Nicholson attacks work experience 'slave labour'

Nicholson: big-name companies were often guilty

Good Housekeeping editor-in-chief Lindsay Nicholson launched an attack on magazine companies that exploited young journalists as “slave labour” while on unpaid work experience.

She warned that magazines would end up being staffed by the favoured sons and daughters of the upper middle classes if changes were not made.

Speaking at the awards lunch, Nicholson – who chairs the PTC editorial training committee – said it was not work experience that was being offered, but slave labour, and the publishers most guilty of this were often “the most reputable and big-name companies”.

By contrast, when Nicholson started out as a trainee journalist, she said she was actually paid while training.

“Incredible! I earned a magnificent £16 a week, which was worth, oooh, about £16 a week. In fact it was so little that when we went on strike, our NUJ strike pay was half as much again.”

She added: “Not only are young people likely to have huge loans to pay off before they’ve even started their first job, but, even worse, many companies – indeed many of our most reputable and big-name companies – require magazine hopefuls to work unpaid in order even to be looked at for a job.

“They call it work experience, but it’s not. Work experience is pretty clearly defined by the Minimum Wage Act as a short-term learning opportunity – not as slave labour that lasts week in, week out for months. The Inland Revenue has made it clear that it will pursue companies engaged in this practice and the Periodicals Training Council will have no truck with it either.”

Nicholson told students it was once said that the best kind of young journalists were those who would sell their own grandmother for a job. “Well that may be. But, it’s still not right for this industry to be engaged in ratcheting down the price of grandmothers,” she said.

“If this continues, we will end up with magazines entirely staffed by the favoured sons and daughters of the upper middle classes who can afford to support their children long after they’ve finished their education. And that’s not a healthy state for our industry to be in.”

RUTH ADDICOTT

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