyond a limited pool of people threatens not just their ability to accurately reflect UK society but also, in the long term, their ability to stay relevant to their readership.