Credit: Studio Republic on Unsplash

One of 2018’s most promising startups has been given a further boost to support student journalists undertaking unpaid work experience and internships.

Since launching in May 2018, UK-based PressPad has helped match students with industry professionals to provide housing and mentorship throughout their placements in London, in a bid to 'reduce the financial barrier' to aspiring journalists and in turn, diversify news organisations.

Now, their efforts have been recognised with the female-exclusive Georgina Henry Award for Digital Innovation (2 April), and with it £4,000 cash prize.

The money will be put towards relaunching a subscription-based website this autumn, which will improve the automated matching process between students and hosts, and help fund their accommodation.

Previously, matches were hand-picked by founder, Olivia Crellin, also a BBC journalist. Now, the only manual input will be ensuring suitability of matches and a vetting process.

It will be closer to a marketplace where both users can create profiles, which will not give away the identity of the host but will offer some rough ideas around their company, location and specialisms.

Subscriptions will work on a three-tiered payment model, the price is as yet undecided.

One of the ideas is that students can pay for the service themselves. Another possibility is that media organisations buy credits from PressPad to allocate to interns. Or there can be a means-tested bursary available for students who are working with smaller companies not partnered with PressPad.

These are promising signs for the industry. But the initiative also raises questions as to why the external force of PressPad should even be necessary in the first place.

"I think the fact that we won an award shows the industry is going in the right direction and there is a real desire to change," explained Crellin.

"There’s a strong business argument for inclusive and diverse newsrooms because that’s what our societies are."

Having been working part-time for six months, Crellin has been trialling PressPad on a rolling basis through pilot schemes and entering various startup initiatives and awards, with the Georgina Henry being the latest in line.

She realised its potential to be a social enterprise rather than a voluntary scheme when co-founder Laura Garcia, lecturer in television and multimedia journalism at the University of Kent came on board. Garcia helped to cement the idea that students, even in the nearby county of Kent, were experiencing difficulties managing unpaid work experience.

"The fact this exists as a problem, which would be the other reason we won, really is because there are situations outside and within journalism that contribute to elitism," she said.

"We would love to go into other verticals: arts, law. It is not a problem limited to journalism, but within these networked industries, it is exacerbated.

"Yes, there are jobs that are advertised, but more often than not, there are all these informal ways to get into a staff job or contract, which require you need to take financial risks, be in close proximity, or be prepared to do unpaid work — and only a certain number of people can afford that."

For now, PressPad aims to be a lifeline for students, but Crellin called on newsrooms to re-evaluate their financial priorities in order to make more allowances for interns and work experience students.

"There needs to be a paradigm shift in the culture of what is considered a baseline for the amount of money invested into cultivating the right kind of future workforce. The workplace and working life have changed dramatically because of zero hour contracts, recession, technology, so I do think that onus is on the organisation and think how is this affecting us," she explained.

"My sympathy does lie with the interns. Newsrooms should find a way to afford and improve inclusivity and I think PressPad could be part of that solution. I don’t want to lambaste newsrooms because it’s a difficult job, but it’s a problem that has been self-evident for a long time.

"Whatever it is, the connection between the audience and the business needs to be strengthened in order to deal with the ongoing issues of trust and funding. I think more people need to be putting their heads together to think about that, and if we can be a part of that process, whether that's affordability of inclusivity as a standard or by highlighting overlooked problems, then that's good progress for me."

Of course, this is a problem not confined to the capital as Crellin looks to scale PressPad out to Manchester, home to the Reach offices and the Channel 4 offices not too far off in Leeds, Yorkshire.

But looking slightly further down the line, final plans of Crellin include hiring a researcher to map company policies on what they provide to students, in order to name and shame those not doing enough or to highlight the companies that do manage to fund more opportunities for students and how they make it work.

"Once we’ve got an idea of need and take-up, we can figure out what our budget will stretch to. We need to be listening and receptive to how we stay progressive and respond to what’s in front of us,” she concluded.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).