The NCTJ has published a new diversity in journalism report this week, warning that the industry is reliant on diverse hires from university graduates.
The report, authored by research consultant Mark Spilsbury, is based on 2020 Labour Force Survey (LFS) data. The UK news industry has seen 18,000 journalists join the industry in the last two years, with the total figure standing at 96,000.
But the workforce has also become notably younger: under-30s account for 23 per cent (up from 16 per cent), while over-60s account for 48 per cent (down from 64 per cent).
Women now represent a slight majority, while they were the minority only two years ago. The number of journalists with health problems and disabilities has increased just one per cent during this time. The figures on ethnicity, economic background and qualifications are the main sources of concern.
92 per cent of the industry is white; a figure down from 94 per cent two years ago but still higher than where the industry was in 2016 (90 per cent). 89 per cent of journalists hold at least a degree-level qualification. Three quarters of journalists' parents work in 'one of the three highest occupational groups'.
In comparison, the general UK workforce is 88 per cent white, 48 per cent share the same level of qualification, and 45 per cent of parents are in the same 'one of three occupational groups'.
'Graduatisation' of the industry
The report describes the overall shift as the 'graduatisation' of the industry; the proportion of journalists who have higher-level qualification is high and increasing. This could thwart the efforts to diversify the industry.
We need to encourage and support diverse groups into journalism and promote alternative, non-graduate entry points.Joanne Butcher
In an email to Journalism.co.uk, Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ, explained that if news organisations are recruiting journalists predominantly from a graduate pool, they could be missing out on people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and diverse groups who have not pursued the university route.
"What makes a real difference is the action we take rather than the research itself. We need to encourage and support diverse groups into journalism, promote alternative, non-graduate entry points and encourage employers to recruit from this talent pool. Apprenticeships, foundation courses and initiatives like the Community News Project (CNP) are becoming even more important," says Butcher.
The CNP is a Facebook-funded scheme first launched in November 2019, which subsidises NCTJ training for more than 80 journalists and then embeds the trainees into major regional newsrooms to bolster community reporting. Previous training days have also focused on upskilling a diverse range of journalists.
Butcher continued: "It suggests more work in this area is necessary, especially as there are more people working as journalists than ever before. We need to scale up our activities and focus on what will make a bigger difference more quickly."
Breaking the mould
There are talented reporters out there who opt not to go to university. Take for instance Abbianca Makoni, a multimedia journalist for The Evening Standard. She broke into the industry through a joint apprenticeship with PA Media and the Standard in 2018 which subsidised a 17-week NCTJ course.
When you don't go to university you question if you made the right decision.Abbianca Makoni
She has since gone on to do an exclusive interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for the Standard, and pursue her own independent documentary on women coerced into gangs.
Makoni had university offers on the table but declined them all when the apprenticeship became available. She has no regrets, particularly because it made more sense financially and she was able to get on-the-ground experience. But it has not been easy.
"I came straight from Sixth Form so I was quite young when I got into the industry, so it was challenging at first because you are surrounded by people who have done their Master's or have years of experience, whereas I was fresh on the block," she explains.
"The way we've been brought up is that university is the way forward, so when you don't go to university you question if you made the right decision. I do know people who did schemes like myself who still went back to university because they still felt they may not be good enough. Fortunately, I'm not in that bracket anymore."
Makoni encourages other journalism hopefuls to go in for similar schemes and not disqualify themselves from the outset: "You learn so much that they cannot teach you at university. They can't teach you how to report at crime scenes or how to get quotes from MPs. These are not things you can learn in a classroom."
University is, of course, a valued training ground for many journalists. They can make mistakes, learn the ropes and forge important contacts to help break into the industry.
Birmingham City University (BCU), for example, partnered with HuffPost UK in July 2019, creating the HuffPost Centre for Journalism. Even during lockdown, students could sit in on editorial meetings, access masterclasses and paid internships, and potentially gain first reporting credits.
According to professor of broadcast journalism at BCU, Diane Kemp, this has helped to alleviate some of the concerns outlined in the diversity report: chief among those entering a profession that has long been opaque to those without family connections. She stresses that other universities have similar working relationships with news organisations.
"For us, the fact that HuffPost UK under [editor-in-chief] Jess Brammar had sought to increase the diversity of its newsroom meant that our students were exposed to reporting and reporters many could easily relate to. Obviously, that helps reduce barriers," says Kemp in an email to Journalism.co.uk. She added that the BJTC's placement assistance scheme also helps by giving financial support to students doing placements virtually or physically.
Her main concern however is around industry hiring practices both now and in the past, and calls for more research into the link between holding a degree and employment.
"We across the sector can produce diverse journalists. They need to be employed. That'd be useful research to see: applicants compared with hires."
The NCTJ says it will use the findings to inform other strategies and priorities. It will next consider why the workforce is getting younger and reasons for differences in gender balance. It confirmed that next year, for the first time, there will be more research comparing the characteristics of junior and senior journalists.
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