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May 4, 2018updated 03 Apr 2019 10:35am

BBC journalist sets up scheme for unpaid interns to receive free accommodation in London from industry mentors

By Charlotte Tobitt

A BBC World Service journalist has launched a scheme that will match young journalists with mentors who can offer free places to stay in London during unpaid internships with news organisations.

Press Pad was founded last month by multi-media journalist Olivia Crellin, who wanted to remove the high cost associated with getting a foot in the door of the journalism industry.

Crellin told Press Gazette: “I thought, considering the housing crisis in London, considering that a lot of newsrooms are currently struggling with how to understand communities perhaps that are not in the media already and understand things that have happened recently, like Brexit, [there was] this need for a certain type of diversity that hadn’t really been called out – the invisible diversity of economic background as opposed to gender or race or disability.

“So that together with my own experience and all of the issues with young people and housing – I thought something needs to be done and this could be it.”

The scheme will match interns with mentors/hosts for two weeks using criteria such as commute time, whether they are in print or broadcast journalism, and any similar identity or life experiences.

The hosts would not work at their intern’s organisation so they can offer an outside perspective and completely impartial advice, and interns would also benefit from a Facebook group and meet-ups to connect them with others going through the same experience.

Crellin said she will ensure the interns are “worthy in terms of need and it isn’t being abused in any way” and said applications had been pouring in, showing the level of need for such a scheme.

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She believes it will also be an enriching experience for the host to meet people they may not otherwise encounter. After acting as a mentor herself previously, Crellin said: “You learn so much about yourself.”

Eight hosts have already signed up for this year’s summer pilot scheme, and Crellin hopes it will reach 15 by Monday’s deadline (7 May).

Next year the scheme will launch on a rolling basis with Crellin hopeful funding. Media organisations like the BBC, the Financial Times and the Guardian have already begun to show an interest in supporting the project, she said.

“I see it in their best interests to support an initiative like ours because with their money they can enable people to apply for their internships who never would have thought they could apply before,” she said.

“You never know what sort of people you’re not reaching and what sort of people you could have in your organisation – they are self-censoring, they are not applying in the first place.”

The Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation report in 2016 found that 11 per cent of journalists were from a working class background compared to 60 per cent of Britons overall.

The funding, and any donations that come in, would go towards contributing to hosts’ utility bills, helping interns with transport costs if their internship does not pay full expenses, and paying a part-time member of staff.

Responding to concerns Press Pad would actually be helping organisations run their unpaid internships, Crellin said: “We are a stop gap.

“People who are disadvantaged in the first place, who the journalism industry needs the most, why should they be kept out of entering this profession?

“Once we allow them in and we enable them to do that, you need to look at change within your organisation so you are complying with the law.

“We are not a way for these organisations to get out of any obligations. We are actually there to enforce them and find out where they are not fulfilling them.”

Eventually, Crellin hopes, she can help end unpaid internships by putting on pressure as part of the project and naming and shaming organisations.

She completed her postgraduate studies in the US before a series of paid fellowships which she said is the model she would prefer to see in the UK.

“I don’t see the difference between there and here except what’s expected and what’s the norm,” she said.

“If people think it’s the norm not to be paid then people will do unpaid internships and companies will think they can get away with it but it definitely doesn’t have to be like that.”

Picture: Pixabay

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