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Journalism: still the preserve of the privileged

Journalists still tend to be recruited from the elite universities.  -  © nuj

2 August 2016

Low wages and recruitment practices are making a career in media increasingly remote for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The NUJ's submission to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility inquiry into Access into Leading Professions said too many people are being priced out of journalism as a career. Wages, even on some national newspapers, are not enough to keep up with the cost of living in London, members have reported.

A survey of 700 journalists by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found one in five journalists earn less than £19,200 a year, putting many below the living wage; 83 per cent of journalists in their mid- to late twenties earn less than £29,000, an income that makes buying a property a significant challenge.

The Sutton Trust, which is acting as the secretariat for the inquiry, has published research showing that graduates from low and middle-income backgrounds are hugely under-represented at the top of the professions; this includes the top jobs in journalism and broadcasting.

The Trust's 2006 study, The Educational Backgrounds of Leading Journalists, found that more than half (54 per cent) of the country’s leading news journalists had been educated in private schools and just under two-fifths (37 per cent) of the top journalists in 2006 who went to university graduated from one institution, Oxford.

Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service 2016 report found that teenagers from the most advantaged backgrounds were up to 16 times more likely to win places at the UK’s leading universities – where newspapers go fishing for staff – than those from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. It showed that the University of Cambridge admitted only 65 18-year-olds from the UK’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in 2015, while it gave places to 1,260 from the most advantaged backgrounds.

At the University of Oxford, the most advantaged students were 14 times more likely to win a place, while at University College London and the University of Bristol the most privileged teenagers were about 12.5 times more likely to be admitted.

Over a third of new entrants to journalism have a master's degree, which can typically cost between £7,500 and £10,000. These are daunting sums for many.

A City University London survey found that the British journalism industry is 94 per cent white. The role of ethnicity and its relation to social mobility are borne out by the statistics that the proportion of people who live in low-income households is 20 per cent for white people; 30 per cent for Indians and Black Caribbeans; 60 per cent for Pakistanis; and 70 per cent for Bangladeshis.

The NUJ's submission points to a number of newspaper and broadcasting schemes, such as its own George Viner Foundation charity, which provide bursaries for black and ethnic minority students.These schemes can be life changers for those who take part, because without financial support a break into journalism remains a dream, but they cannot address the structural and cultural barriers in the industry.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"There are now fewer Etonians in the government since the purge of David Cameron's school chums from the Cabinet, but the media is still over-represented by people from privileged backgrounds who went to private schools and then on to elite universities.

"The union looks forward to hearing the employers' responses to the All Party Parliamentary Group inquiry and what they are doing to open up the industry to the socially disadvantaged. Because too many people are being simply priced out of the profession.They also lack the networks of the old school tie that still hold sway when people are recruited to the plum jobs.

"It is vital that a modern, democratic nation has a media that reflects all its citizens and is not a redoubt of the privileged classes. The management of the mainstream media is also the loser if it is not prepared to look for talent beyond a cohort of people who looks like itself."

The full submission is on the NUJ website.

Tags: , equality, class, oxford, cambridge, social mobility, pay, jobs, sutton trust, education