Toby Castle, a member of our advisory panel, headed our shortlisting team to go through the applications for the 2021 early career mentoring scheme. Toby has been involved with the selection process for many years and here he reflects on how the applicants have changed in that time.
As a former trustee and a former mentor back in 2013 I’ve been a strong advocate for the Trust’s mentoring scheme. It’s unique – offering the next generation of journalists the opportunity to be paired with a senior mentor from a different newsroom. That’s the key ingredient from my point of view – an experienced journalist from another organisation offering their mentee insight, access and independent support that internal mentoring schemes simply can’t offer.
This year as part of the advisory panel helping trustees select mentees and match them to mentors I’ve seen the changing nature of our newsrooms play out in the applications to the 12-month mentoring programme.
We’ve had nearly 120 applications from early-career journalists from across the UK this year – a record. There’s been a welcome increase in people with disabilities. The Trust’s work on improving social mobility in broadcast newsrooms is reflected in an increase of applications from young journalists from diverse backgrounds from around the UK. We all need to play our part in better reflecting the audiences we broadcast to and I’m hugely supportive of Trust’s founder Susie’s passion in this area.
Many applicants have links to the biggest UK newsrooms but an increasing proportion of this year’s applications come from freelancers. The CVs of these young journalists reflect the necessity to build “portfolio careers” – taking any opportunity to get into any newsroom in any role in an increasingly fragmented and challenging media landscape.
There’s lots of buzz about the new generation being encouraged to have “side-hustles” but for many of our potential mentees these are not a hobby – it’s a passion for breaking or championing stories they believe in. And for those with jobs in the big national newsrooms they’re trying to pitch from within the confines of their own current employment – pushing stories that they think are being ignored.
Cutbacks in journalism
Cuts and uncertainty of revenue streams in our industry are having a considerable impact on early-career journalists. Many of this year’s applicants talk of the reductions in staffing in newsrooms leading to fewer development opportunities and less tailored support made more difficult by most working from home.
Staying in the industry
We ask candidates to have a senior colleague or manager provide a reference in support of their application to the scheme. Referees talk of applicant’s dedication, ideas, enthusiasm but crucially this year we’re also getting warnings that the industry risks losing this talent because newsrooms can’t give them the support, help or development they’re crying out for.
Talking to the boss
As well as support around development applicants are also asking for advice on how to speak to their managers about their careers. Less and less we’re seeing potential mentees asking for help in breaking into on-screen reporting – this year it’s been about advice in talking to bosses about keeping their job or extending their contract.
It’s clear the young journalists working in our newsrooms need support from all of us to thrive in our industry and that should give food for thought for all the news managers out there reading this.
Toby Castle is the BBC’s Deputy News Editor. He was a trustee from 2014 and stood down from the board earlier this year.