Publishers urged to protect trainees from slave labour

Publishing companies are being urged to sign up to a code of conduct being
developed to protect trainee journalists from widespread ‘slave labour’
practices.

Anecdotal evidence collected by the Periodicals Training Council (PTC) – the
training division of the Periodical Publishers Association (PPA) – suggests
some companies either ignore or exploit the minimum wage.

Tales have reportedly included one trainee who was forced to take out a
£10,000 loan to support her during a six-month unpaid ‘work experience’ stint
on a glossy UK magazine.

In response, the PPA is devising the code of conduct, which is expected to
hit HR departments in the new year.

Lindsay Nicholl, editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping magazine and chair of
the editorial training committee of the PTC, said the code would cover issues
such as expected duration of work experience, when it is appropriate to offer
pay and/or cover expenses, and how to draw up learning agreements to be signed
by both employers and trainees.

Addressing industry delegates in London at the PTC’s New Journalist of the
Year Awards, Nicholson said that if the practice continued, magazines would
soon find themselves faced with the ‘Selina syndrome’ – staffed only by
journalists from an upper middle-class background, because only their parents
could afford to keep them while they worked for little or no income for months
on end.

Meanwhile, Alistair Campbell, Downing Street’s former director of
communications and strategy, lambasted declining journalistic skills and
standards in the UK.

Speaking at the Marketing Society’s annual conference in London – in a rare
appearance following his resignation earlier this year – Campbell said the
advent of 24-hour news had made newspapers move downmarket and had left
broadcasters with so much space that they had nothing to fill it with.

Commenting, Chris Frost, chairman of the Association of Journalism
Educators, said the number of trainee journalists had probably tripled in the
last 15 years.

He argued journalistic standards had increased, but agreed that many
trainees came from the middle classes and, because their parents could bankroll
them through low-pay or no-pay work experience, they were ripe for
exploitation.

By Penny Wilson

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