Career road block for regional journalists?

ROY GREENSLADE, journalism professor at City University and former Mirror Editor, in his Guardian blog on the changed recruitment policies at national newspapers

Joanna Geary, the Birmingham Post‘s blogger-in-chief, reports that during a recent London trip she was told by a national paper desk editor that regional papers don’t produce journalists sufficiently skilled in investigative and writing skills.

She quotes him as saying: “We no longer see the regional newspapers as a source for staff. We find that training graduates ourselves produces better journalists.”

Ms Geary writes: “This had me reeling.” I admit it surprised me too. But let’s stick with Ms Geary for a moment.

“I had always been told that regional journalism was one of the best ways to cut your teeth in the trade and could – if you wanted it to and were good – pave a way for a career in the nationals. Now it seems national newspapers may regard themselves as an entirely separate industry.”

I think the national press have always viewed itself as a separate entity, so no difference there. That was the case even when virtually every Fleet Street journalist had served an apprenticeship in “the provinces”.

But there is no doubt that many papers take on journalists direct from university nowadays, having given them the once-over during stints of work experience. Many of my students at City University in the past four years have gone straight on to national titles.

But I am not convinced by the editor’s claim that regional journalists lack reporting skills. It’s simply that they cannot show those skills off to national editors. There are three obvious reasons for the breakdown of the old conveyor belt between the regions and the metropolis.

First, the closure of the Manchester offices of nationals cut off the intermediate stage between regionals and nationals. National northern offices were a great training ground, and its editors were able to recommend staff to London. (That was the route I followed, and scores of my 1960s and 70s Fleet Street peer group did the same).

Second, it is impossible for journalists working outside the M25 to do casual shifts in London. I have known of reporters taking a week’s holiday from regional papers in order to take up shifts, but the chance of catching a news editor’s eye within a week is remote.

Third, of course, is the falling number of casual shifts. All papers have cut down on casualisation, the former method for reporters and subs to show off their skills. Instead, the ready supply of eager young students willing to work for nothing, or next to nothing, makes greater economic sense.

Read Prof Greenslade’s blog in full by clicking here

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