31 January 2015

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Journalism has become ‘socially exclusive’ says Milburn

Journalism has become the most ‘socially exclusive’ profession in the country according to a report by a former Cabinet minister.

Ex-Labour minister Alan Milburn, who is now advising the Coalition on social mobility, says more must be done to widen access to professions such as law, journalism and medicine.

In a progress report published today, the former health secretary said efforts to recruit people from poorer backgrounds into journalism had been “fragmented” and lacked any “real vigour.”

He said journalism had increasingly become a “degree only” professsion and claimed it “does not seem to take the issue of fair access seriously.”

The report comes amid concerns that entrants to the key professions are coming from an increasingly narrow social group.

Mr Milburn told the BBC: “There’s a series of barriers that, maybe inadvertently, the professions put in the way of those with ability and aptitude from a variety of backgrounds getting even the first foot career on the ladder into the professions.

“It’s partially about how they provide work experience opportunities, internships, their recruitment processes, where they recruit from.”

His report says too many employers are recruiting from “too narrow a range of universities and regions,” and claims work experience and internship schemes are “a lottery.”


  1. Charles

    Has Milburn bothered to speak to any regional or local papers about this, or just made a sweeping generalisation based on a few conversations with the nationals?

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  2. Curious

    Has the halfwit not noticed that there are hardly any jobs for new recruits – whether you are a toff or not?
    There’s been a widespread and virtual freeze on recruitment over the last three or four years with only a very lucky few managing to get jobs.
    If he wants something to carp about, he should concentrate on the dire state of the industry rather than bleat on about some phoney class war. Pillock.

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  3. Yaboo

    What a twit!!!!!

    “efforts to recruit people from poorer backgrounds into journalism had been “fragmented” and lacked any “real vigour.”

    You become poor when you get into it, you prize wally!
    Or are you thinking of only the Paxmans again?

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  4. kb

    Not true. I was brought up in care, scrimped and scraped as a single parent and then went back into education, got a degree and went into journalism. Being poor doesn’t mean you are not capable of learning and earning the qualifications you need for a job in media or anywhere else. I think there are probably more silver spoons in politics than journalism. Maybe something should be done about that

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  5. Own Goal

    Total rubbish!

    For a start degree’s are what A Levels were 25 years ago and certainly not only for the privileged few any more. The majority of papers want NCTJ’s/NCE anyway – so which Uni or region you went to/came from is totally irrelevant.
    Bottom line is there are almost no jobs and the industry is really struggling, class really doesn’t come into it.

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  6. Aman

    It is a sweeping generalisation, but I actually think there is something in it.

    Look at the staff roster for most Nats, particularly the broadsheets, and count the number of Oxbridge and private school types. Even the BBC has had problems with this (although it appears to be slightly better these days).

    And as for the regionals, pay is so rubbish many need support from their parents.

    I came from a working class background, was saddled with huge university and then pre-entry course training debts.
    12 years ago, my first job in journalism paid £10k. I lasted less than a year, living in proper poverty where I could barely afford food let alone heating.
    Eventually I had to go back home and live my parents for a bit.
    Another job I was offered at the same time paid just £7k, just outside London, and I was expected to live on patch and own a car.

    It’s slightly better now – a trainee can expect a whopping £15k – but the sacrifices you have to make if you’re not from at least a middle class background are very prohibitive.

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  7. Eddie Taw

    What an idiot. When we hire we look to see if they have passed their NCTJ preliminary exams first. Degrees do not matter. And, as far as I know, anyone can sit the NCTJ exams. Maybe Milburn should speak to the local press more…

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  8. Sarah

    Has he considered the fact that journalism (certainly local and regional) is one of the lowest paid professions in the country? You have to scrimp for the rest of your life – despite doing weeks and months unpaid to get into it. At least if you do law or medicine, while you have to work hard to get into it, and work long hours, you get paid a decent wage.

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  9. grey haired hack

    Miliburn is a twit – but he makes a good point in that journalism is largely a ‘degree only’ profession. When I was a trainee in the 1970s, we only needed five O’ Levels, minimum grade C, with one in English, to be able to go for a job on the local paper. It’s a shame it’s not that easy now. Too many jobs in general these days demand degrees when they’re not needed so little wonder youth unemployment is high and promising talent is lost. Perhaps general education is so bad that a degree is required to ensure some job applicants are literate and numerate?

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  10. third degree, medialand

    Journalism is becoming a degree only profession because so many people want to get the five jobs available. How else do you sort the wheat from the chaff?
    Having said that I always interview keen local people for jobs sans qualifications and will take absolutely anyone on for work experierence if they want to have a go.
    Local knowledge is a huge plus on anyone’s application.
    I didn’t go to uni.
    I’m not a toff neither.

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  11. Cherrywonder

    What utter rubbish. Did he actually get paid for knocking this crap together?

    No matter what you might think of the “real rigour” of Milburn’s research, it’s difficult not to be impressed by that phrase “amid concerns”.

    Better known as the most weasely words in journalism.

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  12. Barbarossa, Beyond the rim

    For a start degree’s are what A Levels were 25 years ago and certainly not only for the privileged few any more. The majority of papers want NCTJ’s/NCE anyway – so which Uni or region you went to/came from is totally irrelevant.
    ….what’s with all the greengrocers’ apostrophe’s Own Goal?

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  13. Barbarossa, Beyond the rim

    What I find more interesting is the phenomenon of following your parents’ footsteps into the profession. Does having a parent in the job open doors or act as a hindrance? I wonder what frustrated sub Giles Coren thinks?

