Wednesday, 22 July 2009

How journalism cut out the 'council house kids'

The debate surrounding yesterday's Unleashing Aspiration - The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions report reminded me of an interview I did in 2005 while I was at Press Gazette with Barrie Williams who had just retired after 30 years editing regional newspapers.
Barrie was a "council house kid." He left school at 16 and joined a weekly paper as an apprentice and went on to edit three regional daily papers - the Kent Evening Post, Nottingham Evening Post and Western Morning News.
He told me the new stress on academic qualifications in journalism had "cut out the council-house kids" from entering journalism. At Nottingham, he pioneered a scheme employing kids on council estates to write for the paper and supplied them with laptops.
He said. "A lot of regional papers have lost touch with their readers. You have middle-class journalists writing for people who aren't on the same wavelength. They have lost the common touch."
Barrie said he believed the switch to graduates began in the 1970s because of an "intellectual arrogance" that journalism was a profession like law or medicine.
"It's a people business. It is all about getting on with people. The academic bit is non-essential unless you want to be a specialist. We have a lot of very bland people who, when looking for a job, stopped at ‘j' and thought ‘that might be rather fun'," he said.
Barrie concluded: "I wouldn't get into the profession nowadays."
A view supported by the Unleashing Aspiration report which says that entry into journalism is now dominated by people from the best off families and that journalism – along with accountancy – has seen the biggest shift to more social exclusivity.
You can read the interview with Barrie Williams here.

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