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Why are there so many middle-class journalists in the UK?

British journalism has become dominated by those from the middle and upper classes

Earlier this month, the NCTJ’s latest report on diversity in journalism found that 80% of journalists come from professional and upper-class backgrounds, nearly double the rate for the entire workforce. work.

Social class was the only area studied in the report where journalism was found to have become less diverse over time. But why has journalism become so bourgeois?

How many journalists belong to the middle and upper classes?

Admittedly, the data, which comes from the UK government’s Labor Force Survey, has some complications. It is based on a survey of 40,000 households, but because journalists represent a relatively small part of the workforce, the data is extrapolated from a small subset of survey responses. So there is a large margin of error in the data.

“With all survey data, you get glitches, you get kind of jumps that aren’t really explainable in real life,” says Mark Spilsbury, research consultant at NCTJ and author of the report. “But the [class] the results are so striking – it’s 80%. If you run into a problem, it only increases or decreases by 5%… So you still have a problem there.

It should also be recognized that the report looks at class rather than wealth. The Labor Force Survey data used by the NCTJ uses the Goldthorpe class scheme which categorizes classes based on your parents’ employment at age 14. Its ‘lower’, ‘middle’ and ‘upper’ class job levels are based on education level. and the skills required to achieve them.

Some jobs like nursing or teaching require a high level of qualification but can be less well paid, while some non-professional jobs can be lucrative.

Although education level is not an absolute indicator of wealth, there is a “clear correlation” between most jobs in the “upper” or “upper” class categories and wealth, according to Spilsbury.

Why is journalism becoming more bourgeois?

The “pipeline” to journalism, as Spilsbury calls it, was more obvious in the past – most journalists started as interns at local newspapers and worked their way up. Today, pathways into journalism are through a mix of internships, graduate programs, master’s courses, freelance writing, apprenticeships, and more.

“The number of people working as journalists keeps growing, so they have to come from somewhere,” says Spilsbury. “But we don’t fully understand where the engine for that comes from.”

The decline of local newspapers could provide one reason why journalism is becoming increasingly middle class.

“Part of it is down to the decimation of local newspapers,” says Robyn Vinter, a British Journalism Award shortlisted journalist and fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “I was very lucky in that I did an NCTJ and got a job at a small publication and then worked my way up to national newspapers from there.

“Historically a lot of working class people would have started out in a local newspaper, because they didn’t have the connections or the money to go to London… That doesn’t seem to be happening anymore,” he adds. she.

Some 98% of new entrants to journalism have an undergraduate degree and 36% have a master’s degree, according to research by the Reuters Institute, and Oxford and Cambridge graduates appear to be more prevalent in journalism.

“Oxford and Cambridge essentially function as feeder schools for much of Britain’s media in London,” says David Stenhouse, chief executive of The John Schofield Trust, a charity that matches early-career journalists from disadvantaged backgrounds with industry mentors.

“Knowing that you are going to be working alongside peers with whom you were educated at Oxford or Cambridge is something that is denied to a lot of people… And, unfortunately, in British journalism, those networks really matter , really.”

On top of that there are problems with low pay, unpaid internships and centralization in London, one of the most expensive places in the UK, leaving many aspiring working class journalists unable to enable a career in journalism because they have no safety net to fall back on.

Why has labor representation been ignored in journalism?

“It’s a problem we woke up to quite late,” says Spilsbury. “We’ve been talking about gender, ethnicity and disability issues for 25 years and part of it comes down to it being just visible things you can see [unlike class].

“The fact is that even the ONS only started collecting this data a few years ago.”

While some organizations have made changes in recent years – including the BBC which has pledged to ensure 25% of its newsroom is from lower socio-economic backgrounds by 2027 – most are not trying to follow the representation of the working class in their organizations.

Equality reporting for ITV, The Guardian, DMGT and News UK makes no reference to working class representation in their companies.

“Journalists are quite reluctant to talk about class. And I get that nobody wants to hear how everything they’ve worked for has become easier for them, but that’s not what nobody’s saying,” Vinter says. “But the smaller the minority of working-class journalists, the harder it is to have these conversations about class and to deal with them.”

She went on to explain that the lack of focus on class has a ripple effect on other forms of representation in the industry.

“Perhaps the reason many publications have struggled to attract non-white people is that they hire from a classy group of people, when the truth is people of color are more likely to be working-class than middle- or upper-class.” adds Vinter. “If they expand their hiring requirements anyway, they’ll get a much more diverse pool of people overall. ”

What’s it like to be a working-class journalist?

But this lack of representation has an impact – both on working-class journalists themselves and on the industry as a whole.

“For the first few years of my career… I was pretending to be a different person,” says Vinter, who adds that she had to put on a fake accent different from her native Yorkshire to ease her way into the industry.

“My dad worked at Asda on the cigarette stand. And if you ever mentioned that your father worked at Asda, the other journalists would not understand why, ”she continues. “They cocked their heads to one side and looked like they were trying to figure out if it was something he was doing to keep himself busy or if he was working on a big project. They just can’t understand why someone exists and works in a supermarket.

But the question goes beyond the personal experiences of journalists. All Press Gazette interviewees said that the less a newsroom reflects the country and the citizens it reports on, the less likely it is that these newspapers will resonate with a wide range of readers.

According to the latest Edelman Trust Survey, only 35% of British citizens say they trust journalists. This puts the UK just 6% above Russia, and the third least reliable of the 27 countries analyzed.

“I don’t think the industry is quite ready to put two very obvious things together,” Vinter says. “The growing crisis of confidence, and the fact that journalism is almost entirely made up of people from privileged backgrounds.”

How do you increase the representation of the working class in journalism?

Spilsbury and Stenhouse said raising the pay of entry-level journalists and ending unpaid internships would encourage more working-class entries into journalism. Vinter suggested implementing blind CVs, reducing reliance on hiring college graduates and changing the type of content newspapers write about to try to reflect more on the day-to-day issues of a wider range of people. – although at first he struggled to gain a huge following.

“There is a huge danger for journalism if it continues as it is,” Stenhouse says. “Fleet Street’s heritage titles staff talk to themselves and lack real on-the-ground experience. And this gulf is not healthy.

Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters

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