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  14. Oprh

    I am surprised at the venom directed at Milburn here because I think he’s absolutely right. The single biggest change in journalism over the course of my own career is that while when I first entered it, graduates were rather frowned upon (‘university of life, that’s all you need to be a reporter!’) a degree is now seen as pretty well de rigeur.

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  15. Mike Lewis, Editor, South Wales Guardian

    Don’t you think the degree of venom might be because Milburn’s actually on to something here, Oprh?

    University grads were certainly the exception rather than the norm when I joined the SWG as a 16-year-old cub reporter with a measly six ‘O’ levels back in 1978…

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  16. Ade

    I agree with Oprh. When I started in 1968 there was not one graduate in our newsroom. The big plus was that nearly everyone was local and all knew the area. We also had seven reporters, plus sports editor, on a paper covering a smallish town. That paper does not even have an office in town any more.

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  17. Mike Lewis, Editor, South Wales Guardian, Ammanford

    ‘We’d lots o’ things in them days they ‘aven’t got today – rickets, diptheria, Hitler and my, we did look well goin’ to school wi’ no backside in us trousers an’ all us little ‘eads painted purple because we ‘ad ringworm….’

    Apologies for coming over all “Capstick Comes Home” here…

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  18. Cherrywonder

    The “venom” – if that’s what it is – has been sparked because the claims, in my experience anyway, are claptrap, not because we’ve been caught bang to rights.

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  19. Streatham2, South London

    Did anybody read as far as the penultimate para above?
    “It’s partially about how they provide work experience opportunities, internships, their recruitment processes, where they recruit from.”

    Isn’t there a bit of an issue about the number of people who are taken on as unpaid interns as a way of getting a foot in the door? To work full time unpaid is easier for some people than others

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  20. Sarah

    Aman – I suppose with rate of inflation £15k in 2012 is probably equivalent to £10k in 2000 when you started….

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  21. Sarah

    Aman – I suppose £10k in 2000 is probably equivalent to £15,000 now given inflation. Anyone know of any calculator online that works this out?

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  22. Liz Carnell

    Comprehensive education was supposed to provide a level playing field so that everyone had access to equal opportunities. It’s also never been easier for ‘disadvantaged’ groups to get into university. So what’s the problem? Perhaps some of these would-be journalists are simply not good enough when universities are churning out vast numbers of media graduates in a shrinking industry.

    We need the best people for the job, and ‘best’ doesn’t mean someone who falls into a disadvantaged category who gets preferential treatment.

    It never was easy to get a job as a trainee reporter, even 40 years ago, but if you have local knowledge, can use the English language appropriately and have enough enthusiasm, you can talk your way in, no matter what your background.

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  23. a haynes

    The massive change that no-one has mentioned is this:
    When I started in journalism (32 years ago – ouch) the ‘normal’ way in was via a training scheme provided by employers: Emap, Westminster Press etc. I did the Emap scheme and was paid circa £6kpa while doing it. Not a fortune, but I could pay rent and run an old banger of a car. That went up to £7.2k on successful completion of the course. Entry requirements were aptitude and A levels (but grades weren’t key, aptitude was).
    Now the ‘normal’ entry route is via a journalism degree or postgrad with NCTJ exams as part of the package.
    Wages have come down in real terms as the numbers above clearly show.
    I became a journalist because I couldn’t afford to go to university even in the days of grants for most. I would have precisely zero opportunity today.
    Is it possible to become a journalist from a poor background? Of course. But very unlikely.

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  24. An Editor

    I’m an editor. I have been lucky and have been recruiting recently. And whether someone had a degree or not didn’t come into it. I want people who want to be a journalist, who want to live and breathe the job, as I did when I was a trainee (straight from sixth form, two A-levels, not a degree in sight) and still do, and who wants to succeed in what is still the best job in the world. And there are still those people out there, whatever the doom merchants may write on this site. You don’t need to have a degree to get a job in journalism – just the NCTJ Part 1 exam results and 100wpm shorthand. Get that and a real desire to make it – and you’re on your way…

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  25. Des Neely

    He’s right, perhaps not at hyper local level, but, it certainly helped if you went to public school and had the right connections at one national I worked at.
    A newspaper apprenticeship scheme would be far more useful than any number of degrees. The best reporter I employed was from one of the poorest areas of the city, but knew it inside out and could talk to anyone from Judges to guttersnipes.

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  26. Streatham2, South London

    “I suppose £10k in 2000 is probably equivalent to £15,000 now given inflation. Anyone know of any calculator online that works this out?” – Sarah, you could try looking online.

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  27. daily grind

    What a load of rubbish. I have a degree but work alongside several people who don’t – it quite simply doesn’t matter. As long as you have your NCTJ prelims, you’re fine. And I got those through a direct entry scheme at my local weekly meaning I could earn while they put me through them.

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  28. herts hack

    Most of the people I recruit do have degrees – but to get a degree these days you usually have to do grotty jobs, learn to make ends meet, learn some common sense and, probably most importantly, get older. The degree is almost a by-product, and we all know most journalism degrees aren’t worth tuppence.

    Going to university these days means a fair slice of the university of life at the same time. If you’re 23 or 24, there’s more chance that you will be able to relate to my readers than if you’re 18 or 19, can’t spell or punctuate, find it difficult to talk to strangers, and so on.

    As a matter of interest, how many MPs come from outside a ‘narrow social group’ when it seems to be the norm that nepotism and the ability to intern for nothing are pre-requisites for progress, much more so than in our hallowed profession?

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