Milburn Reaction

 The response to the Milburn report has been mixed. I was glad that people were discussing the issues of internships. Some have said the report states the obvious, others have been dismissive.

Listening to some of radio debate about the issues that the report raised, people seem to have misread the core findings. Obviously the rich/working class divide is a clear marker for people to acknowledge – but its surprising papers like the  Mail have not picked up that it’s kids from middle class families that are missing out on good graduate jobs because, although they might get a great degree from a great university… this is no longer enough to get you an entry level graduate job. Its not just working class families who are missing out on connections and internships – it’s anyone outside a select London bubble.

Given that many journalists exist in this bubble themselves, and employ rafts of interns to bring them coffee and wipe their arses, it’s no surprise that this isn’t getting as much coverage as it should do. I’m not being a conspiracy theorist, or suggesting there is a cover up. I just don’t think they see it as important.

There have been some good follow-ups to the issues Milburn raises. Polly Toynbee, for instance, writes:  

The rise of unpaid internships gets the blast it deserves. It’s free labour slavery for the young who can afford to do it and yet denies access to all without parents to support them. All kinds of professions gladly take in bright graduates for free, so their CVs shine with experience their less fortunate contemporaries lack. It should be banned under employment law: instead the recommendation here is for a code of practice with a Kitemark, requiring wages and grants. 

Roy Greenslade discusses the problems facing the unsupported getting into journalism:

At the centre of most of the discussion, however, is the fact that would-be journalists are now often required to do long stints of unpaid work experience, a fact that has been pointed out by Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ. This is fine if your family lives within striking distance of your chosen publication, or you are sufficiently well-off to support yourself while your pay packet hovers around zero, or you know someone who can get you into a newsroom – or indeed all three – but a bit trickier if they don’t. And by a bit trickier, I mean pretty much impossible, given the level of student debt many candidates are likely to be carrying and the competition for work experience placements.

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.

Indeed, only relatively wealthy young people can afford to take the one-year post-grad course at City University. We now charge about £8,000 to enrol on the masters course in journalism, a well-known stepping stone towards journalistic careers in newspapers, magazines, television and radio.

Given the high cost of accommodation in London, it is virtually impossible for working class graduates to afford (though I concede that, remarkably, some still manage to do so).

Sadly its only the Guardian which feels the need to mention these issues, or develop on the points Milburn raises. So much of the reaction on the blogosphere has been un-constructive and dismissive. My hope is that the report is the beginning of a wider discussion about internships - I fear this will be drowned out in a debate about private schools, working class inner city kids and political posturing.  

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