Not just for oldies: By James Brindle printed in the British Journalism Review (December edition)

8 December, 2022

The charity created by Charles Dickens to help journalists fallen on hard times is supporting young reporters who are struggling to find their feet.  A sum of £45,000 might not seem such a huge number during these days of multibillion-pound rescue packages, but back in the mid-1970s it would, on average, have bought you 10 houses in the provinces, with change left over for a new car, a foreign package holiday and a posh dinner set from one of the nation’s many multi-floor department stores. Remember them?

The 1970s are relevant because of the growing number of economic and political similarities from that epoch to this. Journalists in their 50s would have spent their formative years in the 1970s and 1980s and will recall a very different socio-cultural landscape to the one around us in late 2022. Their backgrounds, educational experience and career paths differ and diverge, but they at least tended to start jobs with credit in the bank.

Not now. If you’re about to graduate from university in England in 2022 and embark on your career in journalism, you’ll owe on average £45,000 in student debt – and that’s before you have thought of owning a home or car and, quite possibly, before you have finished the training needed to earn money as a journalist. So, to see a figure of £0 on your student loan statement would be (almost) as fantastical as a lottery win. Really.

When you ask anyone what the Journalists’ Charity does, the chances are they’ll tell you it helps old folk who’ve hit hard times. They aren’t wrong, for the charity has supported countless older journalists and former journalists since its creation by Charles Dickens in 1864. But in 2019 the trustees refined and restructured the charity to make it more fleet of foot, because first came Covid and then this cost-of-living calamity. Never before had so many working journalists needed the support of the JC.

But just as crucial to the charity’s future role and relevance, the spotlight of support has widened. There is a younger generation that needs help. If you’re a talented, aspiring journalist from a working-class background in Burnley, one of the most deprived areas in Europe, and you’re offered a poorly-paid job in expensive London, and you’re already in debt to the tune of £45,000, chances are you will be tempted instead by something that offers more money and less hassle. After all, no dream is immune to a harsh financial reality check.

If you turn away from journalism, you may well rue your decision for the rest of your life. And journalism, striving to boost diversity of background, would suffer a loss too. No organisation can completely remove the career-busting barriers created by high debt and low pay. But as a national charity which strives to help as many journalists as possible in financial need, the Journalists’ Charity had to do something.
Our answer, the first jobs fund, is as far as we know, a unique assistance scheme that tackles some of the financial barriers that pose a serious challenge for new entrants to journalism. Through the fund, new starters can get financial help with essential work-connected costs, from accommodation to transport, relocation and sometimes kit. Since its launch in 2021, the first jobs fund has helped dozens of bright young faces leap with greater confidence into new roles in broadcast, print, digital and social journalism.

Emily got help with relocating to London from Middlesbrough, Joel was given cash to help fix his car to cover his new patch as a trainee reporter in the north west, Usma was awarded assistance for wheelchair adaptations for a flat near to the newsroom, Dee received support to relocate to Dublin for her new role as an online reporter.

Starting out has always been tough, but probably never so challenging or expensive as it is today.

Through the first jobs fund, the Journalists’ Charity is supporting new starters from financially challenged backgrounds who might otherwise walk away from an industry that perhaps has never needed them more.

BJR December edition