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Private shool boys (mostly) set the news agenda

More than half of the UK’s leading journalists were educated at private schools according to a report published by the Sutton Trust today (Thursday). Worse, only 14% went to comprehensive shools which are attended by nine out of ten pupils.

The report finds that 54% of the top 100 journalists were independently educated, an increase from 49% in 1986. It includes a list of the top hundred and the schools they attended.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the trust which was was set up to provide educational opportunities for young people from under-privileged backgrounds, said their report raises questions about “the nature of the media’s relationship with society: is it healthy that those who are most influential in determining and interpreting the news agenda have educational backgrounds that are so different to the vast majority of the population.”

The report goes on to suggest that the power of those from the elite education system is increasing with the latest recruits even more likely to come from privileged backgrounds.

The reasons, says the report, include: low pay and insecurity at junior levels, high living costs in London, rising postgraduate course fees, and a bias towards people with connections to the industry.

While journalists castigate political parties for not selecting enough women to fight winnable parliamentary seat, only 18% of the top hundred are women. At least it is better than the 10% in 1986.

I read the report, or at least the press release and the executive summary, this afternoon after interviewing applicants for a postgraduate journalism course. I will post a longer and more considered comment after I have read the report in full. For the moment, some initial thoughts.

First an admission. I was privately educated and when I went for an interview for a job as a junior reporter on the local daily paper I met the editor who was wearing the old school tie of the place I had just left.

That was in the very early days of journalism requiring educational qualifications. I worked alongside people who had started as copy boys (the term included girls) progressed to copytakers and then to reporters. Some of them were among the best reporters and photographers around.

Since then the entry requirements have steadily risen until today a postgraduate diploma is needed for many, if not most, jobs. The ending of undergraduate maintenance grants and rising PGdiploma fees are making it very difficult for any but the children of wealthy parents to get into the craft.

I see this among the people applying for places on the course, not that many don’t have to scrimp and save. Some are just determined and beg and borrow and work during the course. There are also more mature students who have had well paid jobs and saved enough to take a year studying for a job they really want.

There are few from the poor housing estates, the very communities that are being covered with little understanding. With the rise of white nationalism (shown in the recent local government elections) and the threat of home-grown terrorism we need, more than ever, reporters and commentators who understand the people who live in these places.

I suspect that the situation may be worse than the Sutton Trust suggests. National newspapers and broadcasting have always recruited a top layer from Oxbridge, but expected their general news reporters to have served their time on local and regional newspapers.

Now there is direct entry into the national media as reporters and subs from postgraduate courses and the opportunities to move from the provinces is much less than it was in the past.

After reading the report in full I will examine one of the crucial issues facing British journalism and its impact on the society as a whole in greater detail.

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  1. Wordblog » Blog Archive » The search for a representative press says

    […] in June 2006 I commented on a Sutton Trust report and wrote: There are few from the poor housing estates, the very communities that are being covered with […]

  2. » From teaboy to editor says

    […] Since writing about the Sutton Trust report on the hegemony of the middle class in the British national media, I have discovered there is at least one former teaboy in the upper reaches. Richard Burton, online editor of the Daily Telegraph, writes interesting about the report from a personal perspective. […]