Do the benefits of your degree outweigh the cost of it? Many students who aren’t lucky enough to come from a wealthy background ask themselves this question again and again, and often have to answer it to an unsympathetic, unpropitious job market. Rent, living costs and course books often leave less advantaged students with little to no spare cash, and many parents simply can’t afford the luxury of being able to give their children the money to support them through a long, arduous job hunt upon graduating.
However, a small percentage of the population don’t face quite as daunting a picture upon graduation, as their background allows them the wealth and means to support themselves through a lengthy job-hunting process, unpaid work experience and, apparently, paying for their own internship.
Recently, City AM offered up an internship opportunity that seems to embody the way in which the wealthy hold a monopoly over journalism. In an announcement that likely caught the attention of many aspiring journalists, City AM were giving away a week’s internship at ‘the City’s leading newspaper’ that would almost certainly bolster the chances of any budding journalist hoping to get a paid job at the end of the tunnel.
There’s just one catch: you have to be rich enough to pay for it in an auction.
The London-based paper have justified their decision to auction off an internship to the highest bidder by dubbing it a way to raise money for charity, claiming all proceeds will go to Maggie’s cancer centres. But auctioning off an internship to students desperate for a foot in the door seems like a strange way for a leading newspaper to raise money for charity, as if this prosperous, free-market orientated and conservative-affiliated newspaper couldn’t have appealed to their readership for small donations, or even its staff who already enjoy the benefit of a paid job.
There is no question that students hoping to break into the media industry find getting a paid job particularly challenging, with journalism being one of the most difficult professions to break into. However, as with other leading professions in the UK, it is also one of the most elitist. Unsurprisingly, the educational charity The Sutton Trust found that only one in five leading journalists went to a comprehensive school, despite 88% of the population being educated in one. This raises uncomfortable questions about our society as a whole: is it not concerning that the majority of those who set the news agenda all come from a similar background of privilege and wealth? Is the media not one of the most important tools in forming public opinion, and is it therefore not worrying that public opinion is being defined by those with different experiences and interests to the majority of the population?
Currently, the highest bid for the one-week’s internship at City AM stands at £650. For many students, £650 could amount to 20 weeks of food shopping. For others, it is two month’s rent or their essential travel costs to be able to get home for the holidays. The majority of students don’t have £650 spare, nor do the majority of parents. The majority of students do, however, desperately need to gain experience if they want to make their degrees worth it and break into the career they aspire to. But City AM’s decision to auction off an internship to the highest bidder means that yet again, the opportunity to break into the journalist profession has literally been restricted to those most able to pay.
The most insulting and outrageous detail of this is the choice to give the proceeds to charity, likely done in attempt to humanise the grotesque capitalism that City AM has enabled by auctioning off an internship in the first place. Would it not also have been charitable for the paper to give away an internship to the most qualified and deserving candidate, regardless of what they are able to pay? The economic elite do not continue to dominate the UK’s leading professions because 7% of the population are magically more intelligent, capable and deserving than everyone else: they do it because they can afford to work for free and gain the experience they need to climb the ranks. Now, they have been given the opportunity to buy this experience.
City AM’s decision to auction off an internship to the person wealthy enough to afford it is unfair and inappropriate, but also unsurprising. Although it is particularly outrageous and may set a dangerous precedent for other papers to follow suit, it is only a drop in an ocean of the wealthy elite monopolising the UK’s leading professions. Until more is done to open up the door to less advantaged students, the odds are not in our favour.