Are journalists who refuse to retire from top jobs stifling the ambitions of the young (and middle aged)?

A middle-aged journalist who asked to be remain anonymous vents their frustration about the number of journalists in plum jobs who refuse to retire

Are there too many people aged 65 and over who occupy senior jobs in journalism? I think the answer to that question is 'yes', and as a reporter in my early 40s still trying to make some headway in the business I want to explain why. 

Granted, there is no formal retirement age in Britain anymore, and probably never has been one in the trade of journalism anyway. Plus, experience counts for a lot, so it is undoubtedly positive in some ways that those well over the half way mark of life are able to thrive as hacks in print and in broadcasting.

And yet in newspapers, on TV, and on radio, there seems to be a large number of high profile journalists who are hanging on to the bitter end and by doing so depriving the next generation of having a proper crack of the whip.

With dwindling numbers of jobs and less money on offer in most areas of journalism compared to, say, 20 years ago, it's surely time we saw the back of certain people – for their own good, for the good of those young enough to be their children, and, of course, for the future of journalism itself.   

Last month the Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow, 66, interviewed Jeremy Paxman, 64, on the day he presented his final Newsnight. 

Snow asked Paxman why he was leaving the programme. To his credit, Paxman answered: "There comes a point in the life of old codgers when they've got to give up."

Yet this attitude among some born in the 1930s and 1940s seems to be rare. For when Paxman turned the tables and asked Snow whether he agreed that older people should retire, Snow said: "I think if you are still having fun, and it still works…" His answer then tailed off.

This was a vain – in every sense of the word – attempt by Snow to justify why he will not make way for a younger person but I am convinced I'm not alone in believing that Snow and those of his age should scale down their activities in order that those in their 30s and 40s can enter the fray.

Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, 65, has occupied his post for 22 years.

Dacre (below) seems to have forgotten the golden rule: that no individual is bigger than the title they edit, or the broadcaster for which they present.

He also employs several journalists older than him: comment writer Max Hastings is 68, feature writer Geoffrey Levy is in his 70s, as is diarist/columnist Peter McKay.

There must be scores of experienced journalists who would love the chance to tackle the jobs these people do – and who would almost certainly accept less money for doing them just as competently – but the old order, it seems, will have none of it.

Even after 40 or 50 years in journalism they refuse to let go.

I struggle to see why those born before the Queen was on the throne – whose pensions and salaries must be hoovering up vast amounts of company and BBC money – are not prepared to do the honourable thing and allow others the chance to build up their reputations.

Do they not realise that increasing numbers of those in their 30s and 40s are leaving journalism precisely because they cannot make it work for themselves financially? If the ancients love the trade so much, why don't they help to ensure it has some kind of future by allowing those who will need to earn a living for the next 25 or 30 years the chance to cement their careers?

Last month Alexander Chancellor, 74, was appointed editor of The Oldie. While it is a magazine whose average reader is, admittedly, aged 60 and over, surely a younger person would have been ready to edit this national title?

The Observer's Peter Preston (below), 76, and Sunday Telegraph's Christopher Booker, 76, both write weekly columns which are, without question, perfectly good, but they've been doing this for years. Do they not see that it might be time to allow others to try their hand?

Over at the BBC, Question Time host David Dimbleby, 75, Any Questions host Jonathan Dimbleby, 70 this month, Today presenter John Humphrys, 71 next month, and the ubiquitous Andrew Neil, 65, all occupy high profile posts in current affairs.

BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson is 70 next month while Alan Yentob, who has two BBC salaries said to total something like £350,000 per year, is 67 years old.

This sextet began their careers at a time when the term 'political correctness' was unknown to most people. Now, they seem to profit from the BBC's slavish devotion to anti-ageist legislation, keeping them in some of the most privileged positions in British journalism while younger people aren't allowed a look-in.

It will not have escaped anyone's attention that the 14 people mentioned here are all male and, in some cases, have divorces behind them so perhaps need the money. But is that a good enough reason to block the way up for others?

Comments

1 thought on “Are journalists who refuse to retire from top jobs stifling the ambitions of the young (and middle aged)?”

  1. As a retired journalist, while I value your points, still, I must disagree in most cases. Age discrimination is something you will more fully understand in your working years ahead. You’re asking the same question someone might ask you, and are you willing to give up your life work to one, half your age, to let them get ahead simply because they are younger? If an older worker is still producing the quality of work required and expected, why should they give up their position for any reason, other than of their own choosing. Furthermore, they faced the same competition you face with older colleagues. I’ve never seen anyone with the right skills and talent held back from climbing the ladder, unless one simply feels entitled because of youth or any other valid reason. Good luck to you! You’ll get the plum job when you deserve it.

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