Selling work experience at auction: a step too far?

By Liam Corcoran, Journalism Diversity Fund recipient 2013-14

Liam Corcoran

Journalism is not for the poor. It’s near impossible to enter the industry now without a masters, which on average come in at just shy of £7,000, unless you head to City, where you’re looking at over £9,000.

For those of us unable to meet those staggeringly high prices, there was the chance to sneak in through work experience. Though to do this you could be working at a company for many weeks or months, taking both time and money. It is just doable though if you really want it.

But even work experience does not come for free, especially not in an age where the privileged few dominate an industry that does not represent the people for whom it is supposed to be a voice.

Reuters proved this recently when one week of work experience with the company went up for grabs, with a minimum bid of $750.

Now, work experience is important, if not crucial, but to have to bid for the very privilege is not a good sign for those less well off, or the majority of the country.

This is not the stance of an industry that represents a diverse wealth of people, both ethnically and socially, across the breadth of the country.

Granted, the bidding and donation is for charity, and I’m all for charity work. But in an industry that already struggles with diversity, is paying to work for free the best that Reuters could come up with?

Thousands of students are working tirelessly to make it in journalism and most will be pretty well suited to the job, finding new ways to adapt in a world which changes on a daily basis.

But if someone can jump straight to the front of the line just because they or their parents have money, it spells trouble. Work experience should be earned and about showing how good you are at the job, how well you can tell stories and how, no matter what your background, you should be given a chance.

This isn’t even the first time this has happened. The New Statesmen has previously been caught out doing the same.

It is not just work experience that is the problem either. We are told on a regular basis how there are new avenues into journalism through launching an app or fresh web-based company. But what good are they, if they are dominated by the same white, middle class men who have money to do so? There’s nothing revolutionary or new about it. (See Emily Bell’s recent article on The Guardian website for similar discussion).

As long as this continues, journalism will never diversify and become a voice for the people. The industry needs people from all backgrounds to fill pages and screens with content, not just those who can afford it.