A lot has been written about the lack of racial and gender diversity in today’s newsrooms — but there’s not as much conversation about the lack of class diversity in journalism (with some notable exceptions).
The problem exists everywhere, but is especially acute in the United Kingdom, where news organizations are highly concentrated in London and largely offer unpaid internships. Through a new initiative called Press Pad, aspiring journalists in the UK who have landed an internship, placement or short-term contract in London can find a room to stay in the city free of charge.
Olivia Crellin, a journalist at the BBC, used her experience as an up-and-coming reporter from outside Britain’s capital as inspiration for the initiative. Given the city’s housing crisis and high cost of living, unpaid internships are often out of the question for anyone from a middle- to working-class background, even though they’re one of the only ways to build up one’s resume and secure a paid job after graduation.
She said she hopes Press Pad will help fill the gap of economic diversity in British journalism, leveling the playing field for aspiring journalists from all backgrounds.
“Journalism is often a ‘foot-in-the-door’ industry; you can see the need for something like this,” Crellin said. “We don’t see abolishing unpaid internships happening soon. So in the meantime, should we shut out people who can’t afford them? If you don’t start trying to change things, it’s never going to happen.”
The concept driving Press Pad is fairly simple. The initiative links up “intern-lodgers” who need a place to stay with “mentor-hosts,” who are established journalists who volunteer a spare room in their homes. This year’s pilot hosts include Olivia Le Poidevin, a broadcast journalist at BBC Minute; Hannah Cogan, a freelance documentary producer; and more.
Press Pad considers several factors when connecting interns with hosts, including location of placement, commute time, length of internship, the applicant’s professional goals and the mentor-host’s household and professional commitments. Press Pad’s selection committee notifies the chosen applicants of their placements at least six weeks before their internship start date.
A mentor-host offers more than just a room in which to sleep. Like their names imply, mentor-hosts also provide mentorship and guidance to the interns they host. Interns are matched with mentor-hosts who work at a different organization than theirs, in order to give them a source of guidance that comes from a more honest, neutral perspective, Crellin said.
“The hosts are all journalists who the interns can look up to,” Crellin said. “We’ve all gone through this experience; it’s important to see your own privilege and the position you’ve reached and recognize this is something you can pass on.”
In addition to receiving lodging and mentorship at no cost, Press Pad interns can take part in organized meetups with fellow interns, and are invited to a closed Facebook group that will allow them to connect and share with one another freely.
“It’s all about creating new networks between these people,” Crellin said. “Whenever I’ve been part of an informal network, it’s been beneficial to me. You get to know people in your industry with completely different contacts and experiences, but you’re not in competition with each other.”
Crellin explained that Press Pad is still in its formative stages, but the model is both scalable and sustainable, meaning it could be easily expanded to other cities and countries. While Press Pad is capping the number of applicants and hosts in 2018, the initiative plans to build a database of hosts to call on when the program officially launches in 2019. From there, Press Pad will accept applications and match interns on a rolling basis. In future years, Crellin said Press Pad might also offer stipends to interns to cover transportation costs and other living expenses during their placements.
She also hopes to use Press Pad as a means of “naming and shaming” news organizations that shirk their duties of covering interns’ per-diem expenses, which they are legally required to do.
Applications for this year’s cohort close on April 30. To learn more and apply, click here. To express your interest in becoming a mentor-host, click here. To learn more about funding Press Pad, contact Olivia Crellin at firstname.lastname@example.org.