Future for local and regional media - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Leeds Trinity & All Saints

  This submission has been written by Catherine O'Connor, Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Leeds Trinity and All Saints. It has support from other members of the academic staff. All staff profile details are included at the end of the submission.

  Leeds Trinity and All Saints has been providing post-graduate journalism training since 1993. The college established its Centre for Journalism in 2001, launched its BA (Hons) Sports Journalism in 2004-05, followed by BA (Hons) Journalism in 2006-07. The 2009-10 academic year will see the introduction of a further programme, BA (Hons) Journalism and PR.

  The Centre has strong industry links and its staff come from a variety of relevant industry backgrounds and have substantial professional experience. Based on our experience and knowledge of the local and regional media, we would like raise the following points with the Culture, Media and Sport Committee:

  Print journalism and broadcast journalism have established and accredited training systems via the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) and the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC). Leeds Trinity is accredited by both organisations to run professional courses and, in the case of the NCTJ, the associated examinations. This is a prestigious position which is subject to industry scrutiny and which also brings industry recognition and close working relationships with a variety of news media, including a formal training partnership with the BBC ahead of the relocation of key departments to Salford in 2012, and an involvement with the Scott Trust (Guardian Media Group) which is funding trainees on both the 2009 and 2010 postgraduate broadcast courses.

  Students who study both undergraduate and post-graduate journalism have to comply with rigorous academic standards. At undergraduate level, students receive a thorough grounding in practical skills and would be ready to step into traineeships which include the preliminary stages of the industry-accredited training. At post-graduate level, students are trained in practical skills to a level which meets professional standards and which, in the case of print journalism students, ensures they have already completed the preliminary stages of the NCTJ accredited training, the Preliminary Certification in Journalism. The BJTC accreditation awarded to the college is recognition of our compliance with the high standards set by the industry for trainee journalists.

  Traditionally, there have been adequate opportunities in the local media for our postgraduate students, with our courses boasting an employment rate of well over 90 per cent. Our general experience is that students have often had jobs lined up before the courses have finished. For example, out of 37 students who completed the post-graduate course at the end of 2007, 31 found employment as journalists. However, given the immensely challenging industry circumstances, there have been fewer opportunities for the students who completed the course at the end of 2008.

  The difficulties currently facing the local news media have had a significant impact on opportunities for trainee journalists. Where many organisations would take on at least one trainee a year, often more, they have now frozen recruitment and, therefore, opportunities for graduates to enter the industry. Established and long-serving journalists have also been made redundant.

  The job losses in the industry mean that trainees are pitched in at the deep end, often without the level of on-the-job training and mentoring which took place in the past and helped them build on the skills developed in college, although our intention has always been—and will continue to be—to ensure that once the trainee journalists have completed the course they are fully equipped editorially and technically to "hit the ground running" on day one in the industry.

  Over the last year, there has been a stream of announcements about redundancies, cuts and office closures in the regional media. The following link to The Guardian's website gives an insight into the timing of those announcements and, therefore, goes someway to establishing the scale of job losses involved in the industry: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/nov/21/downturn-mediabusiness.

  The global recession has impacted on the ability of potential students to raise funds for their post-graduate studies. As the 2009 cohort of students prepared to embark on post-graduate studies at Leeds Trinity, a total of nine were forced to withdraw from the course for financial reasons, including five broadcast applicants from non-traditional backgrounds whose applications had been carefully nurtured by the college in response to industry demands for a more diverse talent pool. Four students also deferred their place until 2010 for financial reasons. Those who do secure funding often suffer severe financial hardship and experience difficulties sustaining themselves through their studies.

  Of those who do secure jobs, there is significant anecdotal evidence that many trainees have limited opportunity to get out of offices and flex their wings in terms of generating news and practicing the public interest and community-focused journalism which has traditionally been at the heart of the regional media and, therefore, local democracy.

  It is a concern that if this situation is allowed to continue, key practices, important skills and fundamental values which have been integral to the local media's role in democracy will begin to die out. The importance of such skills cannot be underestimated in sustaining the watchdog role of journalism, in supporting the local media's ability to scrutinise, uncover and expose and in giving it the power to campaign for results on key issues.

  Many local newspaper offices and commercial radio newsrooms have been closed down, meaning that "beat" newsgathering is no longer personal and local—it is by telephone and remote. For example, the Wharfe Valley Times no longer has its head office in Otley. The newspaper is written and produced in Leeds, more than 11 miles away. Offpeak news bulletins for Radio Aire in Leeds and Viking FM in Hull are compiled and read at Hallam FM in Sheffield.

  The future of regional television production is seriously under threat. Recent years have seen a dramatic reduction in the range and diversity of regional programmes until all that is left is basically a minimum news service and limited current affairs. That in turn has resulted in a large number of jobs being cut and there are clearly further cuts to come in the future. Research currently being carried out into regional TV news at Leeds Trinity (with Salford University) has found that the public very much value regional news services and want more current affairs at a regional level. In addition to affecting the viewers who are losing out on an important and valued service, this has also had a knock-on effect on independent production companies with a reduction in the opportunity for programme commissions. All this is making what has always been a competitive industry even tougher to enter.

