BBC Traineeship

I thought I would write this up after I was reminded of it earlier this evening.

A couple of years back I applied for the BBC Journalism traineeship. When I saw the opportunity and the  spiel that accompanied it, I was thrilled. I had paid my tv license long after I got rid of my tv. Radio 4, BBC World, their journalistic output and their website, to me, were value for money and the BBC was an institution that should be protected.

The selection process for the traineeship was extraordinary. It lasted several months. I attended an open day at the newly opened Media City, the complex that landed on Salford and led to schools being named the ‘Media City Academy’. I wanted to see it anyway.

I was one of hundreds who turned up, many younger than I, some believing it was a route to being on television, others believing it was a route to becoming a journalist. Having been a public sector employee, I knew that taxpayer or license fee funded institutions had responsibilities to encourage diversity to reflect the country they served, and it hadn’t occurred to me that being a mother or working class would be a problem.

The application was fairly standard, an essay on why you wanted to be a journalist, various questions, an overview of your background, skills etc. I was perturbed by the need on the application, to frame yourself as somehow needy. With a background which ticked boxes. As a care leaver, and someone who grew up in severe deprivation, I have always rankled when asked to provide poverty porn to support an application and refrained from doing this.

After sitting through presentations from key figures within the BBC, I began to feel a bit sick. There was lots of grandstanding about how wonderful this institution was, and the people in attendance were treated like X Factor hopefuls. Scum, who may if they were incredibly lucky, be part of this institution. The application procedures were explained.

As part of the application you were asked to critique BBC news footage. This would have seemed straightforward, but the footage chosen was footage from the seriously flawed riot coverage the BBC had put that summer. At the time of watching this coverage, I had been horrified by the way the riots had been presented. Coverage was racist, misleading, irresponsible, appeared to be deliberately enflaming the situation, and for someone with my background and my class, was deeply worrying. It was not journalism of any type.

Offering a critique of this coverage, I had diplomatically said that editorial tensions were evident, and outlined the BBC’s stated editorial aims, and juxtaposed them against what that footage had actually done. This was asked of applicants in Manchester, where inequality is a huge problem and where many of the applicants would have had a very different perspective on those riots.

Another part of the application, was psychometric and aptitude testing. I know a lot about psychometric testing and aptitude testing. I used to be a recruitment consultant. It’s wholly inadequate for anything, it demonstrates next to nothing, but it is a way of standardising application procedures. Which I felt, given the number of applicants they had, was probably fair enough. The testing followed a model where you could easily buy practice tests, which I duly did. I practiced them, and I got to a point where I could do them quite well.

During the presentations given, those in attendance  were expected to be awed by the presence of these mighty titans in this glorious building which had landed on Salford. We were at one point given a chance to speak to some of the BBC worthies who were in attendance. I asked a woman how the BBC dealt with people with caring responsibilities, and was told in no uncertain terms there was little point applying if I had a child.

We were taken through to another office, as a smaller group, where a self important lad, who apparently oversaw the applications spoke to us. He spoke at length about the standards he expected from these applications, and about the low likelihood of success, making clear he had the ability to ‘spot talent’ which would need to be extraordinary to get within these hallowed walls. People in attendance were left in no doubt, that this was the boy to impress.

When he had finished explaining the rigorous standards he would expect to see met, he went on to discuss what to do if we didn’t get through. It was then that he explained that actually it largely came down to who you know, and the best bet was to get a contact within the BBC, become friends with them and get in that way. Which, given the extraordinary nature of the application process, shocked the hell out of me. He appeared not to know how much contempt he had just expressed for his audience or the process they were being made to endure for his ego. By the time he had finished, I had no intention of ever working at the BBC, and far from taking care with my application, I used it to critique that footage knowing that this was not an institution I could in good conscience take money from at this point in time.

The reason the BBC can no longer be diverse, is that people outside a very small and distinctive privileged culture, cannot bring their perspectives with them, and they are not wanted and to do so they would have to collude with their own demonisation or harm caused to other people.

Watching a parliamentary select committee tear apart our fair Aunty Beeb, after years of not being able to treat the BBC as a news provider, I realised it might be worth writing up how the BBC sells itself to those it will soon rely on as ‘talent’.

In this country refusing to pay for the BBC can lead you to prison. Even if their output is misleading, and hateful and damaging to you, that threat is still there. The traineeship is a sop to the appearance of being a public service broadcaster.

The BBC is going to encounter problems. They have shifted a vast amount of their operations up north. It has no choice but to adapt to it’s new northern environment. Currently they have a great deal of difficulty attracting journalists from down south, and at some point it is going to have to address how it ended up stranded in a region it holds in contempt, and reliant on that region to give it some meaning again.

So I will leave this up here, so that in the likely event that they do find they need to attract people and cannot, they understand that people do not want to work for media organisations who hold them in contempt. They don’t need to in a world where the tools the media use are available to all and easy to use. When they find out that those institutions hold them in contempt, they become reticent to pay for that institution at all.