Is it a pipe dream to hope for a content-related returner programme in the broadcast industry?
Nicky Clark, who has long championed older women in the media, tweeted the other day a quote from the Ofcom diversity report 2019. It says: “There is a younger workforce across the 5 main broadcasters than in the national labour force population”. Nicky asked why then do so many new talent schemes have an upper age limit of 35. It’s a good question and it extends to returners.
While covering returner programmes in the last years, I’ve often mused about the possibility of a returner programme for broadcast journalists or at the least for content generators within the broadcast industry. The only returner programmes I’ve seen are centred on design and engineering and, of course, that’s a start. But I’ve always dismissed my thoughts as pie in the sky because the media industry is so competitive to get into in the first place and because it has been in perpetual chaos for what seems like forever, with anyone in it clinging onto their jobs after round after round of restructuring.
So why would they want older people who have been in the industry and want to get back in? Surely we’d be at the bottom of the list.
And then I found myself questioning that thinking because it is precisely the thinking that holds so many older people, especially women, back. Every industry can plead exceptionalism to a certain extent.
In my profession, the traditional trajectory for women is to get to a certain level, have children and then do something completely different or go freelance. There appears to be no route back into a permanent role after that and freelance work can be quite hard to get these days. I know lots of very experienced education journalists who have just given up.
And that is a real loss because they know stuff. They don’t just Google it; they’ve lived it. They can pass that on; they can help ask the right questions and hold those in power to account. I’m not denigrating younger journalists at all. I’ve been one, but experience within a newsroom is important, particularly among all today’s turbulence. We may be moving more and more to data-driven journalism and there have, of course, been huge developments in how stories are told, but the bones of the job are the same.
I’ve been back to my old workplace over the years and seen how few women of a certain age are sitting at the desks. That matters for everyone. It matters for what stories get covered, it matters for what programmes are made. I remember, for instance, being in news meetings where the only interest was in the cricket or football scores and big government or business stories. I remember one woman bravely trying to generate interest in a big research study on cervical cancer, which got very short shrift at the time. Having different perspectives makes for stronger story-telling across the industry.
Moreover, having been out of the industry doing something else brings a fresh perspective. The argument is often that older people would be more expensive and may be less motivated to work long hours, but I know education journalists who have had to supplement freelance work with other completely unrelated work as well as ex-colleagues who are running collectives on virtually no income in the small hours of the night. Unmotivated they are not. They just want to keep doing something they feel passionately about.
Maybe this is a pipe dream and it is completely unrealistic in the current maelstrom that the broadcast industry operates within, but it seems incredibly sad and self-defeating to write off a whole section of your profession because they took time out to do something else, with all that that something else can bring in terms of experience and ideas.