  The change in working practices has the potential to undermine the trust which exists between local media and its audiences. For example, post-graduate print journalism students at Leeds Trinity produce the North Leeds News, which is circulated in the area around the college. Students go out from college to cover events and meetings and get to know members of the local community. This leads to a developing relationship and people in the community begin to seek out students to pass on information. Without this personal level of contact, it could not be guaranteed that this vital exchange of information would take place. The cuts in the regional media are making it increasingly difficult for this important personal contact/relationship between journalists and their audiences to be sustained in any meaningful way.

  The time, opportunity and expertise to conduct local media investigations, such as the Yorkshire Post's Donnygate "scoop", are slowly being eroded. The Yorkshire Post launched its investigation into Doncaster Council in 1997, helping to expose the worst local government corruption case since the 1970s. The resulting court cases led to 21 councillors being convicted of fraud and, in 2002, a senior councillor and the property developer who bribed him being jailed.

  There are some bursary opportunities to support journalistic training (details of some can be viewed via the following link http://www.bjtc.org.uk/sponsorList.aspx?page=0).

  Not all of the bursaries run every year and several have been established to support specialist areas of recruitment. While some cover all costs, others make only contributions towards fees or living costs. There is no doubt that access to funding is the greatest barrier to increasing diversity in the pool of talent being trained. We at Leeds Trinity know of many candidates with the aptitude and potential to become great journalists who cannot even obtain loans to pay for their training. Making student loans available for postgraduate training would be the single most valuable policy initiative the government could make towards increasing diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints represented by workers in the news media.

  We are aware that Press Association has proposed a "public service reporting pilot project" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jul/07/pa-trinity-mirror-trial). This may go some way to addressing the issues outlined.

  Given the level of debate over the future of local media and over the possibility of public funding to support local media and its democratic role, we would recommend that the committee consider the following:

    — The democratic importance of sustaining a healthy local media.

    — The importance of ensuring a continued regional television news service on independent television, to ensure a level of competition with the BBC.

    — The need to "feed" the system with continuing opportunities for trainee journalists.

    — The extension of the availability of student loans to include postgraduate vocational training recognised by industry bodies such as the BJTC and the NCTJ.

    — Where new funding could be found for a bursary scheme to support opportunities which further the role of pubic interest reporting in the local media.

    — Whether sufficient is being done to support training at more senior levels within the local media in areas beyond the reach of colleges and professional training bodies.


  This submission was written by Catherine O'Connor, Senior Lecturer in Journalism. Catherine spent 15 years working in the regional media before joining the staff of Leeds Trinity. Her journalism career started as a reporter at the Halifax Courier. Following a two-year stint on the newsdesk at the Yorkshire Evening Post, she spent eight years at the Telegraph & Argus, Bradford, where she was Deputy Editor. She is also an exam marker for the National Council for the Training of Journalists.

  The submission is supported by the following staff:

Mike Best—Senior Lecturer

  Mike has experience from being a reporter through to editor and he was Director of Broadcasting and Head of Regional Programmes at Yorkshire Television for a number of years before leaving to set up his own independent production company.

Lindsay Eastwood—Senior Lecturer

  Lindsay has experience both as a print and TV journalist. She started her career in print over 18 years ago and eventually moved into TV journalism on Yorkshire Television's regional news programme, Calendar. At YTV Lindsay worked as a producer, documentary-maker, news editor and on-screen reporter, with frequent live location work.

Richard Horsman—Associate Principal Lecturer—Programme Leader of Postgraduate Journalism (Radio and Broadcast)

  Richard Horsman has more than 20 years' experience as a radio journalist, producer and talk show presenter in West Yorkshire—five as news editor at The Pulse, the commercial station based in Bradford, and two as a consultant to Real Radio (Yorkshire) where he established the station's educational outreach activities. He was elected a board member of the BJTC in 2005, and is currently active in a number of projects to attract a greater diversity of applicants for radio and TV journalism training.

Dean Naidoo—Senior Lecturer in Journalism—Programme Leader BA (Hons) Sports Journalism

  Dean is a multiple award-winning journalist with more than 15 years of experience. He hails from South Africa and won the coveted Commonwealth Press Union Fellowship in 2003 to study for a Masters in International Journalism at London City University. He has worked for a range of daily and weekly national newspapers in the Independent News & Media stable both in South Africa and the UK—as an Entertainment Writer, News Reporter, Sports Writer, Sports Sub-Editor, Chief Sub-Editor, Sports Editor and Sports Director, among other roles.

Deirdre O'Neill—Associate Principal Lecturer

  Deirdre studied publishing at The London College of Printing after graduating and worked on a variety of journals and magazines before studying for a PGCE and taking a job as press and publicity officer in the marketing unit of a large FE college. While there, she also lectured in journalism and communications, and ran NCTJ training. Since joining Leeds Trinity & All Saints she has been responsible for teaching and developing journalism modules at undergraduate level. She also contributes to MA provision, including the MA in Public Communication.

Susan Pape—Associate Principal Lecturer—Programme Leader of Postgraduate Journalism (Magazine and Print)

  Susan is an award-winning journalist and writer with more than 25 years' media experience. Her career has included the positions of news reporter, feature writer and News Editor of the Yorkshire Post; Lifestyle Editor of Wales on Sunday; and producer at Yorkshire Television. As a freelance journalist, she has written for national and regional newspapers and business and specialist magazines. Susan has written, with Sue Featherstone, two books on journalism, Newspaper Journalism: A Practical Introduction and Feature Writing: A Practical Introduction (published by Sage). Susan is involved with the NCTJ and is an NCTJ NCE (National Certificate Examiner) assessor.

July 2009

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