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Trainer shares work experience fears over office closure plan

Delme PArfittA journalism trainer has warned Reach plc’s office closure plan will deprive future journalists of “critical” work experience opportunities.

Delme Parfitt, who leads the BA sports journalism course at the University of South Wales, has raised concerns about the impact the publisher’s plan to close all bar 15 of its offices will have on journalists in training.

Reach’s plan will see most of its journalists permanently work remotely in future after a company survey found it “suited their needs” of the majority of its staff, but will leave most of its regional titles without bases in the areas they serve.

Delme, a former assistant head of sport and ruby editor at Reach plc’s Media Wales brand, has raised concerns about the plan’s impact on his student in a piece on his personal blog.

Delme, pictured, wrote: “At University of South Wales, journalists of the future benefit from the expertise of practitioners and academics who can give them a grounding in core fundamentals through a variety of tailored courses and modules.

“But if would-be employers demand students be ‘industry-ready’ by the time they graduate – and USW bases its approach on that very assumption – then there must be a recognition that industry itself has to continue to play its part.

“Work placement modules are critical to our students, not just in honing skills and opening eyes to real world challenges but also to building confidence, developing contacts, instilling the highest standards and nurturing collegiate etiquette that can only come with being in people’s physical presence.

“Remove the opportunity to spend time in an office, engaging face-to-face with journalists and members of the public, interacting with those in whose footsteps you wish to follow by sitting next to them and seeing at first hand how the job is done, and you strike a hammer blow for the personal and professional instruction youngsters absolutely must be given.”

Added Delme: “Already, in the last extraordinary year, finding high quality placements in the world of work for our students has become a significantly tougher task, with potential providers, treading water in a world of Zoom meetings, either reluctant or unable to offer anything they – or we – regard as suitably meaningful.

“Are we therefore looking at a future that sees students shadowing journalists virtually, or even spending a day sitting alongside them in their converted lofts as they scour social media and dip into Google Hangouts?

“Is such a scenario even feasible or worthwhile? Do we even need to prepare the journalists of the future for environments that will cease to exist?”

HTFP reported in 2019 how University of Gloucestershire journalism trainer Paul Wilsthire had raised similar concerns after Reach closed its Truro and Exeter offices.

In response to Delme’s blog, a spokesperson from Reach plc said: “Like everyone else, we’re looking forward to seeing each other more once guidelines allow.

“For colleagues in the early stages of their careers we plan to offer a blend of in-person and virtual learning, with regular manager and team meetings encouraging collaboration, training and informal learning.

“The restraints of lockdown have encouraged us to experiment more and scale up our virtual development programme, with positive results. Not being as limited by travel, cost or classroom sizes has allowed us to offer learning opportunities much more widely.

“We also believe that many young people based outside larger centres will benefit from our new approach – we’re excited by the opportunity to recruit more freely from every corner of the country.”