Banks' Notes 23.06.06

TRULY, brothers and sisters, the Lord doth work in wondrous ways.

Hungover from a liquid lunch that turned into a drunken day/nighter, I’m cursing the fact that my revels have left me unprepared for the ‘wise words’ I am supposed to deliver to a couple of dozen journalism students on an NCTJ course when… hallelujah!

Rising from the seat opposite me, a flustered businessman hurriedly collects his Metro but leaves behind a pristine copy of The Independent (shome mishtake, surely?) as he exits the train.

Its headline, “STRANGLEHOLD”, reveals that the old school tie increasingly dominates the important echelons of British society, particularly in the media, where 54 per cent of the industry’s leading journalists were educated at private school, which also made the splash in Press Gazette last week.

At a stroke, an old drunk’s prayer is answered: my text for today’s sermon will be taken from the Parable of the Toffs.

So why do I worry that such a large percentage of opinion-formers are produced by schools that educate only 7 per cent of the nation’s children? Why should it matter that 30 per cent of those private school-leavers who go on to journalism by way of university do so via Oxbridge?

Because when you add to those sobering statistics a reminder that Route One to the newsroom – which used to require only five OLevels, tea-making skills and a slice of luck – now demands ALevels, at least one degree and an expensive journalism course followed by endless, unpaid work experience.

No wonder kids from council estates (don’t forget, 90 per cent of wannabes come from state schools, like I did) don’t get a look-in. If I’d told my old man success would mean seven extra years of education and a minimum six months without pay, I’d have been looking at a lifetime’s work at the local aluminium factory.

But the more worrying effect is not the inequality of opportunity offered to talented students from poor backgrounds, but the narrow, middle-class spectrum that is, as a result, reflected in both national and regional media.

The solution? A determination on the part of the hirers and firers to give preference to the cuttings file over the CV, to ignore the nods and winks that encourage nepotism and to ensure that, as a result, newsrooms represent the whole class, ethnic, political and gender spectrum.

Positive discrimination is not, I grant you, easy. Editing Rupert Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph in Sydney 15 years ago, I was visited in the newsroom by the Great Man’s mum.

Determined to impress, I pointed to the features desk and said proudly: “Almost half the editorial staff is now female, Dame Elisabeth.”

She harrumphed noisily and wiped away my smile with the words: “No job for a lady!”

GUESS who’s having herself introduced on radio as “journalist and broadcaster”? Christine-bloody-Hamilton, that’s who!

Makes a bit of a mockery of most of the above, doesn’t it?

david.banks@pressgazette.co.uk

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