Sunday Mirror editor on newsroom talent shortage and social mobility

Sunday Mirror editor Gemma Aldridge on why the talent shortage and social mobility go hand in hand

newsroom talent social mobility

As the industry faces a talent shortage, Gemma Aldridge, Sunday Mirror editor, says it’s on us to show young people why journalism can still be the best job in the world.

On the eve of Budget Day as the usual Treasury leaks and predictions did the rounds, it was a schoolgirl from Wales who caught my eye with her own radical plan to save our economy.

“We’re demanding a new plastic tax,” she announced. “Five per cent on all non-recyclable products. And we want health warnings on the labels, too – like the ones you get on cigarette packets to stop you smoking. They’ll be health warnings for the planet.”

She went on to describe with unjaded enthusiasm how she’d be calling on Leo DiCaprio, Emma Watson and David Attenborough to front the campaign.

Ambitious? Maybe. And the numbers need a little work… but her passion and conviction silenced a (virtual) room of more than 30 Reach PLC staff and almost 100 other school children.

It wasn’t a planned speech by a wannabe Brit Greta Thunberg, but an inspiring off-the-cuff pitch – the result of a 30-minute brainstorm between her and nine other state school pupils asked to come up with their own Mirror campaign idea. Not aspiring environmentalists, but aspiring journalists.

Their pitches were a shot in the arm for anyone who’d forgotten the power of newspapers, not only to change things, but to make people believe change is possible.

The girl was one of 94 youngsters from diverse backgrounds who took part in a hugely successful two-day virtual work experience at Reach this week.

The event was part of our Big OutReach Programme, launched earlier this year with the aim of bringing young people from under-represented groups into the world of news.

Run by ReachPotential – our company’s inclusion network focused on social mobility – the programme has already reached almost 600 kids across the country.

Improving access to newsrooms for talent regardless of economic situation

ReachPotential is one of six employee inclusion networks launched by Reach this year and aims to improve access to our newsrooms for talented people regardless of their economic situation, education or class. It also celebrates the success of current employees from challenged socio-economic backgrounds and promotes internal culture changes to help those in financial hardship succeed.

As a former state school pupil who benefited enormously from similar outreach opportunities when I was younger, I know how important it is to show young people not only that this is the best job in the world, but that it’s accessible to them, regardless of their current situation.

I can’t claim my work on the project is selfless, either. It’s the right thing to do of course, but as the days of trained young journalists beating our doors down in their droves for a job seem to have passed, we must now create our own new talent stream to survive.

We’ve partnered with charity-funded organisation Speakers for Schools to target young people from truly diverse backgrounds who have a passion for journalism.

This week’s cohort included pupils with disabilities, in social services care, many who are eligible for free school meals as well almost 40% from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and 81% who define as either female or non-binary.

The fact the event was virtual meant geography, accessibility and other commitments didn’t stop anyone from taking part.

Over two days, they had masterclasses via Google Classrooms from Daily Mirror Editor Alison Phillips, Head of Campaigns Jason Beattie, Social Media Editor Omar Hamouda, award-winning photographer Andy Stenning and Acting Editor in Chief of our magazines, Karen Cross.

As well as pitching their own campaigns, interactive tasks included watching a real morning conference and a chance to interview our celeb guest, Love Island’s Shaughna Phillips. They then got to take part in a live Q&A with Group Editor-in-Chief Lloyd Embley

As co-chair of the ReachPotential committee, my expectations were high but I was bowled over by the excitement, energy and enthusiasm of the young people who joined us.

In fact, perhaps some of the most inspired people at the end of the two days were the 50+ Reach staff – myself included – that volunteered to help run the scheme.

Newsroom talent shortage and social mobility

News can be a depressing business, can’t it? And I don’t just mean the fabric of what we report every day in our pages and online.

20 months covering a global pandemic will give you the blues, sure. But it can also sometimes be difficult to stay upbeat about the future of our industry.

With many traditional training grounds for young journalists, like local papers and press agencies, already much-diminished and in decline, there’s a potentially very problematic shortage of young talent coming down the line.

And the ageing population of established journalists in our newsrooms is far from being a fair representation of modern society.

We know we can only truly do our jobs properly as news providers if we have voices from all walks of life in our pages.

We need people of different races, faiths and sexualities with varied financial and educational backgrounds to reflect the rich tapestry of the world we live in. At the Mirror, it’s right there in our name, a constant reminder of our duty to our readers.

So, it’s our job to go and find the next generation of passionate and diverse talent to secure our titles’ integrity for years to come. The Big OutReach Programme is doing just that.

This week has been a heartening reassurance that there’s no shortage of ability and flair out there in state schools across Britain.

After the plastic tax manifesto, another 10 groups pitched their campaign ideas to me.

Free phone chargers in bars for stranded party-goers who need a cab home; unlimited sanitary products in women’s prisons; a curriculum overhaul to include black culture in every subject area.

Some were more realistic than others but it didn’t matter. I was enthralled as the pupils each spoke with such fervour about the issues that affect them and their communities.

More than anything, their belief that newspapers can still affect great change was an inspiration in itself.

It was also a great reminder that as a news organisation it is our duty to always listen –  especially to the young people who are the journalists and readers of our future.

Their viewpoint is fresh and new – unimpeded by past failures or the old barriers to success determined by class, gender or race.

If we give them the opportunity to bring their talent and ideas into our world, we can only benefit from their presence, and the future of our industry will be in good hands.



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2 thoughts on “Sunday Mirror editor Gemma Aldridge on why the talent shortage and social mobility go hand in hand”

  1. No mention whatsoever of the role of UK universities who are educating journalists. Surely, the on-the-job training routes she refers to have been dead for the last 20 years.

    1. Have you lost your mind? The worst thing that ever happened to journalism was when a degree got involved in it. The next worst thing was accountants.

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