A scheme partnering unpaid media interns with hosts who can provide them with accommodation and mentoring has come under fire for its decision to charge up to £600 a month for its services.
Press Pad aims to improve diversity within the news industry by helping budding journalists living outside London find somewhere to stay while they complete news internships typically based in the capital.
For those without a friend or family member in London to put them up, the cost of travel and rent can be a barrier to entry into the industry at a time when newsrooms are accused of being too posh and too white.
The scheme has been free since it launched in 2018, but will move to a new funding model in April when its pilot phase ends. Those who sign up thereafter face a bill of up to £150 a week, of which half goes to hosts.
‘Paying for access’
The costs, revealed on Press Pad’s new online platform on Tuesday, have surprised some of the scheme’s early supporters, with one journalist claiming it amounted to “paying for access”.
But Press Pad founder and BBC journalist Olivia Crellin has defended the funding model, telling Press Gazette: “Those who can: pay. Those who can’t: don’t.” She also apologised for the confusion over charging.
Crellin (pictured, far right) said Press Pad’s crowdfunding site had always stated its aim to provide “affordable” not free accommodation.
Under its new funding model, 15 per cent of all money raised – after costs – will be put into a bursary fund along with money from grants and donations, Crellin explained.
Interns who qualify for the bursary fund through means testing will have all their fees paid. “Anyone who can’t pay won’t have to,” Crellin said.
News organisations can also sign up as Press Pad “clients” by paying into the scheme – money which will then be used to discount fees for interns at those publishers. The FT and Gal Dem are among those signed up.
Accommodation will be allocated to bursary recipients first, Crellin said, followed by interns receiving discounts and finally those paying in full.
The 30-year-old has since clarified that all interns who use Press Pad services within the first 12 months after 1 April will be given two weeks free, an offer which could be extended.
Women In Journalism chairman and Sunday Times Magazine editor Eleanor Mills told Press Gazette WIJ donated money “on the understanding that Press Pad were offering two weeks free accommodation in perpetuity for kids doing work experience”.
Crellin said £600 a month offered interns a price point that was cheaper than staying in a hotel or Airbnb and better than market rate for rental accommodation, plus easier than arranging short-term contracts.
It also offered a cheaper alternative for publishers, some of whom Crellin said paid out up to £150 a night for hotel rooms for interns.
BBC journalist Rianna Croxford was among critics of the fees, tweeting: “I don’t know many people who could afford to pay £600 a month to live with a journalist during an unpaid internship. That’s paying for access.”
A host, who is among more than 150 signed up to offer a spare room and mentoring through Press Pad, said the fee was higher than the market rate if she rented her room out privately, adding: “This is nuts.”
Another said it would only help a “tiny percentage of people” as a result and would not “diversify the sector in the slightest” as it aims to do.
Crellin acknowledged it would be cheaper for people to stay with friends or family and encouraged them to up to take up the option if available.
‘We are at our limits’
She said she had been flooded with demand when the scheme first emerged in 2018, forcing it to close to further applications, and that it was necessary to hire staff and set up a web platform to handle the demand.
“We knew that we needed to change the model so that we had something sustainable and that we could scale because we wanted to help more people and that just wouldn’t have been possible with two people working in their spare time on Excel spreadsheets,” she said.
Press Pad has helped 47 interns with mentoring and accommodation so far, and had more than 150 hosts on its books at the last count, with the number continuing to grow by two or three each week, according to Crellin.
She said she hopes Press Pad can help 200 people in its first full-year under the new funding model.
“We will be able to help more people now,” she said. “I couldn’t last another month doing what I was doing before.
“The whole thing would have shut up shop and wouldn’t exist. We are at our limits. It couldn’t have continued. It was a case of do something radical or just give up and go back to what we had before.”
She said of the backlash to its pricing: “This is what happens when you put yourself out there and do something a bit different. We still 110 per cent stand by our model and our ethics.”
‘Who are you to say what need is?’
Press Pad will have a staff of three come April, including a full-time web co-ordinator. Crellin and co-founder Laura Garcia will continue to work on the scheme on a voluntary, unpaid basis.
“We are here for the long haul,” said Crellin, a Cambridge graduate who studied journalism at Columbia. “At the moment those using our platform are not the most needy because they aren’t even thinking about applying.
“It takes time to change the pipeline but you have to start somewhere. Proving the model works and is safe is the start. Then it’s about sticking around long enough to change things.”
Press Pad plans to run a roadshow across the UK, raising awareness of its services among students, and will host a conference on diversity in the media in October, sponsored by Google.
Crellin acknowledged that Press Pad will inevitably be used by people from less disadvantaged groups, but said they would nonetheless be helping subsidise those more in need because a proportion of their fees will go towards the bursary.
She added: “Who are you to say what need is? Somebody might come from a middle class background but live in the middle of nowhere – the costs for them to participate in an internship would be great.
“It is more nuanced and accurate and inclusive to have a sliding scale as long as we are adequately assessing the level of people’s needs.”
Crellin said she hoped Press Pad would encourage news publishers to offer longer more structured internships lasting a couple of months rather than a couple of weeks, and ultimately move towards fully paid placements.
Clarification: This article originally stated that Olivia Crellin would work two days a week, paid, on Press Pad alongside her role at the BBC, which was correct at the time of publishing.