Why there's a lack of diversity in political journalism

Sunday, January 13, 2019

 

NEWCASTLE – England

 

Despite all of our political differences at Backbench, there is one thing that unites us all here: we are passionate about political journalism. Each one of our writers cares enough about what’s going on in the world to write something about it, and a lot of our writers want their journalistic passion to become their career.

 

The thing is, things aren’t that easy when it comes to breaking into political journalism. The reality is, if you are anything other than a heterosexual, white, middle-to-upper-class male, the odds are stacked against you in this industry.

 

All you have to do is look at the statistics. The Sutton Trust found that 51% of Britain’s journalists were privately educated and 80% of top editors went to either a grammar or private school. Then there’s the State of the Nation report, which found that just 11% of journalists are from a working-class background. And, as noted in Lewis Goodall’s Sky News report on the BBC’s shocking gender pay gap, “if you’re a working-class girl, the odds are longer still” if you’re trying to get into journalism.

 

You may be wondering why it’s so hard for working-class people, and those in minority groups, to get into political journalism. The simple answer is experience. It is incredibly difficult to find meaningful journalistic experience if you’re not based near media companies, and if you don’t have any contacts in the industry. 100% of UK national media outlets are based in London. Just 13% of the UK population live there.

 

Consumer prices in London are 19.38% higher than in Newcastle upon Tyne, which is just one example of the huge disadvantage for aspiring journalists from the north. Attempting to get work experience in a national media outlet means going to London. But going to London means you’re going to have to pay around £1,000 to sustain yourself for a month-long programme of work experience, as barely any media outlets offer a salary or provide accommodation.

 

 

Not only are there financial barriers – which are probably the largest of all – but there are prejudices towards many people who aren’t from London or surrounding areas. Think about it: when was the last time you heard a Geordie, or a Liverpudlian, or Mancunian, deliver the news?

 

I’m from Newcastle, and I have never once heard a Geordie deliver the news, even on our regional news programmes. Accent prejudice is, as many linguists have been arguing for decades, the last acceptable basis for discrimination.

 

So, what are you to do if you’re an aspiring journalist from a ‘bog-standard’ state school (this doesn’t include grammar schools), a working-class background, if you’re female, and/or from a minority background? Well, you’d think the answer would be to quit while you’re ahead by the sound of things. However, here at Backbench, we’re not going to let you give up that easily.

 

That’s why we’ve launched our No Barriers initiative – to get the voices of young people from all around the country and from all backgrounds heard by thousands. Here at Backbench, we can offer you something invaluable: experience. Writing for us will give you something desired by employers, and all you have to do is get in touch with us.

 

We believe that publishing the views of different people from different backgrounds means better journalism. Maybe if there had been more journalists raised in tower blocks, we would have heard the concerns of the Grenfell Tower campaigners before disaster struck. Maybe if there had been more journalists from deprived areas during the financial crash, we would have gained more of an insight into its devastating impact. Maybe if there had been more journalists from small, former industrial towns, we would have seen Brexit coming a mile off.

 

If you’ve always fancied trying your hand at political journalism, and think you really have something to say, say it. Say it to us. Join Backbench as a part of our No Barriers campaign and help give journalism the diversity it is being starved of. We need you on this journey. Are you coming with us?

 

Lauren White is an Editor at Backbench

 

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