A governmental cross-party investigation into social and professional mobility has concluded that journalism is the "most exclusive middle-class profession". Longstanding socio-economic barriers hinder access to a range of professions, of which journalism is apparently, a particularly inaccessible field.
The report "Unleashing Aspirations", due to be released tomorrow, cites two developments in the career world as socially exclusive: the necessity of completing unpaid internships as a way of getting on the professional ladder and the "qualification inflation", meaning that it is ever more essential for aspirants to hold university or even post-grad qualifications to move within, or to even enter the work force.
Education is expensive, despite the government's continued efforts to improve social mobility through access to higher education. Even though all British students have access to government student loans to fund their undergraduate fees, many teenagers from working class backgrounds are dissuaded from continuing with higher education because of the idea of being indebted upon graduation. Moreover, "qualification inflation" has rendered the job market even more competitive to break into. Increasingly, post-graduate qualifications in journalism are seen as a necessary step, although many in the industry question the benefits of this education. An MA in journalism, offered by City University, London, costs each student £7,500. The charges of similar courses at different universities would not differ greatly from this.
Journalist, Dominic Ponsford, concurs that when he trained as journalist in the 1990s, he and his classmates were from largely middle-class backgrounds. The situation today, he maintains has developed to the extent that working class youngsters do not even consider "journalism as an option".
Evidently, collective efforts need to be made to reverse the narrowing trend, in terms of raising aspiration as well as actually opening up access through structural reform. Yet as Ponsford points out, the problem lies also within the institutions- newspaper editors tend to appoint people in the image of themselves, and those who have reached this prized position are generally from relatively privileged backgrounds.
How can this situation be rectified so that journalism does not harden irretrievably into an elitist, narrow profession? Ponsford, going on his own recruiting experience, argues that expensive Master programmes which have a strong academic bias are in fact neither necessary nor even greatly beneficial. In his opinion, the MA can not teach the more valuable, practical skills of journalism that are required in the workplace. Rather, perspective journalists are often better off, financially and professionally, following the NCTJ fast-track journalism course. This is far more practically oriented, takes 20 weeks and costs only £900, considerably less than a year-long MA.
Ponsford's appraisal of the shorter course may well be correct, yet the very fact that this debate has been necessary demonstrates that the situation has developed to the extent that only if the alternative course was promoted, and essentially, accepted on a industry-wide scale could it engender significant change in the journalism demographic.
Source: Press Gazette