Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Journalism and the class divide - another nail in the newspaper's coffin?

The news industry is in trouble as it tries to find a business model to fit 'new media' - ok, so no exclusive there.

But does any blame for the turmoil lay at the door of 'journalism'?

Well, you probably read this at the time, but take another look at Roy Greenslade's blog entry - 'Catch 22 aims to give working class a way into journalism'.

In the piece, Greenslade tells us that 15 publishers – including Trinity Mirror, Cond√© Nast, the National Magazine Company and The Economist –  are to work with Catch 22  which "aims to tackle √©litism in journalism by nurturing aspiring young journalists who, by reasons of class or ethnicity, would not usually get a foot in the door".
Catch 22 is "an independent grass-roots feeder club to media organisations, claiming to replenish the industry with a new generation of trained young professionals 'who reflect multicultural Britain'."

They were spurred into action after the release of the Unleashing Aspirations report which revealed that journalism is "one of the most exclusive middle-class professions of the 21st century".

I could have done with Catch 22 when I was banging on doors and writing countless letters in an attempt to get my foot into the door of a regional newsroom.

But if this level of intervention is needed to open the door to diversity in the newsroom, this begs the question ... have newspapers/news organisations lost touch with the grassroots readership?

If that be the case, then that would be another factor in the rapid demise of the newspaper.

Unless you've got people writing for the reader, seeing the world as the reader sees it and understanding their concerns, is there any wonder why the industry is haemorrhaging readers?

So what do you think?  Have newsrooms lost touch? Is class a bigger issue in the newsroom than in British politics?

UPDATE: Take a look at Will Hutton's brilliant piece on why class matters "and how it influences everything that we do" on The Observer/Guardian site.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post Kevin.

While it's good to hear that schemes are coming through in this area on the one-hand i.e. people in the industry are thinking about the problem, I think you are right in the general thrust of your post, that it's depressing that intervention is required at all.

I've been wondering for a while whether industry should be looking at bringing back some updated version of indentures? I certainly would not have been able to fulfill my dream to become a journalist without it, and don't think I'm alone within my peer group.

OK the money was rubbish, but at least there was some money to pay through training for those of us who didn't have parental support.

Now, trainees not only have to pay themselves through uni but then also pay again to get through NCTJs or MAs or whatever.
If people can't leave school or further education and find a paid way of progressing into journalism, I fear this issue will continue and an awful lot of talent will slip through our fingers.

Kevin Matthews said...

Thanks Sarah.

I like you benefited from a similar scheme. At one time - not that long ago - they were the way into the industry for many, but now the number of opportunities of this kind have dwindled.

['Indenture' always makes me think of slavery ... but then again.]

Apprenticeships are definitely the way forward. But they require investment from media companies.

And how many of them right now are thinking about the long term?

David said...

I don't think I've ever been involved in a job interview where class or background has been an issue. Journalism, at its heart, is about having certain abilities which, in theory, transcend class. But clearly journalism is attracting more people from one class than another, so is the problem that there are some people who simply don't see it as a career for them, as opposed to being knocked back while trying to give it a go as a career? Assuming that is the case, then the challenge is make what we do relevant and accessible to everyone in the communities we serve so they feel they are a part of what we do and, more importantly, want to be a part of what we do.

Kevin Matthews said...

Hmm, not so sure David.

In the past, I've seen people get jobs over others who are far more deserving because of the school they went to, not because of their ability to do the job.

But the very first hurdle people have to get over on the route to a career into journalism is the training. The reduction in opportunities for paid-for training for aspiring journalists automatically excludes a great swathe of people who simply cannot afford to fork out thousands of pounds to get the NCTJ qualification they need.

Without the financial support from their parents, how can people afford the course fees, let alone the regular living costs?

So while many want to professionally become involved in what we do a large portion of people simply cannot - to their detriment and to the detriment of the media.