By Carolina Are
It is widely accepted that one of journalism’s main functions is to act as watchdog against wrongdoing and social injustice. But who guards the guardians if journalism commits social injustice itself?
Along with censorship and media ownership, journalism needs to solve much simpler yet basic fairness issues like paying for work and content. According to Press Gazette, a report recently published by the Institute for Public Policy Research warns that: “In the private sector, all those carrying out work have the right to be paid at least the minimum wage.” The NUJ joined in by saying that advertising for unpaid internships should also be made illegal. This follows on from their Cashback for Interns campaign set up in 2010.
Students and recent graduates who want to become journalists find themselves facing a tough choice: either they do a job they like or they earn a living; either they build a journalistic portfolio or they eat.
Journalism seems to be turning into a closed shop, a caste. It appears to be increasingly out of touch with reality, a realm of extremes. On one side of the spectrum lies a golden minority of great names with sky-rocketing salaries, while on the other there are unpaid interns going through doubled working hours – those of their internship and those of the time spent working not to starve through their internship.
Guido Fawkes’s order-order blog recently reported that the New Statesman auctioned off an (unpaid) internship at the magazine with no travel expenses included, starting off at £1000. It’s a shameful paradox that shows how desperate times for wannabe journalists are getting.
Websites, magazines and newspapers constantly contact universities looking for contributors, hardly ever paying them. Students and recent graduates are generally in no position to refuse such roles and they apply: getting work experience is increasingly hard (loads of unanswered emails tell more than a “no”) and with no portfolio a paid job is even more of a lottery.
An army of bloggers and contributors marches on the Internet, while the definition of journalism becomes increasingly unclear. Before the Internet, to be a journalist you just needed to work as one. In the ‘golden age’ of the press, hardly any old-style hack had a journalism degree. Now, the first thing you hear as you start your (£9000 per year) degree is that everybody can be a journalist: university is not enough anymore.
Journalism obviously needs to sort itself out. It sounds sadly hypocritical that those who protect society against injustice are inflicting that same injustice on the next generations. Even though the industry is losing money, it cannot afford to capitalise on the next wave of journalists, or it might lose its future too.