Organisation goes remote to solve journalism’s diversity issue

A mentorship scheme for journalists has gone online during lockdown. Will it help open up the sector to BAME and working-class candidates?

A social enterprise that is trying to democratise entry into the journalism industry has gone remote to ensure the next generation of talent is able to bag jobs and diversify the sector.

PressPad, an initiative that connects would-be journalists to affordable London accommodation hosted by industry professionals, has like many organisations, been forced to operate remotely during the pandemic.

With 61% of employers cancelling internships due to COVID-19, (according to statistics from educational charity The Sutton Trust), journalists who relied on PressPad’s services lost their access to career mentorship, experience, and accommodation, or so it seemed. Luckily for them, PressPad pivoted online to create PressPadRemote, a programme that ensures journalists retain access to its free support services.

Plugging the sector’s diversity gap

Central to PressPad’s mission is its desire to help more journalists from various socioeconomic and racial backgrounds enter the sector. Thankfully, their remote service has continued this aim and has helped 7,800 journalists seek industry support and advice so far. This includes 33% from working-class backgrounds and 28% from the BAME group. PressPad’s fundraising efforts from late 2020 also means it can continue to provide its free online service for the first four months of 2021.

In a published statement about the organisation’s achievements including plans for this year, PressPad founder Olivia Crellin said: “We were able to continue to hire and support diverse young journalists, fostering the young talent that is our Newsletter and Blogs Editor, Amber Sunner, and our Social Media Editor, Ayomikun Adekaiyero. We even took on five paid interns to help with the design and fundraising for #PressPadRemote Season 2 during our crowdfunder. 

“Thanks to a grant in early 2021, we were not just able to keep going but, with the #DiversifytheMedia funds, we could strategically continue to develop so that in 2021 we can come back bigger and better, delivering on our mission to improve socioeconomic diversity within the media through our host-mentorship scheme.”

Journalism’s diversity issues: a closer look

The journalism sector remains one of the most elitist areas of business. According to a 2017 study released by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), journalism students were more likely to gain jobs if they were white, able-bodied, and from a privileged socioeconomic background. Within this group, white privately educated males were highly likely to be in a journalism job six months after graduating from a university journalism course.

Journalism’s lack of diversity is even starker considering the concentration of the sector in London and other major cities in the UK, which despite their diversity, do not have enough people from these backgrounds represented in the industry. For example, white employees in the sector are 3% higher than the general workforce.

A sector for the wealthy

In 2020, average salaries in the UK for graduate jobs in journalism and the publishing sector were between £19,000-23,000. Compare this to jobs in chemical engineering, for example, (£27,696), and it’s clear why journalism has become associated with the economically privileged who can afford to take the hit on salary expectations. Couple low starting salaries with the prevalence of unpaid internships in the sector and the reasons for lack of diversity is even more obvious. Industry-wide nepotism and unconscious hiring biases are additional barriers that make it hard for underrepresented groups to enter journalism.

Why solving journalism’s diversity issues will bolster the industry

With an inclusion report last year echoing much of the same sentiments penned in the NCTJ report three years earlier, it’s clear that not much has changed to make the sector more diverse, which is why impact organisations like PressPad are needed to change the status quo. But solving journalism’s diversity issue isn’t just a social imperative, it’s the only way the industry will become more disruptive and respected by including the insights of people who represent the diverse society we live in.

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