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July 9, 2018, 10:44 a.m.
Business Models

A couch to crash on: PressPad aims to tackle one small part of journalism’s class diversity problem

It’s a longstanding quandary for aspiring journalists: How can I get housing in the big city for just a few weeks, while I’m paid nothing or close to it? PressPad wants current journalists to help out the next generation.

Addressing journalism’s class diversity problem is tricky. Applicants of lower socioeconomic status have resumes that are usually less clean than those of wealthier peers coming out of j-school; maybe instead of an internship in a faraway city, they chose to work at a local dive for the summer and freelance on the side. Many colleges have realized the need to provide more support for first-generation students, but there’s no Poor and Working Class Journalists Association to provide structured support. And with the media industry increasingly concentrated in just a few coastal cities, kickstarting your career often means navigating unpaid internships in expensive places.

I know, because I was one of those graduates who deliberately avoided internships in New York City and Washington, D.C. A friend turned down a job with NBC’s Meet the Press because she fiscally could not make the $14-an-hour pay work in Washington. For some, there is no “making it work” — and newsrooms in major cities see a less diverse applicant pool as a result.

In the U.K., the problem is made worse by the fact internships are typically short — four weeks — and almost always unpaid. And the vast majority of them are in London.

Enter PressPad. Got a journalism internship in London? PressPad connects you with an industry mentor/host who agree to put you up — on a couch, in a spare bedroom — for the duration of your stay.

“People bend over backward to try to make something work, in order that they can be here, and of course that adds all kinds of extra stress,” said PressPad founder Olivia Crellin. PressPad aims to replace some of that stress with stability.

Crellin experienced these issues herself; when in London for a series of short internships, she borrowed couches from friends and family friends, unable to sign a lease for an apartment for such a short amount of time without a job offer in hand. The more she spoke with other interns and journalists, the more she realized her experience was far from unique.

Crellin pitched PressPad as the answer. The response was immediate and enthusiastic.

About 50 people volunteered to be hosts, though the accepted number for the first round ended up at a more manageable 14. A professor from the University of Kent named Laura Garcia, who had wanted to do a similar project but was held back by licensing problems (Garcia is from Mexico), joined the project and has been helping on the administrative end. Journalists can apply after they’ve already been taken on by a media organization.

The U.K. faces a similar set of class diversity issues as the U.S. Mark Spilsbury is an economist that studies demographics in U.K. newsrooms who was commissioned by the National Council for the Training of Journalists to amalgamate the 2012 Journalists at Work study, which found that new journalists’ parents were more than twice as likely to be professionals or managers as U.K. workers overall.

“Used to be you went to school, got a degree, got a job, and now it’s shifted,” he said, explaining that the cost of entry for journalism has become much, much higher as many print establishments outside London shrink or close. PressPad offers more than just housing — it also gives young journalists the proverbial foot in the door in a professional world that can seem foreign from the outside.

Meirion Jones is the investigations editor at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and one of the first hosts for PressPad. “These days, you have to be in London. And that just excludes a lot of people, geographically,” he said. “It just seemed to me, the more journalists we could draw in, the better journalists we could get.” He’s currently hosting Annissa Warsame, another investigative journalist with an internship at Shine A Light at openDemocracy.

By prioritizing hosts from established media like Jones, Crellin hopes participants can finally get some of that insider edge that comes with knowing the right people. Participants will be added to a private Facebook group, and meetups will be scheduled throughout the duration of their internships so that students can establish relationships with each other. PressPad bridges the age-old “it’s who you know” gap with modern-day social media and gig economy tactics. The current set of hosts includes staffers from The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, CNN, Sky News, and the BBC.

Even a program as noble-minded as this one has faced criticism, however. “It seems like we’re enabling [news organizations] to continue unpaid internships,” Crellin said. “I’ve said to other people we’re not looking to enable that kind of behavior. We’re just acting as a stopgap until legislation can be passed that would stop unpaid internships.”

But the focus now is less on larger reform than the individual journalists being helped. “Our main ambition now is to see this summer through, that our pilot participants get a lot out of their experience…and then from there have enough ammunition and evidence to then apply for grants,” she said.

Photo of couch by Christian Kaindl.

POSTED     July 9, 2018, 10:44 a.m.
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