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July 8, 2020updated 07 Nov 2023 7:44am

Trainee schemes postponed as pandemic disrupts routes into journalism

By Freddy Mayhew

The Covid-19 crisis has taken its toll on newspaper circulations and revenues, but it has also disrupted routes into journalism with some trainee schemes postponed to next year.

Work experience has also disappeared as newsrooms are left largely empty while staff continue to work from home, or remotely, as a result of lockdown measures to slow the spread of the virus.

Student journalists from diverse and/or disadvantaged backgrounds are among those most affected, with schemes to support them on hold.

The BBC’s renowned annual journalism trainee scheme – which provides a pipeline for new talent – has deferred the start of this year’s scheme to next year. It had been due to begin in September.

The BBC said it had made the decision “due to the challenges around bringing new apprentices and trainees into the workforce at a time when the majority of our staff are working remotely”.

The corporation also said it has had to “pause” some work experience placements until next Spring “as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the associated disruption this has caused”.

Publishers hit pause on training and work experience

Sun and Times publisher News UK’s News Academy, a week of hands on experience for 20 students aged 16-21 from a variety of backgrounds, is not going ahead this year, although it is expected to return next summer.

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The tabloid is not considering work experience applications at the moment.

However The Sun’s trainee scheme, which launched last year and welcomes applicants “from all walks of life” with or without degrees, did take on trainees this year and will continue in 2021.

Kiro Evans, 21, from east London, one of the crop of Sun trainees who joined the newsroom in early February, said it had been “a strange start to life in journalism” under the pandemic, adding: “Every rule and convention I had previously assumed has been ripped up by one unexpected virus.

“So along with trying to get used to this new job, it has also been interesting adapting to working from home and having one story dominate in a way I’ve never seen before. I’m still really enjoying the experience and have learnt so much.

“While I’m sure we all crave for normality to return, it has been fascinating working while this historic (and tragic) event continues to consume all and doing stories on those affected.”

At the Guardian, work is underway to adapt this year’s Scott Trust bursary scheme to the current circumstances, according to a spokesperson. “But other work experience opportunities, which require a presence in our offices, are not currently taking place,” they said.

Among those on hold is the Guardian’s Positive Action Scheme, which targets budding journalists from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds as well as those with disabilities.

A message on the scheme’s website states that “due to the coronavirus situation” it is being “put on hold for the time being”, but will reopen “once the national situation returns to normal”.

Against the odds, some trainee schemes are continuing uninterrupted.

The Times and Sunday Times graduate scheme will go ahead in September. Although Covid-19 meant the titles had no summer interns, they are hoping to offer paid internships over the Christmas holidays pending the easing of social distancing restrictions in their offices in London.

The Daily Mail’s training programme also continues to run, with 14 trainees having been taken on by the daily paper, including three Stephen Lawrence scholars. The scholarship, which launched in 2017, sponsors candidates from disadvantaged and ethnic minority backgrounds.

A spokesperson for Mail publisher DMG Media said: “Our investment in finding new journalistic talent continues to be as strong as ever.”

The Telegraph’s editorial graduate programme had its last intake in January, before the pandemic took hold in the UK. These students finish their training in January 2022. Applications for next year’s scheme, which will welcome four candidates in January 2021, close at midnight on 13 July.

But the newspaper has currently paused work experience opportunities.

Sky News has said its apprenticeship scheme is going ahead as planned.

Reach declined to comment for this article. It announced yesterday that it would cut 550 jobs across its workforce, affecting those in the editorial and circulation departments, due to the impact of Covid-19 on its business.

Press Gazette is still awaiting comment from ITV News and Channel 4 News on whether their training schemes are continuing.

Remote journalism exams ‘huge success’

News Associates London course leader Graham Moody said the journalism school was continuing to work with the Times titles and Yahoo News on their training schemes this year and that several recent graduates had been taken onto the Mail’s scheme in recent weeks.

He said News Associates is confident it will be able to offer meaningful work experience opportunities – a vital part of journalism training – to new trainees in September.

Despite the lockdown, journalism exams run by the National Council for the Training of Journalists have continued to take place.

The NCTJ said it had received more than 2,800 bookings for remote exams in May, June and July for those taking the entry-level Diploma in Journalism, which is also offered on some university courses.

Alongside this, 587 shorthand exams were sat remotely in May and June, while 22 trainees sat the first remote National Qualification in Journalism, also known as the senior exams, on 3 July.

The NCTJ is using online assessment platforms Cirrus and Proctorio for some exams, while others are run and invigilated remotely using video conferencing software Zoom. Students are prevented from taking toilet breaks to protect the security and integrity of the assessments.

Rachel Manby, head of quality and assessment at the NCTJ, said: “It’s wonderful to see so many students, apprentices and trainees continuing to work towards achieving their NCTJ qualifications thanks to having the option to sit their exams remotely.

“These online solutions have made it possible for NCTJ exams to be sat from home, while preserving the security and integrity of the assessments.”

Harry Jones, who is studying on the sports media diploma course at News Associates London, said: “Although there was added stress that we’d lose internet connection or something would go wrong, it was comforting to know that people wouldn’t be taking advantage of remote exams to achieve grades that they hadn’t necessarily earned.”

But he said it wasn’t always plain sailing, with some candidates having to restart their computers multiple times to get the software to work.

“Personally, right at the start of my digital journalism exam, I was kicked out of the exam,” he said. “I hadn’t even started writing yet, so I immediately called the invigilator who paused the exam while I got it to work again. After that, all my exams ran smoothly.”

Moody said the remote exams had proven a “huge success” for the school.

“The fact we could offer our trainees the chance to start sitting exams, including shorthand, and get qualified, has really helped lessen their uncertainty around what the future holds and also helped us plan our current courses to a conclusion and plan our future courses,” he said.

“Clear instructions from the NCTJ about how to deliver the exams have helped make the process smooth both from an invigilation point of view and from a candidate’s point of view.

“There have been inevitable teething problems – computer issues that didn’t come up in testing – but solutions have been found quickly and promptly by the NCTJ. I do hope it is something we can continue to offer trainees in the future.”

Picture: Pixabay

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