For decades, the UK media has been over-recruiting university graduates - nearly nine in ten journalists now hold at least a degree-level qualification. This means not only that they are hardly representative of their audiences but they are starting their careers with a massive debt in an industry that largely offers low salaries.
With the rising costs of living, there are good chances that this situation may get worse in the coming years. Young people, particularly those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, may simply not be able to afford uni.
But newsrooms still need journalists passionate about their communities and skilled enough to report on them. Apprenticeships are a handy way to train the next generation of reporters while allowing them to earn money. That sounds certainly more attractive than the prospect of paying off their loan until they are in their 60s. It is a much more sustainable way to bring people into the industry, whether they are fresh out of college or career changers, and more and more news organisations are exploring these opportunities.
Tindle Newspapers, a regional publisher with titles published across the South East and West of England, and Wales, brought in five apprentices last September, selected out of 200 applicants.
"We were looking for people who wanted to work in local publishing and didn’t go down the uni route but who wanted to be part of their communities," says Scott Wood, managing director for Tindle Newspapers.
"The most important skill is for them to participate in their community."
He adds that these would-be journalists, all in their early twenties, have brought in new energy. For two years, they will be trained across print, digital and social media, with one day a week dedicated to studying specific skills like shorthand or media law.
Liam Davies is one of the trainee reporters for Tavistock Times Gazette. Although he studied law, he soon realised this was not the right career for him and applied for the journalism apprenticeship scheme.
"The nature of the job is absolutely manic but I love it," he says, adding that he enjoys covering human angle stories, crime and the property sector where his understanding of legalese gives him an advantage.
"It’s a lot of work and you don’t get much free time," he adds, "but it’s a better option because you don’t have debt from university."
He advises anyone thinking about an apprenticeship to be prepared to make the full commitment because studying while working, including weekends or night shifts, is hard but rewarding.
Although apprenticeships are particularly beneficial for smaller, local news organisations, bigger players are joining in too. This year, the BBC has launched a new apprenticeship hub in Birmingham that welcomed 200 trainees across the West Midlands.
Daniell Morrisey is editorial portfolio manager at the BBC, heading up the BBC’s apprenticeship and trainee programmes in production, journalism and production management. He says that the programme is not just for those who cannot or chose not to go to university but the cohort is made of everyone from school leavers through to postgraduates.
[Read more: How has the pandemic changed media recruitment?]
"The BBC’s Journalism Fast Track Apprenticeship is our entrance-level scheme. It’s based around the Level 5 Journalist apprenticeship standard, which incorporates the NCTJ’s Diploma in Journalism. It’s perfect for people who want to earn-whilst-they-learn straight out of school or for those looking to change careers."
For those with more experience, there is the BBC Journalism Advanced Apprenticeship, the new Level 7 journalism apprenticeship which is a Master’s degree-level equivalent and incorporates the NCTJ’s National Qualification in Journalism.
There are many reasons why people seek journalism apprenticeships, said Morrisey. For school leavers, it is a direct route into the industry.
"Many tell me that university hadn’t appealed and they wanted to get their teeth straight into learning the craft. Many have been inspired by having already made their own content on social media. For others it’s about changing careers – they’ve been working in a different sector and discovered a love for writing, making videos or podcasts and telling stories and want to follow that passion," he says.
Balancing work with study can be challenging. Morrisey explains that an apprenticeship must, due to the way they are formally structured by the government, include at least 20 per cent study. This includes training with an external accredited learning organisation, collating a portfolio of work and a project.
At the BBC, this is supplemented by internal training and making content for online, digital, audio and video. Although this keeps apprentices busy, the programme is structured in a way to make work and study manageable.
During their two-year placement, apprentices get to know a lot of people and teams in the organisation which also increases their chances of securing the job when they finish.
"One of the most exciting things about my job is seeing how our alumni blossom – many former trainees are now some of our foremost news correspondents, journalists, reporters and producers. The main presenting line-up of our new BBC Three daily news programme, The Catch Up, are all former BBC journalism apprentices and trainees - Callum Tulley, Levi Jouavel and Kirsty Grant," says Morrisey.