- 7% of the British population is privately educated. Compared to 51% of top journalists (Sutton Trust).
- According to a report published by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, a mere 19% of journalists attended a comp, unlike 90% of the population, and 43% of columnists are privately educated, less than a quarter went to a comp.
- On top of this, 94% of journalists are white, and 55% men, less than 1% identify as black or Asian.
These, according to Owen Jones in his most recent article and most people who have an appreciation for the word, are the facts. This is what sparked the usual hordes of middle-class journalists to adopt their defensive positions, it’s what inspired Julia Hartley-Brewer to declare “I didn’t get into Oxford because I was privileged. I got into Oxford because I was clever,” and thus prompted Robert Webb to call her a “thick Oxford twat,” because apparently, that’s how we talk to people now.
The role of media is to hold those in power to account and to provide a voice to those without one. It’s not impossible for middle-class journalists to hold the middle-class chambers of Westminster to account, but it does mean we’re left with an increasingly middle-class conversation about what to do with ‘us poor folk’. The widening disparity between what we experience and what we hear about is becoming increasingly evident with instances like Grenfell and Telford, where we’ve been left with a distinctive lack of authentic voices.
It’s important to understand why the disparity happens, so here’s the step by step.
Unpaid internships. It’s bizarre to say you’ve been the victim of an unpaid internship. You were the victim of a great opportunity! Good lord, are you okay? But here it is. It’s unpaid work, time you could spend earning money to eat, to live, to breathe, is spent in what counts as economically nothing. I recently experienced 10 days working at a publication in London. Including travel, accommodation and the expansive luxury that is eating in London, it cost me just shy of £1,000. Thankfully, this was able to be covered by the universities grant for low-income students. If I wasn’t at university, I would have had to pass up this opportunity. Ability has nothing to do with it.
“Sorry, we don’t pay but we do offer exposure.” The ninth circle of hell for any aspiring artist of any form. Same as above, if you can’t afford to pay us, we can’t afford to work. Again, the exception to this is at uni, when we have an income that isn’t time-dependent (to be continued).
“Multimedia skills required.” I get it, the immediate thought is “you can’t say middle-class kids have naturally better multimedia skills,” true, you can’t. 2010 me and a middle-class 13-year-old probably had an equally sized hole where our multimedia skills were concerned. But there are two things here- general access to internet and technology related activities is obviously going to be increased in middle-class households, but it’s also increased at universities (exhibit A: me. Writing this at university, but not having internet access until the later years of high school).
There’s the crux of it. University. Problem number one can be solved by university schemes/ grants, as it was for me. Problem number two can be solved (for a few years at least) by having student finance to sustain you, and three can be solved by gaining this experience during university. Julia Hartley-Brewer seems to be redeemed in her claim, but as with most of the discussion around this, she was wrong.
According to the Sutton Trust, 19 percent of teachers would never tell their brightest students to apply to Oxbridge. Only 42 percent would. This means 19 percent of students (you can guess which economic quartile they come from) don’t get pushed down this path. This is because teachers often do not know how, or the schools just don’t see it as an option.
Students from schools in lower income areas are 3x more likely to make spelling mistakes in their university applications, and Cardiff Council found that low-income students are more likely to have lower attendance due to them feeling embarrassed about their economic status. There are isolated exceptions, but these are the trends.
Doom, gloom, doom and more gloom. If this article has made you feel a bit deflated, imagine the X amount of years of living it.
You can do things though. Ignoring better educational funding, more collaborative working-class publications and an end to unpaid internships which we sadly can’t enforce, you should support your friends’ workings, share them on Facebook, comment on them, retweet them, give them that boost they need to get by and keep going. Vote for local politicians promising increased arts funding and better school funding overall (you know who). Stop buying into myths about merit over privilege and support and attend local community movements aiming at lifting up marginalised groups – especially those from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Once again the middle-class conversation about poor folk got it wrong, and it’s going to be the same for a while if nothing is done by it.