Credit: Photo by Sargent Seal on Unsplash

The latest Diversity in Journalism report from the NCTJ showed that the UK news industry continues to be dominated by university-educated journalists.

A growing majority - 91 per cent of UK journalists - hold a university degree or a higher qualification (above RQF Level 4 or 5), up two percentage points from last year. This figure is only around half (52 per cent) across the general UK workforce.

While journalism is a specialised trade and does need formal training, hiring predominantly from the university graduate pool further limits newsroom representation. News organisations must think about alternative talent pipelines if they want to better engage with their audiences.

Partnering up

The Financial Times provides one template. This month, it launched new 18-month apprenticeship programme in partnership with Reach plc-owned local news title Manchester Evening News.

Applicants do not require a university degree to be eligible and will be paid a £21,749 p/a pro-rata salary whilst they work towards a full-funded NCTJ level 5 qualification.

They will split their time between both newsrooms, receiving free accommodation, 30 days annual leave, a dedicated FT senior mentor and access to FT Employee Networks - seven employee networks designed for community and connection (Proud FT, FT Embrace, FT Women, FT Families, FT Sustainability, FT Mental Health and FT Access).

The Financial Times and the Manchester Evening News will exchange regular updates on the progress of the apprentice, who by the end of the scheme will be skilled in both local news reporting and financial journalism.

Veronica Kan-Dapaah, FT assistant editor and head of newsroom diversity, said via email the first step to improving diversity is to provide physical access to the newsroom and its journalists. The FT does this by visiting schools and running a very popular graduate trainee scheme that has been going on for 38 years. But the challenge has now moved on to making opportunities more viable for young people.

"We want to build the confidence of young people from a whole range of backgrounds so that they can easily imagine themselves having a career in a newsroom, long before they are applying to university or for technical training," Kan-Dapaah says.

"Universities can provide a wonderful education but it's not the right fit for everybody. Mastering technical skills and learning through doing is different, not better and not of less value. We want a newsroom with a diversity of skills, experience and perspectives."

Successful apprentices will be encouraged to apply for staff positions that become available towards the end of the programme.

Dipping a toe in the water

Not all candidates want, or can, to commit to a full 18-month scheme, however. Slow news startup Tortoise Media launched a week-long, crash course that shows aspiring journalists how to pitch, write and deliver professional news stories in its signature style.

The Tortoise Journalism School is running for two weeks from 3 July this year, and aims to host 15 people per week. Applications for this round of training have closed, but more schemes will follow in the future.

The school was primarily set up as a way to formalise requests for work experience and internships, which worked before on an ad hoc basis.

Now, it has a dedicated curriculum which starts with a session on "what makes the news" with editor and Tortoise co-founder James Harding. There, he will set a week-long assignment to write either a 600-word piece for the top of its Sensemaker newsletter or the script for its Sensemaker daily podcast. Both are critical products for the newsroom.

Applicants then receive sessions on how to find and pitch news stories, before formally pitching to Harding. The next few days will see participants work on their stories alongside other sessions, including how to specialise as a foreign reporter, how to cover controversial topics, interview technique masterclasses and a sitdown with in-house lawyer to offer media law advice and analysis.

As a pilot scheme, this will be tweaked upon over time. But it is hoped there will also be time for sessions with design leads and photography editors to look at how visuals can enhance podcasts and pieces.

This is all quite an intense week-long experience, but one that tries to show the breadth of what it is like to work at Tortoise and in journalism more generally. The ambition is that it will encourage young people or those from other industries to pursue a career in journalism. The only requirement to be eligible is to be over 18.

The caveat is that the school does not pay a day rate but applicants receive meals, travel expenses and accommodation in London. This could prevent some people from applying if they cannot afford to take time off from their day jobs or find childcare.

"We're a small newsroom, we don’t have large pots of money. One of the big blockers in journalism is access. We’re providing access to our newsroom and all the sustenance [and maintenance]," says Andrew Butler, head of social and PR of Tortoise Media, heavily involved in the Tortoise Journalism School, on the podcast.

At the end of the week, James Harding leads a group feedback alongside other editors. That is followed by a graduation lunch to celebrate a successful week.

"In an ideal world, we want to see people who have stories to tell, who have lived experiences in a world where opportunities may not have come their way, who think the media or journalism doesn't speak for themselves, and who think the media is a closed shop and only cares about London or Westminster," Butler says about his vision for the future cohorts.

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