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Training Matters: Opening the door to diversity

A key priority for the NCTJ in 2015 will be to encourage greater diversity in journalism. John Cary, NCTJ head of accreditation, looks at the statistics and discusses how accredited courses can do their bit to help increase diverse talent within the industry.


“Why don’t the people coming to us wanting jobs as journalists look more like modern Britain?”

In the politically-correct world of diversity statements – too often dominated by carefully-worded and lengthy policy documents about inclusiveness – that question from a leading employer of journalists struck me as admirably direct and to the point.

Editors know that they have far more chance of producing fair, accurate and lively reporting of what’s going on in the world if their newsroom is staffed by people from all walks of life. But the evidence suggests journalists are increasingly coming from a narrower range of backgrounds.

The NCTJ’s most recent Journalists at Work survey showed that ethnic minorities are under-represented in journalism compared with the population as a whole. The fact that most journalists are employed in London or other large urban centres – which are more ethnically diverse than the UK as a whole – underlines the nature of the challenge.

On social class, Journalists at Work found that the parents of journalists were more likely than would be expected to be employed in higher level occupations: particularly managers and directors (17 per cent compared to 10 per cent of all employed in the UK) and professionals (48 per cent compared to 19 per cent across the UK).

Relatively few new entrants have parents from lower occupational groups – only three per cent have parents in the lowest, unskilled occupations (process, plant and machine operatives and elementary occupations, compared to 17 per cent across the entire economy).

With ammunition like that, it’s no surprise journalism’s record on diversity attracted the gaze of Alan Milburn, who chairs the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. Their recent report, Elitist Britain stated: “In a democratic society, institutions – from the law to the media – derive their authority in part from how inclusive and grounded they are.

“Locking out a diversity of talents and experiences makes Britain’s leading institutions less informed, less representative and, ultimately, less credible than they should be.”

The NCTJ’s accreditation board wants to encourage diverse recruitment on to accredited courses. Centres are now routinely asked to give examples of the practical steps they are taking to bring in applicants from all classes and backgrounds during visits by accreditation panels.

And once you get past the grand-sounding declarations of intent from university policy documents, there’s some good initiatives going on out there. Journalism departments are playing their part in projects which seek out teenagers from families where no-one has previously been to university.
A-level students get a taste of what university could do for them, and some of them like what they see so much that they are ending up studying for their NCTJ diploma on accredited courses.

The accreditation board wants to hear more good examples and the NCTJ will play its part in highlighting best practice across the industry.

Big obstacles remain, of course. Not least in paying for a course. The Journalism Diversity Fund celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and has helped 176 students to meet the cost of an accredited course (figures as of January 2015).

Those students will continue to spread the word as ambassadors for diverse recruitment as they move into journalism jobs and begin to climb the career ladder.

But everyone can play a part in making sure that the door to a journalism career is not slammed shut because of who you are, where you come from, or how rich your parents are. Evidence that attitudes need to change is not hard to find.

One head of journalism at a successful centre told me of her despair at seeing a job ad for a trainee reporter on a regional paper which asked for “NCTJ diploma including 100wpm shorthand, driving licence and a car”.

Who could argue with her view: “So really only students with rich mums and dads can apply (how do you afford a car – or anything else much – on £16,000?)”


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  • January 20, 2015 at 9:56 am

    This misses one crucial point: in my experience, ethnic minorities are hugely aspirant and parents – whatever their means – do not view journalism as a ‘respectable’ or serious career. Understandably, they want their children to get ‘proper’ jobs – lawyer, accountant, business.
    Fortunately, there are some exceptions, where the youngsters know what they want and risk parental disapproval to go into journalism, but please don’t make the mistake of seeing this purely in terms of perceived elitism barring entry.

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  • January 20, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    This is so true, advertisements like the one cited inevitably mean only very rich people can enter journalism. Regional editors need to really focus on ensuring the profession can become representative. However, the issues of ethnic diversity and social class are not the only ones – I would also raise the question of ageism and of disability. As one who is 55 and registered as having a disability, I find both issues have been major barriers towards getting a job interview. One editor told me that my biggest barrier was my age, that if he was selecting someone, he would take someone just out of college. The question must also be asked as to why only 1% of UK journalists have a disability. The insistence on having NCTJ or equivalent is, effectively, ageist, as it excludes those of us of an older generation who entered the profession when such qualifications were not the norm, and is basically saying that if you are made redundant for any reason, you cannot work in journalism again. It is extremely frustrating to have 30 years’ experience in journalism and not be given any opportunity to use my talents.

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  • January 21, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    I recently returned to my old school, (secondary modern when I was there, as an 11 plus failure in the late 50s) to talk to sixth form students and try to raise their aspirations. Like myself, many of them are from working class backgrounds and find it hard to seem themselves working in newspapers of broadcasting. I told them how I had left school at 15, with virtually no qualifications, worked hard at night school and worked in newspapers, national and local, before landing a job with the BBC. I’m involved with an organisation called FutureFirst which aims to encourage oldies like me to become involved in mentoring students at our former schools to help promote social mobility. They need more people, so please sign up at Thank you

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  • January 21, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    It’s all about the money. There a plenty of aspiring and ambitious youngsters from ethnic backgrounds (in fact any background) who would love to get trained up in the profession. Funding for courses need to be properly promoted and easily accessed in order for a new yet diverse generation to take centre stage one day!

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