Founded by Charles Dickens and a fellowship of parliamentary writers in the 1860s the Journalists’ Charity, formerly known as the Newspaper Press Fund, was set up to support the journalists who provided political challenge and scrutiny on behalf of society.
Back then, there was no welfare state, no NHS, and no well-developed third sector to provide a safety net, so if you fell on hard times, chances were, you would indeed struggle. Receiving support from the charity could, and on many occasions did, mark the difference between life and death for the journalists who found themselves in difficulty.
In those early years, the charity won the backing of Queen Victoria who gave a personal donation, before issuing a Royal Charter and then becoming Patron. Every monarch since then has continued the tradition of Royal support, with the current Patron Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II endorsing our recent campaign, celebrating the vital role of journalism during the covid-19 crisis.
The pandemic posed a real short-term threat to survival.James Brindle
In its 157-year history, the charity has supported thousands of journalists and former journalists (and their dependants) of all ages and backgrounds from right across the UK who found themselves in dire straits. And whilst thankfully the welfare state and workers’ rights have come on leaps and bounds since the Victorian era, shouldering more of the challenges journalists have faced over the years, the charity is constantly evolving to ensure it is well equipped to address the new and very real problems affecting the industry today.
When covid-19 hit the UK’s shores in early 2020, the impact on journalism was immediate and profound. For certain parts of the industry, the pandemic posed a real short-term threat to survival, with a potential lasting array of long-term consequences.
For many individual journalists, the impact of covid has led to increased pressure, uncertainty, anxiety and stress. For some, income has dropped. For others, income has gone altogether. But for both, the charity’s renowned services were on standby, ready to offer emergency support when it was needed most. In 2020, fifteen journalists and their families were saved from homelessness because of our intervention.
And whilst the support we have routinely provided for journalists for decades remains an important mission, this past year has made us reflect on the future of journalism too. For the undergraduates, trainees and apprentices hoping to break into the industry, the landscape imposed by the covid crisis could appear all too bleak. Would you want to start out again now? Would you stay the course to pursue your passion?
Whatever your answer, the collective question we have to ask ourselves is what is the potential risk of losing future talent, given the added economic pressures caused by the pandemic on what was already a debt ladened section of society?
It is here that there is a real opportunity for a charity with such a remarkable history to make a tangible and lasting impact for the future. You do not need to read a detailed socio-economic analysis to understand that younger people are facing increasing pressures posed by the rising cost of living and often personal debt. Plus, it is often more complicated and costly to start a career in journalism because in most cases you will be expected to live in, and drive around, an expensive city.
If you want to build up your income and reputation as a freelance, as many journalists do, you might need a range of equipment in order to do your job these days. And because of the impact of the pandemic, you will probably need to be highly versatile and multi-skilled to make a living.
So, what, you ask, is the solution? Well in truth, it is just not possible for the charity to remove every single barrier for new journalists, but it can and must play its part. Through its newly created ‘First Jobs Fund’ the charity will offer financial assistance to journalists who are just starting out.
Support could include one-off assistance payments for helping with the cost of relocation, accommodation, transport or equipment. We cannot tear down all the barriers for every single new starter, but if we can overcome just some of them, we will be helping to lay strong foundations for future success, and that is good for the individuals in question as much as it is positive for journalism and for society.
If you value a healthy, vibrant industry where anyone with talent and a passion for their craft should be able to stand a chance of earning a living, this is one very real way of helping to achieve that ambition.
For more information about the Journalists’ Charity, the support it offers and how you can sign-up as a supporter, click here.
James Brindle is a former BBC journalist and commercial TV controller and is now CEO of the Journalists’ Charity.
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