I came across an old but interesting column by Roy Greenslade about “how journalism became a middle class profession“, describing how journalism progressively closed its doors to people from low-income backgrounds in Britain. I found it especially interesting because the logic described there is extremely similar to the “insider-outsider” logic I talked about for the academic job market:
“Then came the phenomenon of working for nothing. Newspapers, magazines and broadcasters discovered a ready supply of young, enthusiastic students willing to take up unpaid short-term work experience places and even long-term internships. Only the wealthiest of budding journalists can afford to work without pay”
What I didn’t mention in the piece on academia as a drug gang is the impact this has on the class setup of the profession, especially when the “outsider” phase involves unpaid work. Another column by David Dennis nicely outlines this mechanism for the US:
“As my classmates and I were finishing up our studies at Northwestern’s graduate school of journalism, we were naturally bombarded with stories and speeches from people who were actually successful in the field. Nine out of 10 had the same story: in order to succeed, you have to take an unpaid internship in New York for months or years; you build your resume and eventually land yourself a job. One senior member of a leading national magazine, when asked how someone could pay the bills to affording life in New York while working a full-time internship, famously told us that if we couldn’t pull an unpaid internship off, then we didn’t want to succeed badly enough. When we asked how he pulled it off, he told us about how he lived in his parents’ spare apartment upstate while working his internship.”
Now, the social background of journalists has an obvious impact on how journalists see the world and how they represent it for the public, and how political problems are framed (I discuss this here about welfare). A profession that is composed exclusively of people from middle or upper class backgrounds will certainly be blind to certain things and emphasize others.
I would assume that the existence of unpaid work as a necessary step to become an “insider” in academia would have similar effects. There was an an article about recent research in Germany that showed that professorships had not become more open to less advantaged social backgrounds in spite of the mass democratisation of higher education. It had in fact become slightly more elitist, which struck me especially in the light of my own experience.
Now, going back to journalism, what amazes me is the amused or ironic tone some newspaper or magazines took while reporting on my piece on drug gangs – The Australian ended its piece on it with “a load of bollocks” – while journalism seems to works exactly along the same lines.