Credit: Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

The latest NCTJ Diversity in Journalism report shows the UK media is still made up mostly of university graduates, white people, and those with wealthy parents.

Last year's report highlighted many areas of improvement needed across the industry, notably on social mobility. Why, after years of big talk to tackle the issue publicly, has so little changed?

A shrinking, highly-educated workforce

For the first time since 2016, the number of journalists self-identifying in the Labour Force Survey (LFS) is going down, going from 108,000 in 2021 to 101,500 in 2022.

Meanwhile, the share of journalists under 25 is also decreasing, which, according to Mark Spilsbury, research economist and the NCTJ's research consultant, is "consistent with a shrinking workforce". The nature of the employment of journalists will be explored in an upcoming report by the NCTJ.

The UK media is dominated by university graduates. 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 is much greater than the 52 per cent across the general UK workforce.

Journalists skew slightly more towards being highly educated than editors, something that Spilsbury is consistent with a general "graduatisation" of young people entering work.

University graduates are less likely to come from low socio-economic backgrounds, compounding the lack of social class representation.

David Stenhouse, chief executive of the John Schofield Trust told "The industry trends all create challenges for diversity and inclusion – the economic uncertainty of following a life in journalism means that often it is only those with deep pockets and connected parents that can make it work."

A research briefing published by the House of Commons Library in January 2023 revealed how children eligible for free school meals at school are less likely to enter higher education and get into more prestigious universities. They are also twice as likely to drop out of higher education in their second year than those not on free school meals.

Journalists managing to break into the industry are above average in terms of privilege and background. Three quarters of junior journalists have parents that work in the top three high-level occupations. It is 44 per cent across the UK workforce.

Conversely, the UK workforce is twice as likely (19 per cent) to have a parent in the two lowest levels of occupations than junior journalists (10 per cent).

"For us, last year's shocking headline, the appalling lack of social mobility in journalism, demanded more action," says Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ, said in her speech at the report launch event.

"The report highlights just how difficult it is for those from lower social groups to get into journalism. The increasing number of journalists who come from wealthier backgrounds is shameful."


The media industry is consistent with the rest of the workforce inn terms of ethnic representation. The vast majority (88 per cent) of journalists are white, but that is just higher than all UK workers (86 per cent).

The NCTJ does not specify the exact ethnicity of the remaining 12 per cent of journalists due to the sample size from LFS. But ethnic minority representation of editors (six per cent) is around half of what it is for journalists (14 per cent).

In a year of mass job layoffs across the industry, it is worth noting that unemployment figures from the last quarter of 2022 show people coming from a white ethnic background are less likely to be unemployed than people of other ethnicities, especially when identifying mixed/multiple ethnic background (11 per cent) and a Pakistani ethnic background (nine per cent).

With regards to religion, although journalists are more likely to report having no religion than all British workers (the data excludes Northern Ireland), editors are more likely to be Christian (all denominations) at 33 per cent, than from other religions (Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and ‘any other religion’ religious groups, which can’t be analysed individually due to the sample size).

Finally, looking at nationality, the 2022 data shows an increase in journalists from the "Rest of the world", which Spilsbury believes is not surprising.

"This change fits the migration patterns across the UK because of Brexit. We've seen migration going up and up and up, and more who are coming from non EU countries, like the Commonwealth, with less immigration from the EU."

Nevertheless, he admits that explaining the difference between the lower rate of EU workers in the media compared to the UK workforce by English language barriers is only speculative. had looked into other determinants of this difference last year when the same explanation had been given, showing a more complex picture.

Gender and sexual orientation data: "We have more questions than answers"

Although this year’s data on sex representation shows a decline in the share of women journalists, Spilsbury remains cautious: "It could be a quirk of the data because it's what you get from data sources like LFS. You would need to see if it’s bouncing back or if the trend continues."

This year’s data however shows that women account for nearly half of editor roles (47 per cent), compared to a third across journalists and reporter roles (37 per cent).

The past few months also included conversations about the fact that business-focused publications the Reuters, Economist and FT all became led by women for the first time, prompting conversations of the rise of the woman editor in all areas.  

Yet, support and culture in newsrooms may not have evolved with the increase in women journalists and editors. A recent Reach and Women in Journalism survey on safety revealed that three quarters of women journalists experience threat to their safety.

This week, Jane Bradley from the New York Times UK investigation team broke the news that the FT killed a #MeToo scoop in which seven women claimed that a star columnist at The Guardian "groped them or made unwanted sexual advances” to women journalists.

Representation of other gender identities is not available yet, but new "experimental" data from the LFS 2020/21 suggests that journalism outperforms in LGBT representation. 11 per cent journalists identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or "other" sexualities, nearly three times more than the general workforce (four per cent)

Health and disability: what could the increase mean?

22 per cent of journalists report having a work-limiting health issue or disability, higher than the level of all UK workers (18 per cent). Its upward trend is consistent with an increasing representation of disabilities across the UK workforce.

This could be due to an increased disposition to declare a health issue or disability, the impact of Covid on UK workers' general health but also an increase in the proportion of those with these conditions being able to find work. There is also the increasing acceptance and awareness of mental health and work-related stress in newsrooms.

Where do we go from here?

The launch of this report coincided with the launch of a new outreach programme by the NCTJ to reach more disadvantaged communities across the UK, partnering with further education colleges in Darlington, Glasgow, Liverpool and Northern Ireland.

Butcher commented on this at the report launch: "They have pledged to work in their disadvantaged communities, with our support and those involved in the Journalism Diversity Fund, to engage young people in journalism.”

This new programme sits alongside other initiatives, such as the Community News Project – a partnership between the NCTJ, Meta and regional news publishers, the Journalism Diversity Fund (JDF) and their new Journalism Skills Academy, supported by the Google News Initiative.

However, as Stenhouse of the John Schofield Trust notes, mentoring could be one of the keys to unlock real and lasting change.

"Almost every media organisation now runs a diversity recruitment scheme of one kind or another. But once you have got candidates into your organisation the issue becomes 'how do I develop talent in order to retain it and enrich the organisation?'

"When I am speaking to media organisations I often say 'you get them into newsroom but mentoring will get them on in their career'. There is a wealth of academic research going back to the 1990s which shows that mentoring is an incredibly effective way of enriching careers and developing staff in place."

The John Schofield Trust will be mentoring 72 journalists this year, open to print, multimedia and broadcast journalists in all four nations of the UK plus the Republic of Ireland.

"Each year the number of people applying to us goes up and up. There is a huge demand for the kind of cross-industry programme that we offer – and our impact studies show that we are making a sustained difference."

These efforts need to be concentrated away from the key metropolitan areas of London, Manchester and Birmingham however. Not least because local media is on the decline and opportunities for young journalists are becoming more limited.

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