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April 15, 2024, 10:31 a.m.

PressPad, an attempt to bring some class diversity to posh British journalism, is shutting down

“While there is even more need for this intervention than when we began the project, the initiative needs more resources than the current team can provide.”

While it’s not true that all good things must come to an end — personally, I’m a fan of gravity — it’s true in digital media more often than you’d like. And it seems to be true with an interesting British program that’s tried to address the class gap in journalism.

We first told you about PressPad back in 2018. It aimed to help solve a very particular problem: Many British journalism internships are unpaid, quite short — often just four weeks — and based in expensive London, where cheap accommodations are hard to come by. That’s might be tenable for young journalists from well-off families, but it can serve as a career barrier for those from poorer backgrounds.

Starting with a pilot in 2018, PressPad tackled that issue with a little solidarity — asking more established London journalists to offer up their spare rooms (and a little mentorship) to early-career journalists who needed them, with PressPad as the nexus connecting the two. Six years and one pandemic later, it arranged housing for 75 different interns for more than 120 total weeks in London — saving them a very meaningful amount of money and likely making those internships feasible for some for whom they otherwise wouldn’t be.

That helps, in its small way, diversify a British media that decidedly over-represents people from wealthier backgrounds. PressPad reports that 73% of its interns have been working class. (For context: 58% of the British population is working class, but only 20% of the British media is.) In addition, 23% of its interns have been BAME (British for “Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic”), compared to 14% of the British public and 8% of the British media.

Sounds great, right? But last week, PressPad announced it was shutting down — though it is open to some other organization or group of individuals taking over the work.

In an email to supporters, PressPad wrote that “while there is even more need for this intervention than when we began the project, the initiative needs more resources than the current team can provide. Industry, economic and personal challenges have become too much and rather than compromise delivery of the service we envisioned, we are taking the brave but difficult decision to announce the closure of PressPad in its current form…We are enthusiastic about passing on the infrastructure we have built to others in the space working to improve equity and access in the workplace within the media industry and beyond.”

It’s not clear what the specific challenges were; I’ve emailed and not heard back. But I’d wager it’s a simple matter of capacity. What began as a side project for a single journalist, Olivia Crellin — who invested a lot of time and energy in it — was unable to make the leap to sustainable institution. That’s despite PressPad getting some buy-in from publishers, including the Financial Times and The Guardian, and even a donation from Harry and Meghan.

In 2020, in those last fleeting moments before covid shutdowns, PressPad took a stab at sustainability by announcing that some interns would be expected to pay £150 per week for their accommodations — “Think Airbnb for interns.” That generated, as one might expect, blowback. The idea was to incentivize more London journalists to host by giving them a slice of that money; the first two weeks of any intern’s stay would still be free to them; less-well-off interns could apply for financial aid to forgive some or all of the cost, and news organizations would be approached to make up the difference for their own interns. Still, it was a bit of a messaging fiasco and seemed to change the organization’s trajectory; based on its own numbers, PressPad provided significantly more housing to interns in its first two years than it has in the four years since. A planned expansion to other creative fields facing class barriers seems not to have happened.

Of all the things the internet has done to journalism, one that’s often overlooked is deinstitutionalization. Metro newspapers that used to have the heft (and legal budgets) to stand up to city hall are in a weakened state. The news outlets writing provocative investigations are now sometimes one- or two-person operations. And the support structures that grew up over many decades have decayed. Once-massive organizations like the American Society of Newspaper Editors get merged and shrunk and eventually disappear altogether. The industry’s institutions are more fragile, more precarious, more reliant on individuals’ willingness to go above and beyond. PressPad might not have been perfect, but it’s still worth some parting applause — and the hope that others might take up its model.

Photo of the London skyline from atop the Shard by Benjamin Davies.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email (joshua_benton@harvard.edu) or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     April 15, 2024, 10:31 a.m.
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