Friday, February 18, 2011

Work for free? That's a bit rich

It's a cut throat world out there in Fleet Street.

In one of the most competitive industries in the world, getting your chance to shine is a task not to be taken lightly.

The recession has done little to ebb the insatiable desire to know as more and more wannabe journos pile out onto the streets.

Students go to any means to stand out from their competitors; multi-coloured CVs, sandwich-boards and even posting letters day and night to prove their worth.

You'd think we were auditioning to be the next Cheryl Cole with her champagne luxe lifestyle. Instead a poorly-paid career sitting in front of a computer screen, scrawling on a notepad at speed and late hours await. The news never stops and nor do we.

Journalism is a labour of love. We forget the poor wages - some regional presses offer newly graduated men and women to join their papers a meagre £12,000-a-year - forget the hardship to get there and stick to our mantra, no pain no gain.

But far worse than the pressures of the recession are the latest obstacles determined to end young journos' reporting dreams for good.

Now media companies want to play wage limbo with reporter hopefuls - how low will you go to get your job?

With many starting positions in the region of £17,000, (forget London weighting!) can anyone afford to be a journalist anymore?

While on a placement at newspaper union, the NUJ, talk was rife of a work experience code - the plan to make employers pay the minimum wage for budding journalists.

Journo who I am?

As someone who has done their fair share of free work and gladly, TTG feels that it is time journalists got a cut for their efforts. What newspapers seem to forget is that most young journos, often twenty-something students aren't exactly rolling in it.

They have barely enough to buy a few cans of baked beans, let alone enough change to scrape together a train ticket or accommodation while they do their commute to an often London-based establishment. It just isn't feasible. Yet the pressure is on for grads to do long-term internships, some lasting up to a year, with a fiver here and there to keep you watered and fed. Employers cry out for experience but how are you meant to get experience if you can't first afford the experience? It's a vicious circle but like the idiom says, money makes the world go round.

The Conservatives came under fire -and rightly so - just last week after an internship was put up for a charity auction with the winning bid a whopping £8k. What message is this giving young people, like TTG perhaps, who just can't afford to pay up for an opportunity? Have the media finally conceded that journalism is now a career for the few? Should adverts come with the disclaimer 'working class graduates need not apply?' Considering the work and effort and time journalism involves, from university study and NCTJs to endless tea-making and voluntary work, shouldn't employers give us a break? (hopefully a paid one)

With editorial staff cut to the bone, small companies simply can't afford to give trainees a wage. In these hard times, that is understandable but how are nationals allowed to afford the same privilege? An editor at one of the nationals bluntly told me 'why would we pay someone when hundreds will do it for free?' Living in London doesn't come cheap and wages in the workplace should reflect the toll of Capital life.

If the Government wants to help get youngsters into work, they need to remedy this. Internships and experience are all well and good but funding MUST be there to help those who simply can't afford the cost of self-improvement.

Young people aren't afraid of a little hard work, they just need a little boost now and then.

1 comment:

Peter said...

You make some very strong points, but I think you're simply highlighting the fact that newspapers are all slowly going broke and journalism is therefore for most people a horrible industry to be starting out in.

If government wants to "remedy this", I'm not sure what it can do, short of forcing people who get their news online and from the TV to buy newspapers, or throwing taxpayers' money at loss-making rags. Certainly a law forbidding taking on inexperienced wannabe journos at low wages wouldn't help: it would just mean newspapers would stop hiring inexperienced people altogether and opportunities to get started in the industry would be restricted further.