The Interview: What are the panel looking for?

IMG_0617By Laurie Tucker

Journalism has woken up to how diversity in news rooms enriches content and makes it more representative and relevant to consumers. But the industry simply hasn’t kept pace with society’s cultural expansion and is playing catch-up.  And that’s great news for aspiring journalists wanting to combine their desire and talent for the profession with whatever it is they feel they have to help bring even more diversity to news rooms.

So what is diversity? That’s the key question applicants are asked when they sit in front of an interview panel deciding whether they meet all the criteria for a JDF bursary which will help finance their studies and ultimately see them get a job in a news room and help address the current diversity imbalance.

Diversity manifests itself in many ways, a point illustrated by reflecting on some recent interviews with bursary applicants. A British passport is the only requirement candidates have in common. For some interviewees their ethnicity and family heritage means they’ll bring distinct skills and knowledge to the news room. One applicant spoke passionately about her empathy and understanding of issues impacting the Turkish community in London’s Greens Lane area. Imagine how such insight could help better inform stories for readers of local papers in both that and the wider communities.

JDF interview panels see applicants from many other under-represented demographics in the industry, such as single mums who are bringing up children despite acute financial struggles and who can draw on experiences which most in the news room won’t have endured.

Other applicants desperate to crack journalism have challenging health issues, learning difficulties or disabilities requiring the use of a wheelchair. Their determination to succeed is also inspiring and again it’s not hard to see the different perspective they would bring to news audiences.

Away from diversity what else are interview panels looking for? The fund doesn’t have a bottomless pit of money so financial need is assessed. Candidates should expect the panel to drill down here.

Another important box applicants have to tick is passion for journalism, evidenced by avid news consumption, relevant work experience and an inquisitive mind, so ask the panel some questions of your own.

News rooms are becoming more diverse but the wheels of change, oiled in part by some 200 JDF bursaries, are turning slowly and gaining momentum is proving difficult. One day the JDF will be wound up, its work done, and a truly inclusive industry will fully reflect the divergent cultures of the communities and consumers it serves. And in this Utopia such diversity will be replicated at executive level (hopefully some JDF bursary recipients who’ve made it to the top) and among those who recruit. But as the JDF enters its second decade that day seems a long way off.

Laurie Tucker is day editor at Sky Sports News HQ and also covers journalism training for Sky Sports News staff.