A question of degree in the search for new blood

THERE IS a general acceptance that our industry is becoming too middle class, with most trainees coming through university, possibly followed by expensive postgraduate courses.

But this should hardly be surprising when the Future Foundation think tank finds that the working classes are in rapid decline, with the middle classes expected to represent the majority of the population by 2020.

This is partly because class distinction is becoming more blurred — how people class themselves today is very different, and it's not as much what you were born into, but how you live your life as an adult.

But there were still some quirks pulled out of the survey — one being that 29 per cent of bank managers say they are working class.

The group of people at the top of the pile of describing themselves as middle class were university teachers, and the group most likely to describe themselves as working class were postal workers.

And the survey backed up our industry's middle class perception, as we were listed second, with 75 per cent of writers and journalists saying they were middle class.

The survey wasn't broken down by age, but you can bet that the 25 per cent of working class will be regional people like myself who have been working more than 20 years and went straight onto a newspaper from school.

The media has been navel-gazing recently with regards the socio-economic demographics of its own rank and file.

So we learn that half of the UK's top 100 news and current affairs journalists were privately educated — and that figure is increasing.

And when it comes to the 81 per cent of those who went to university, more than half were educated at Oxbridge.

This came as no surprise to me, as a recent feature focussing on national newspaper film critics managed to reveal, in passing, that a staggering 10 of the 12 journalists had been educated at Oxbridge.

What does that tell us — that you need an Oxbridge education to write about films (it hasn't held back the Sunday Times's Condo Landesman) or that the old boys' network is going strong?

Things are slightly different in the regional press — at least with the people at the top. Here, editors are less likely to have had any university education, let alone a private school and Oxbridge graduation ball.

An on-the-spot survey at Press Gazette's Regional Press Awards showed that eight of the editors I bumped into had entered the craft straight from school (Paul Horrocks, Neil Hodgkinson, Martin Lindsay, John Meehan, Jim Flanagan, David Bourn, Murray Morse and Malcolm Starbrook).

Four could measure up to Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge as a mixed bag: Mike Sassi (who studied marketing at Lancaster), Steve Dyson (politics, Lancaster), Ed Curran (chemistry, Queens) and Nick Carter (history and politics, Warwick).

There are plenty more non-grads out there, but I think they had disappeared to the pub before I could quiz them on their educational accolades.

Most of these editors, however, will find it difficult today to recruit someone resembling their once young, eager selves.

The majority of trainees will have spent up to £25,000 putting themselves through university and a postgrad course.

The only sign that young people are maybe waking up and realising the decline in opportunities to be a low-paid hack is the news that the previously popular media studies courses suffered a 9.2 per cent drop last year.

The explanation put forward is that, when it costs that much to go to uni, students are ensuring that they study something which will realistically give them more earning potential on graduation (like maths or science).

The upside is that it may force newspapers to be more imaginative in how and where they recruit their trainees from — with the likelihood that these young people will then have a better understanding of the patch and people they are expected to write about.

AT PRESS Gazette's annual regional awards ceremony a couple of weeks ago, it was interesting to note how the big groups fared when the gongs were handed out.

A big gold star goes to Northcliffe, whose editors may be feeling the cold chill of consultants, but still managed to pick up six firsts and a highly commended.

Special mention goes to John Meehan and the Hull Daily Mail, who picked up three, including sharing the coveted publishing innovation with the Manchester Evening News.

The largest group, Trinity Mirror, hit the stage three times with the help of the The Journal's impressive double and the Croydon Advertiser winning weekly newspaper of the year.

Once again, the CN Group punched well above its weight with two awards and two highly commended.

Newsquest and Johnston Press both won two apiece with Archant's EDP24 website gaining the honours for the second year running.

But the star of the show has to be The Belfast Telegraph, owned by Independent News and Media. Hot on the heels of winning an impressive array of editorial and circulation awards from the Newspaper Society, it picked up three all on its own — and landed the biggest prize of the day.

ONE OF the downsides of running big companies is that you open yourself up to media scrutiny — it goes with the territory, but only a very few enjoy the experience.

And even if you happen to own or run a media company, and are able to keep yourself out of your own titles, you are unlikely to escape the pens of rival groups.

So Desmond, the Barclay brothers, Montgomery and Lord Rothermere, for example, all feature in our newspapers from time to time and they have to lump it.

But am I alone in wondering if the latest frivolous gossip about Trinity Mirror boss Sly Bailey, and the hotly denied claim of a revealing picture of herself adorning the walls of her London home, is just too intrusive?

Maybe it's because we share the same gender, but I can't imagine a male boss of a media company being treated this way.


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