The Times of London

Nathalie Rothschild asks how the British media can be opened up to people who might not normally have the opportunity.

How can you help open up the British media to people who might not normally have the opportunity to get into journalism? How do you train a new generation of journalists in critical thinking? How do you teach budding reporters the art of investigation, clear writing and meeting deadlines?

These are some of the challenges which prompted the founding of the Young Journalists’ Academy (YJA) four years ago, a project which gives young Londoners from state schools the chance to break into journalism. The YJA challenges the idea that you need to have the ‘right’ education or be lucky enough to have personal connections in the media world in order to be allowed to grace its hallowed halls.

YJA students learn all the tricks of the trade, experiencing everything from the celebrity splash to the hard-hitting news piece, from film reviews to live broadcasting. Students network with journalists and are immersed in London’s media landscape – visiting the news ticker-decked skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, the rowdy newsroom of the News of the World and the lively BBC studios in White City.

When we ask the 16- to 18-year-olds who compete for the places at the summer school why they want to participate, one common answer is: ‘I want to meet real journalist and get an idea of what working in the media is really like.’ Typically, students also add: ‘I want to learn new skills.’ These different motivations illustrate how the curiosity and inquisitiveness of young people is often tamed by the uninspiring insistence today that education should be about teaching the young a set of skills in preparation for the jobs market.

Listening to the high-profile journalists who run workshops and inspirational seminars at the summer school, however, students quickly realise that there is no single way of becoming a journalist and that it takes more than ‘literacy skills’ to become a great reporter, an accomplished editor or a sharp hack.

Of course a good grasp of grammar, the ability to write crisp copy and meet deadlines are crucial, but as The Times’ football editor Tony Evans told students last year, knowing how to write is only half of it. ‘You also need to see stories, which are everywhere’, he said.
Young people can and do rise to intellectual challenges. YJA students come to the programme without any experience of proper journalism and are pushed to work to tight deadlines across a wide range of media during an intense and challenging week of events. They quickly learn that with enough ambition and drive, they can reach their goals – but that they also have to be prepared to put in some hard work.

Nathalie Rothschild is coordinator of the Young Journalists’ Academy.