Last Wednesday The Times posted their interview with BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg and how she ‘broke the mould’ by landing one of the BBC’s top jobs whilst being ‘female, 42, strong Scottish accent, didn’t go to Oxbridge’. The over-riding suggestion is that Kuenssberg is living proof that you don’t have to be part of the establishment to break into journalism’s higher ranks. This is wrong.
Journalism is as elitist as it’s ever been, perhaps more-so as the socio-economic climate of the last few years has restricted class mobility even further. The idea that Laura Kuenssberg is an exception to this rule is ridiculous. Despite not having gone to Oxbridge, Kuenssberg did attend a private all girls school and her mother and father were titled CBE and OBE respectively. Not to mention her maternal lineage includes James Wilson Robertson, the last British Governor-General of Nigeria (all found on Wikipedia). Hardly a rags-to-riches history.
The Times’ interview with Kuenssberg published just as I have been considering doing an NCTJ, the journalism must-have qualification (similar to a PGCE in teaching). The injustice of the underlying claims of this article hit especially hard for me at this time. Having kindly hosted me for a taster day just two weeks ago, I’ve now got my heart set on doing my NCTJ at News Associates. It’s the best NCTJ school in the country and I’m confident my level of work experience will land me a place – so why not?
It is hugely telling that no NCTJ is government funded. You can receive neither loans nor grants to enrol. So that’s over £4,000 I have to find myself. Then there’s the extortionate cost of living in London or commuting in every day for 6 months. After my degree, I’m £46,000 in debt and if I move back in with my single mother, I will have to contribute to house bills and pay my council tax. Where am I going to get that money from?
Fortunately for me, I have an aunt and uncle who run a small business magazine between them and have decided to take me on after I graduate. It’s my lifeline and whilst the salary is small, I’m all too aware of how many journalists have to spend many months working for free in internships – something only those with great financial support can afford. Something I could not afford. And this lifeline once again comes down to family connections – I don’t know where I’d be without it.
But as this job is so critical, I can’t let it go to do my dream NCTJ, and the cost of doing one will easily wipe out my entire year’s salary. My current plan is to do it part-time (notoriously hard) alongside the job after I’ve saved for a year or so. But if it’s still too expensive I may have to apply to an institution which is less eminent but cheaper, or not do it at all. It’s easy to see how elitist this pathway has become.
If I make it big in journalism I will of course view it as a major achievement, but let’s not lose perspective. I am still essentially white middle class. While looking at the criteria to apply for the Journalism Diversity Fund to help fund my NCTJ, I ask myself if I really am ‘socially or ethnically diverse’. Granted, I don’t receive financial support from my family and I obsessively plan future finances whilst deep breathing, but I still have a lot of privilege that others don’t. Whilst my family is working-class, I am not. Is it right for me to take from that fund, meaning others can’t?
A shockingly large percentage of all the people sitting in student journalism’s top jobs at my university, Durham, also fall into the category of white and middle class (or higher). Many of them have attended grammar schools and some also cultivate an attitude of superiority about their work and publications. I want to see more newbies being helped find their feet journalistically, instead of being turned away as they are not already semi-professional.
These people will undoubtedly become the Kuenssbergs of the future, and no they didn’t go to Oxbridge. But let’s not pretend they represent staggering class mobility. If I’m struggling to breathe in the elitism of journalism, I can’t imagine what it’s like for others.