The journalism industry appears to be moving backwards – retrenching into a world where only the most privileged members of society can gain access to the trade.
More publishers than ever are breaking the law by asking young graduates to work for months on end without pay, trading on the fact that in the current economy people will do anything to get a foot on the ladder into a media career.
When I interviewed outgoing Daily Express Peter Hill last week he revealed how he was able to work his way up through the industry after leaving school at 16 – a publican’s son from Saddleworth outside Oldham who ended up editing two national newspapers. He admitted that sort of social mobility would be impossible today.
The law is pretty clear on the issue of work experience. As I understand it up to two weeks is work experience, and fair play on both sides. But when it extends to months on end and interns are relied upon to carry out roles which are vital to the business, then the law states that they should be paid the minimum wage.
Now there may be a grey area in between, where expenses are paid, training is given and interns do work which would otherwise just not get done. But at the extreme lies sheer exploitation.
Today’s graduates leave university with much greater debts than the current generation of editors ever had to incur. They need to pay for expensive MA courses, or at least the cheaper NCTJ-accredited short courses. And then they are racking up yet more debt in order to work for nothing in London to gain experience.
The likely outcome is that only those with the most well-off parents can afford to get into many jobs in journalism today.
Many of today’s editors benefited from paid-traineeships and student grants (both of which have now largely disappeared) to enter an industry which was in any case comparatively better paid twenty years ago than it is today.
It’s time the journalism industry started treating the younger generation of job-seekers with a lot more respect.
And while they are about it, publishers could look at slimming down some of the ridiculous application procedures graduates are expected to go through. Many tell me about filling out application forms which take a day’s work for media positions which they know hundreds, if not thousands, will apply for (charities such as Amnesty International are among the worst culprits) only to be told that the employer is too lazy to invest the few minutes of time it would take to send out a group email to those applicants who have been unsuccessful.
Would a brief covering letter and CV not be sufficient for at least the first sifting of applicants?