Journalism 'prices out the underprivileged and sorely lacks diversity', NUJ tells parliamentary inquiry

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Too many people are being priced out of journalism as a career, according to the National Union of Journalists.

The union, which represents thousands of journalists in the UK, said journalism is “still the preserve of the privileged”.

It has put its concerns, including a severe lack of diversity within the industry, in a submission to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility’s inquiry into Access into Leading Professions.

The submission quotes the Sutton Trust’s 2006 study The Educational Backgrounds of Leading Journalists that found more than half (54 per cent) of the country’s leading news journalists had been educated in private schools and just under two-fifths (37 per cent) of the top graduate journalists in 2006 went to Oxford University.

Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service 2016 report, also quoted in the submission, show teenagers from the most advantaged backgrounds were up to 16 times more likely to win places at the UK’s top universities than those from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

It showed the University of Cambridge admitted only 65 18-year-olds from the UK’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in 2015, while it gave places to 1,260 from the most advantaged backgrounds.

At the University of Oxford, the most advantaged students were 14 times more likely to win a place, while at University College London and the University of Bristol the most privileged teenagers were about 12.5 times more likely to be admitted.

Over a third of new entrants to journalism have a master’s degree, said the NUJ, which can typically cost between £7,500 and £10,000.

Diversity is also an issue. A City University London survey found the British journalism industry is 94 per cent white.

At the NUJ’s 2016 Claudia Jones lecture, Clive Lewis MP – a former BBC reporter of ten years – described how he had experienced racism in the workplace.

He said the proportion of people who live in low-income households in the UK is 20 per cent for white people, 30 per cent for Indians and Black Caribbeans, 60 per cent for Pakistanis and 70 per cent for Bangladeshis.

“This means for many young people, black and white, journalism is increasingly beyond their reach owing to the scale of inequality and entrenchment of power and influence of a growing few,” he said.

“As a working-class black person you know the difficulty of getting a foothold in this industry without those networks of old school tie connections and unpaid internships.

“As terrible as this is for the shattering of so many dreams, the real reason, to my mind, is how it affects our democracy.

“For if journalism is the lens through which we view society, this trend will have profound consequences if the pool of people holding power to account is so narrow.”

The NUJ’s submission points to a number of newspaper and broadcasting schemes, such as its own George Viner Foundation charity, which provide bursaries for black and ethnic minority students.

The union says such schemes can be “life changers for those who take part, because without financial support a break into journalism remains a dream”, but added they cannot address the structural and cultural barriers in the industry.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “There are now fewer Etonians in the government since the purge of David Cameron’s school chums from the Cabinet, but the media is still over-represented by people from privileged backgrounds who went to private schools and then on to elite universities.

“The union looks forward to hearing the employers’ responses to the All Party Parliamentary Group inquiry and what they are doing to open up the industry to the socially disadvantaged. Because too many people are being simply priced out of the profession.

“They also lack the networks of the old school tie that still hold sway when people are recruited to the plum jobs.

“It is vital that a modern, democratic nation has a media that reflects all its citizens and is not a redoubt of the privileged classes.

“The management of the mainstream media is also the loser if it is not prepared to look for talent beyond a cohort of people who looks like itself.”

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