The National Union of Journalists has condemned a scheme run by regional press group Newsquest which charges £120 to give students the chance to be published in one of its titles.
The Young Reporter scheme in south London has been running for seven years and has levied the fee for the last three.
Their university or college is expected to pay one fee of £100 and the student themselves £20.
They submit eight articles over eight months which are published online.
Newsquest said the fees are purely levied to cover costs (see full statement below).
The scheme came to the attention of the NUJ after an email from Young Reporter scheme coordinator Diana Jarvis was sent to colleges with journalism courses.
She said in the email: “This opportunity is an exciting and unique chance to experience working for a local paper and allows students to build up a portfolio of their published work over the eight months.
“Unlike school students, the university students are studying the subject so will have an advantage of possibly getting their articles published in our actual newspapers around London."
She said that the students "would work as journalists for an online newspaper, writing one article per month for a period of eight months.
“All articles written are uploaded onto our local online paper, which covers the whole of Greater London. At the end of the scheme all students who complete all eight articles, receive a letter of recognition from the editor, which they can use as a reference with their CVs and their names go into our Award Ceremony brochure, which is distributed around London".
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: "While Newsquest is sacking professional staff on its titles, it is charging journalist students for writing articles for them. The unpaid intern has become the scourge of the media profession – now Newsquest is asking for journalist students to actually pay for a byline. The company’s cynicism beggars belief and preys on young people desperate to get a break in a competitive industry.
"College lecturers tell me they are outraged and they are quite right to be. We also know that Newsquest is using students to do shifts at its subbing hub in Newport, after sacking sub-editors on its newspapers across the land.
"Newsquest and other newspaper groups have been upfront about saying they intend to increase the amount of free copy and photographs they use supplied by readers – clearly part of their strategy in delivering this is to expect aspiring journalists to pay for the privilege. Where is the integrity in this? Where is the commitment to quality journalism? They should be providing journalist students with a meaningful work experience and if their articles are good enough to be published, they are good enough to be paid for."
UPDATE: Newsquest condemns NUJ claims as "inaccurate and misleading"
Gary Kendall, managing director of Newsquest South London, said: “The recent NUJ article about Newsquest South London’s pioneering Young Reporter Scheme published on Tuesday is inaccurate and misleading.
“The scheme has been running for seven years with local schools. Each education establishment pays a single fee of £100, and each student wishing to take part contributes £20. These fees purely cover the costs of running the scheme, including an awards ceremony at the end of the year, and for 2015 we have opened it up to colleges and universities.
“This is a community-focused project that offers young people who might wish to enter the media an opportunity to get a taste of journalism and experience involvement with a real newsroom. To suggest that this is in any way an attempt to replace professional journalists is nonsense.
“We have had nothing but praise from the education establishments involved – with many of those taking part inspired to go on to study journalism.”
Newsquest also provided testimonials from users of the scheme.
Dan Townend, associate professor of journalism at Kingston University, has helped with the scheme in the last two years.
He said today: “The Newsquest school journalism scheme has been a tremendous effort to get youngsters involved in the industry and develop their skills and writing ability.
“I saw some of the winners last year when we ran a press day with them and the enthusiasm and excitement of the young writers was brilliant.
“Newsquest don’t make money out of the scheme and do it as a service to the community and to show how good journalism is as a career."
Gumley House Convent School in Isleworth, which has been involved in the scheme for the past six years, said: “Given the skills benefit of this initiative, our students see this as a very valuable opportunity and the administration cost, a small price to pay.”
Careers advisor Anthony Fitzgerald, who has been involved since the scheme launched, said: "This is an excellent scheme that I have run with students in three schools where I have worked. It teaches students about meeting deadlines, creativity and builds confidence. It is often difficult for students to find placements with magazines and newspapers when they are of school age.
“At a time when the Government is encouraging employers to inspire young people about different career areas this scheme gives them both an insight into journalism and builds important employability skills. There is inevitably a cost involved in running a scheme such as this and we believe it is value for money."