Age Discrimination in Journalism: It's Quite Legal in Great Britain

By Erlich, Dan | Editor & Publisher, May 4, 1991 | Go to article overview
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Age Discrimination in Journalism: It's Quite Legal in Great Britain


Erlich, Dan, Editor & Publisher


Age discrimination in journalism

"Young and eager reporter wanted, age 22-28. . . ."

When is the last time you can recall seeing an ad like this? Quite a way back, because U.S. equal opportunities laws forbid it. Yet, if you think you are still having a tough time finding work here, try "fair and square" Great Britain, where age discrimination and ads like this are perfectly legal.

Britain apparently felt the campaign for equal opportunities largely ended when women achieved the vote in the 1920s. In the new Europe now being formed, this island nation lags behind some of its partners in progressive civil rights legislation of which ageism is included but, to be fair, so do many European nations, including Germany.

As Fiona Fox of Britain's Equal Opportunities Commission has noted, "There's no law here that says you can't discriminate on the grounds of someone's age."

Britain long has been the traditional journalist's role model. Young aspiring reporters come out of grade school and embark on apprenticeship training schemes to local papers where they learn the ropes of newswork from the ground up. They hope to rise and rise to great heights, retiring when they please.

"Journalism school: This ain't bloody America, mate. I never heard of a college that could teach you how to doorstep the widow of an IRA bomb victim." This is still the widely accepted view here.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your views, the British press is slowly being Americanized. Nowadays, fewer and fewer teenagers are signing on training schemes. More and more are going to college or university, and even journalism training is becoming respectable at some schools.

Yet, Sally Gilbert, the equality officer for the National Union of Journalists, which oversees the on-the-job apprenticeship program, says more and more college grads are being hired right into jobs without any journalism training. "It happens mainly at non-union publications, such as magazines, where the management is interested in obtaining cheap labor."

The women's magazine market, in particular, is booming in Britain. For the size of the country, there is a far greater selection of publications than found in the United States, and the way to begin work on these publications has, until recent years, been to start as a secretary with no journalistic experience and then work your way into an editorial position.

Now, however, with the university grads choosing journalism careers - many - the still with no journalism experience days of rising to the top from the secretarial pool may be numbered.

A growing problem with this is the number of experienced journalists who are being depleted by age discrimination, leaving few people to train new staff members. "That's why you see so many ads for subeditors [copy editors]," Gilbert notes. "They're needed to correct the errors of inexperienced and ill-trained journalists."

She points out that many employers are doing complete U-turns in their approach to hiring.

* Staffers are being cut and replaced by free-lance workers, who have no employment rights or benefits.

* Nowadays being a family person is a liability. Employers like young single people because they can work any hours and go anywhere. Additionally, young people are more likely to leave the company before being eligible for benefits.

* In line with the latter, work-weeks are lengthening again, not getting shorter.

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