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19 November 2017

Driving Ambition

One of the freedoms that comes from leaving a staff job in Higher Education is the opportunity to question policy. I always had a simple goal in mind when training a young broadcast journalist, and that was getting them into a job at the end of it.

I succeeded around 93% of the time, and I'm proud of that stat.

One trainee in my last proper Broadcast PG cohort told me, with great wisdom, that the course was "like a freelance gig you can't be sacked from".

She meant it was as real as I could make it, but with the freedom to make mistakes and still come back the next day, or have two or three goes until the story is right - a luxury newbies don't enjoy on an actual first freelance shift.

I had to compromise in recreating the real world. 0500 starts upset security, so "earlies" (sic) had the more agreeable, mid-morning start time of 0800. Even then there were squeals of anguish from those coming in on public transport.

Which begs an important question.

Should vocational Postgrad Journalism courses, those seriously setting out to prepare trainees for a job twelve months down the line, make holding a driving licence an entry requirement?

It's a tough one.

On the one hand, pragmatic me says yes it should. Over twenty years I've seen hundreds of my proteges interview for jobs. It's inevitable they sometimes interview against each other. I might have a good idea of both candidates' journalistic ability. But often the job would go to the comparatively weaker journo.

Because they could drive.

To be clear, I'd never suggest owning, taxing, insuring and maintaining a car should be an entry requirement. Just having the licence in the bag, along with the 2:2 degree, the GCSE Maths, the good grades at A level and the 25 yard swimming certificate my academic colleagues set as arbitrary hoops to jump through.

Principled me sees the counter argument. There are enough rich, privileged kids in newsrooms already. White, Black and Asian rich kids. Rather fewer rich kids with disabilities. But the glaring issue in diversity across the board is the lack of any poor kids. What the diversity industry calls "socially disadvantaged" types.

We're only just beginning to address this, even though the employers are screaming for candidates.

Poor kids can't afford driving lessons. That's just common sense. So if we exclude them from the industry-standard training that's on offer, that goes against efforts to increase diversity.

But is it even more cruel for institutions to accept "socially disadvantaged" candidates, who are already giving up more than the comfortable tutor will ever truly understand, for a chance at getting their dream  job when they know for a fact what will happen at that interview a year down the line?

The employers say all the right things, and may even take on and encourage a trainee or two recruited through non-standard schemes. Let's be kind, and say it's still early days on this type of initiative.

I'm not pretending I know the answer on this one. It may be different in London (basically, most things are) where there's decent 24/7 public transport and most potential stories are within a stone's throw.

News by bus simply doesn't happen in Cumbria, or Cornwall, or Lincolnshire - nor in the investment-starved "Northern Powerhouse", where a train an hour to an important town on the patch only runs Monday to Friday - and not at all after 2000.

The candidate with the driving licence is going to get the gig nine times out of ten. It shouldn't be, but that's how the world is. Discuss.

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