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Journalists in the UK

© Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

10 May 2016

A journalist entering the trade today will almost certainly have a bachelor's degree, and probably a masters, will almost certainly be white and has a one in five chance of earning less than £19,200, close to the living wage and nowhere enough to save for a deposit on a flat.

If they are a woman – and 45 per cent will be – they will find themselves being less-well paid than their male counterparts and less likely to be promoted. More than half of women earned less than £2,400 a month compared with 35 per cent of men. Black Britons are under-represented by a factor of more than 10.

This snapshot is taken from a report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Journalists in the UK, which has investigated the men and women behind the headlines, where they work, what their politics are and their views on what is ethical when getting a story.

It showed that more than half of journalists now work online; with the proportion working on print versions of the newspaper falling from 56 per cent to 44 per cent since 2012. However, those working exclusively online receive less pay.

It showed that journalists (86 per cent), despite working longer hours, feel they do not have enough time to spend on their stories. The report's authors said the data showed rank and file journalists were producing, processing or editing 50, 60 or even 75 stories a week. A comparison between journalists who work online and those who do not, showed a 186 per cent increase in stories produced or processed.

This was not such a surprise for Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, who was on a panel at the launch of the report at City University, London. She said:

"Surveys of our members show that the sad reality is that because of the year-on-year budget cuts at newspapers, journalists are working longer hours, under greater pressure for less money. Many of them are working for companies which, despite the challenges the industry faces, are still making a profit. What is needed is collective activity to tackle this problem.
"The figures on diversity and the inequality women face are depressing. The industry is losing out on a huge pool of talent and is unable to represent the society it is meant to reflect."

Being a "detached observer" was seen as extremely or very important for more than three-quarters of journalists, while 67 per cent also saw providing analysis of current affairs as very or extremely important. Providing news that attracts the largest audience was seen as very or extremely important.

The journalists surveyed said the influence of PR had increased over the past five years. The report said: "The increasing use of PR materials as an information or editorial subsidy may be one response to resource constraints in the newsroom."

An overwhelming majority (94 per cent) agreed they should adhere to codes of professional ethics. Most believed it is justified to pay for confidential information when it is in the public interest. This compared with 5 per cent of American journalists. A further 81 per cent said they would use confidential business or government documents without permission compared with 58 per cent in the US.

Neil Thurman, who presented the findings, said:

“This report shows the increasing pressures that journalists face due to the social, economic, and technological changes effecting journalism. However, the survey suggests despite this and the fall-out from the Leveson Report, UK journalists are still more aggressive than US media in their pursuit of important stories.”

Despite the gloom, doom and depressing statistics on diversity, Suzanne Franks, of City University, said she would still recommend journalism as a career. "It can be a fantastic job, she said.

Key findings of the report:

  • Although women make up a relatively high proportion of the profession, they are less well remunerated than men and are under-represented in senior positions.
  • In terms of the ethnic make-up, those who said they were black made up 0.2 per cent of the survey sample despite making up 3 per cent of the UK population, according to the 2011 consensus. Asian Britons made up 2.5 per cent of the survey sample despite making up 7 per cent of the UK population. However, media companies tend to recruit in cities, such as London, Birmingham and Manchester, which have a higher proportion of black minority ethnic people than the national average.
  • Journalism is now fully ‘academised’. Of those journalists who began their careers in 2013, 2014, and 2015, 98 per cent have a bachelor’s degree and 36 per cent a master’s.
  • Journalists are less religious than the general population and a smaller proportion claim membership of the Muslim, Hindu, and Christian faiths.
  • 20 per cent of journalists have gross yearly earnings of less than £19,200, likely to be at or below the ‘living wage’ for many.
  • Since 2012, the proportion of journalists in the UK working in newspapers has fallen from 56 per cent to 44 per cent, while the proportion working online has risen from 26 per cent to 52 per cent.
  • Twice as many UK journalists believe that their freedom to make editorial decisions has decreased over time as believe it has increased.
  • About half of journalists said they were left of centre; the other half were split between the centre and the right-wing. Right-of-centre political beliefs increased with seniority.
  • UK journalists believe that ethics, media laws and regulation, editorial policy, their editorial supervisors, and practical limitations exercise the greatest influence over their work.

Neil Thurman is a professor of communications at the department of communication studies and media research, LMU Munich. His fellow authors were Alessio Cornia, a research fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, and Jessica Kunert, a post-doctoral researcher at LMU Munich.The report is based on a survey of 700 journalists carried out between 7 and 31 December 2015. According to the Labour Force Survey there are 64,000 journalists in the UK.

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