A bursary of hope

By Marcus Ryder, executive producer for current affairs, BBC

A few weeks ago I gave a talk about the work I do as editor of BBC Scotland current affairs to a lecture theatre full of aspiring journalists. I give these types of talks quite regularly but it was at the end of this particular one that I was asked two questions that left me incredibly depressed.

The questions were phrased slightly differently (one was about the student’s accent and the other about the student’s ethnicity) but at their core they were both asking the same thing:

“Because I am different in some way from most of the people who work in journalism (white, English and middle-class) is there any point in trying to become a journalist?”

The idea that some university students were asking me if I thought that the odds were so stacked against them from finding work that they should just give up I found very sad. The reality is these are very difficult times for all journalism students but they are particularly bad for students from diverse backgrounds.

The latest youth unemployment figures for the UK have tipped the psychologically significant barrier of 1 million. At least once a week there are stories of the hard economic times that newspapers and television companies are facing with redundancies and journalists losing their jobs. If this wasn’t bad enough a recent Guardian newspaper investigation into the role of women working in news found that male reporters outnumber women in the industry by more than 3 to 1. Anecdotally the investigation thought the situation was even worse for women of colour.

Knowing all this, and all things considered, I can see why young people may find their prospects bleak and wonder whether pursuing a career in journalism is all worth it. It is at times like this however that I realise just how important my work on the Journalism Diversity Fund is.

For the last two years I have sat on panels and awarded bursaries to would be journalists from diverse backgrounds to help fund their NCTJ training. Over the last two years that I have participated I have seen thousands of pounds being awarded to individuals and people entering the world of journalism that might not have been able to do so otherwise.

The NCTJ qualification can give young journalists an advantage in an increasingly competitive world. Making sure that as many people as possible have access to that competitive advantage is important in an industry which still suffers from under-representation of women, BME (black and minority ethnic) communities and disabled people.

The Journalism Diversity Fund won’t solve youth unemployment, nor will it eradicate all prejudice. But I think what it can give students is hope. It can give students from diverse backgrounds hope in what can sometimes feel like an increasingly bleak world. And so hopefully fewer students will ask me: “Is it all worth it?”