One of the first journalism work experience placements I ever undertook saw me sitting in a freezing cold room reading a book. When I’d finished it, I was to write an 80 word review. Intermittently I made a truckload of tea and coffee, ran errands and called local businesses to get up to date contact details. I did this so I could bung it on my CV and increase my chances of further placements (some of which were largely similar in nature), and by extension, a place on a graduate journalism course. Would I have paid for that experience? HELL NO.
So news that some employers are considering charging individuals for the privilege of sitting at (or most likely, near) a features desk and being at the beck and call of staff members wanting very specific kinds of coffee, or envelopes of a certain GSM, completely dumbfounded me. Sure, not every company is as lacklustre with their workies as the one described above, but – and correct me if I’m wrong – work experience candidates need to prove their mettle to publishing houses in order to actually get the placement, so surely introducing this paid-for dynamic only serves to eliminate some of the more able individuals on the grounds of financial discrimination? Certainly there has been a lot of murmuring lately about the merits of graduate courses, but in the absence of absurdly expensive qualifications in this area, eager wannabe journos could rise up through the ranks through work experience. Charging for placements, then, will only serve to discourage talent and cram the industry full of Tarquins and Petulias who have trust funds or executive daddies who work for the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Those without such luxuries will instead be forced to find the upfront costs of the placement (incidentally, will regulations be put in place to govern the quality of said placements?), living expenses for the duration of the placement, and then inevitably the cost of a graduate course. Journalism could end up being the most expensive industry to enter, and for what ends? Terrible job security and comically low pay.
So what in hell’s name is the point of this? Are there too many applicants for work experience placements and this is the only way to reduce the unending barrage of requests? Perhaps. But the industry is only weakening its already fragile self if it allows this to happen.