In My Opinion: Fiona Davidson: Modern apprenticeship in digital journalism an ideal opportunity to eliminate barriers

IT is Scottish Modern Apprenticeship Week, a week of events in recognition of the countless opportunities and achievements for young people embarking on their working lives. They can earn while they learn – in a variety of careers, from joinery to journalism.

The National Union of Journalists has developed the modern apprenticeship in digital journalism, providing a chance for young people to get their foot in the door, learning all about interviewing, writing, filming and editing news material and the legal and ethical considerations, both on the job and with further support at college.

The delivery of the modern apprenticeship in digital journalism is a prime example of the collaborative approach between the Scottish Government (through Skills Development Scotland), the trade union movement (through the National Union of Journalists), and business, industry and education representatives – to provide real training, real jobs and future career opportunities for young people.

And it also breaks down a significant barrier to accessing a career in journalism.

In recent years, the usual route into the industry has been after obtaining a university degree or other higher education or paid-for professional qualification, immediately excluding those unable to continue their education after school for a variety of reasons.

That does not mean they wouldn’t make good journalists.

The use of the unpaid intern to provide experience in the industry presents another significant barrier.

It excludes countless youngsters from low income families who quite simply cannot afford to work for free. It favours those from rich, privileged backgrounds who can afford to work for nothing. But as NUJ General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, says (here): “It exploits dreams and excludes new talent, undermining the diversity of our profession.”

Fortunately, there are many employers in the industry who pay young people gaining work experience for their time and the NUJ has achieved significant success in fighting to eradicate the practice of unpaid internships.

Journalism is an industry where the journalists delivering the news should be representative of the community they serve, their potential readership and/or audience. So, our news should be delivered by males and females, in equal numbers, regardless of sex, social background, age, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or disability.

In other words, there should be no barriers to a career in journalism either at entry level or in relation to career progression. No barriers on the grounds of sex, race, ethnic origin, disability or social background.

Labour MP Clive Lewis told the 100th Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture – staged by the NUJ last October – that journalism was increasingly beyond the reach of many young people because of the scale of inequality. He said (here) that 94 per cent of UK journalists were white but while the proportion of low income households for white people was 20 per cent, it was 30 per cent for Indians and Black Caribbeans, 60 per cent for Pakistanis and 70 per cent for Bangladeshis.

A recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – ‘Is Scotland Fairer‘ – highlighted the problem of gender segregation for modern apprentices in certain sectors and low levels of access for ethnic minorities and disabled people.

The modern apprenticeship in digital journalism provides the ideal opportunity to eliminate these barriers and enable recruitment from these under-represented sectors – ensuring the industry is truly reflective of society.

Fiona Davidson is digital journalism liaison officer with the National Union of Journalists. Her project is funded by Skills Development Scotland. She is also a freelance journalist and journalism and media law tutor.