MP: Journalism should be more representative of society

The new Cabinet Office minister, Angela Smith, has called for more to be done to get people from diverse backgrounds into journalism.

Smith, who was promoted in last week’s cabinet reshuffle, said everyone should be able to follow a professional career if they had the ability, regardless of background.

She told a Commons debate on social mobility and fair access to the professions yesterday: “We believe that everyone, if they have ability, from across the whole of society, should have the opportunity to get the most senior jobs in society.

“What has happened is that some professions have perversely become less not more socially representative over time, especially in accountancy and journalism.

“We have to have the widest possible pool of talent from which to choose because it increases efficiency and it increases productivity. It can also contribute to social cohesion and social inclusion.”

She added: “Fair access to the professions is crucially important for individuals, it is important for their communities, it is important for society but it is also very crucially important for the economy as a whole.”

A government report on fair access to the professions is due to be published in July. It will look at what the barriers to fair access to senior jobs are and what the professions and the Government can do to improve the situation.

The Journalism Training Forum (JTF) conducted a large study into the background and training of people entering journalism in 2002. Although the findings are now seven years old, the National Union of Journalists said the difficulties in entering the profession still remained.

The study found that new entrants to journalism came “overwhelmingly from middle class families” and less than 10 per cent of new journalists came from a working-class background.

The JTF found that 98 per cent of new recruits had a degree or postgraduate degree level qualification.

NUJ deputy general secretary Michelle Stanistreet told Press Gazette: “Since that report was published the cost of getting in to the profession has, if anything, made it even harder for people to break in to the industry unless they have a financial cushion to fall back on.

“When you add up the costs of funding your own way through college plus covering living costs through lengthy periods of unpaid work experience, journalism becomes a career path that is at best a daunting prospect, while for many it is simply unachievable.”

Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell said the industry had already taken action to begin to tackle the problem.

He said: “Of course new rooms need to reflect communities that they cover. [Angela Smith] should be aware of efforts the industry has taken, particularly the Journalism Diversity Fund.”

The fund was set up in 2005 to help “talented and committed people from socially and ethnically diverse backgrounds”, and is funded by the Newspaper Licensing Association and the Society of Editors among others.

It annually awards a number of bursaries to journalism students embarking on their National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) training.

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