My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Who are the journalists?

Peter Wilby writes a thought-provoking piece in the Guardian about the ranks of predominantly white, degree-toting entrants to the journalism profession (or trade, depending on your viewpoint).

He looks at who filled the journalists' shoes back in the heyday of Fleet Street, and who fills them now.

The 2002 survey showed, more than two-thirds of new entrants to journalism came from homes where the main wage-earner worked in a professional or senior managerial occupation. Fewer than 10% came from any kind of working-class background, and only 3% from semi-skilled or unskilled occupations.
Some 96% of the journalists surveyed were white - a figure that looks more damning when you realise that more than 40% of journalists work in multi-ethnic London. More recently, the Sutton Trust, an educational charity, found that of the country's 100 leading journalists - national newspaper and broadcast editors, columnists and news presenters - more than half had been to fee-charging schools and 45% to Oxford or Cambridge.
Journalism's narrow social and ethnic base - which, one media company executive told me, is not reflected in advertising and circulation departments - matters more than it does in other elite occupations. Faced with trying to understand, say, the grievances of the Muslim community or what drives inner-city youth to violence or what it's like to have children attending a "sink school", most journalists are lost. They have no contacts and no inside information.

He goes on to talk about reasons behind this development - economics - and some efforts at change. Notably, he talks about a "dangerous boast" from former Scotsman editor Tim Luckhurst who's leading a new BA in Journalism for 25 students at Kent University this year. Luckhurst says he will produce journalists who have all the basic skills of shorthand, news reporting and knowledge of media law as well as broad, analytical skills.

"They will have read John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, they will have read John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World. And they will be able to do shorthand at 100 words a minute and know how to avoid libel," Luckhurst promises.

Students will spend half the week on vocational work, taught in the journalism department's "newsroom" which will start each day with a "news conference", and half on academic subjects, specially tailored for prospective journalists but taught by other departments at the university. "What's gone wrong with journalism education in Britain," says Luckhurst, "is that we've tried to turn it into a discrete academic discipline."
The course will get a wide social intake, he believes, because low-income families are attracted to something that has a clear vocational point, with the prospect of employment as soon as you've finished it."

I haven't had a good look yet for comparable research in NZ (but I'd be grateful for a steer in the right direction). But a quick look at the NZ Journalists Training Organisation website shows that lack of diversity in reporting stock is not unique to the UK. The site has a Diversity channel with notes from a 2007 forum which agreed that: "Yes, newsrooms need more diversity, yes, help and training are needed for working journalists and newsroom supervisors, and yes, more needs to be done to promote journalism as a career for ethnic minorities." And goes on to suggest ways of doing that.