Regional press chiefs and trainers have been urged to address the industry’s “image problem” in order to attract more young people into journalism.
University of Gloucestershire lecturer Paul Wiltshire, a former Bath Chronicle deputy editor, says he believes issues such as salaries, autonomy and job satisfaction need to be looked at in order to recruit more young talent to the industry.
Paul’s call comes after the BBC revealed it is yet to fill more than 30 local democracy reporter roles, although the corporation has described the recruitment drive as “progressing well”.
In a piece on his personal blog, Paul said he felt the minimum £22,000-a-year salary on offer for journalists employed as part of the taxpayer-funded scheme was “far from generous”.
He wrote: “Journalism was always a job where mission and vocation teamed with mischief and camaraderie trumped financial reward and the desire for work-life balance. But maybe that uneasy pact has come unstuck as a new generation either wants more from its working life – or has developed a greater ability to see the new clothes of some media firms’ top digital emperors.
“My colleagues and I work day in, day out, to inspire our students to think of journalism as an amazing privilege. But we rely on our industry friends to help turn the flickering flame into the fire in the belly.
“That recruitment issue has emerged again with the revelation that the filling of the remaining vacancies for the BBC-funded local democracy reporter scheme has virtually ground to a halt. Once again, money has been advanced as a sticking point – although in the early stages of the scheme, the quality of applicants was said to be incredibly high.”
“From my understanding of the situation, the roles offer a degree of autonomy – a reporting right to roam, if you like – that traditional newsroom jobs increasingly lack. So if we’re struggling to fill these jobs, the image problem of the regional media is a very real one.”
Paul, pictured, went on to highlight the work of 23-year-old Salisbury Journal head of news Rebecca Hudson and her team in the way they’ve covered the recent Novichok poisoning incidents on their patch.
On his blog, he concluded: “For the sake of a healthy democracy, the industry needs to be honest about why we’re not recruiting more Rebeccas – and why the ones we have are so easily tempted to leave.”
Paul told HTFP: “Journalism is an industry that’s always been seen as incredibly competitive, and parts of it still are. But there’s no doubt that there are also times when it can be a struggle – or a compromise – to fill vacancies.
“There are many reasons why young people get turned off a career in journalism, and the tipping points can sometimes appear relatively trivial. But it’s important we all – the people who educate future journalists and the people who employ them – give some honest thought as to what more can be done to keep the flame alive.
“Some of that might be about having another look at salaries, but it will also be about increasing autonomy and job satisfaction – the feeling that journalists can make a difference.”
A BBC spokesman said: “Our suppliers have appointed close to 120 Local Democracy Reporters now. We knew it would be a challenge to recruit so many journalists. Recruitment is progressing well and in line with our expectations. We’re pleased so many talented journalists have been attracted to work for the service.
“In setting the salary, we sought a rate that reflected the market and provided value for money. The minimum salary is £22,000 or the suppliers’ own minimum for a senior reporter. There is no maximum.”