CJA answers young journalists’ appeal for support

By CJA Executive Committee member RICHARD BOURNE

It is often hard for a young person, starting out in journalism, to get advice from outside the workplace. The CJA-UK branch, following requests at its conference for student journalists in Birmingham in June last year, decided to launch a pilot mentorship scheme to help them. At its latest meeting it decided to aim for 20 mentors and mentees in 2024, doubling the initial number, with a press conference to launch the new scheme.

What was the aim? It was to offer young journalists the benefit of six, hourly, conversations – by phone or online – with senior professionals in the first half of 2023. Among those who volunteered to be mentors were Rita Payne, emeritus international president and Raymond Whitaker, current CJA-UK chair, Shehab Khan ( ITN ) and William Keegan ( Observer ). Among those who joined as mentors were two senior editors from the Glasgow Guardian, the student paper of Glasgow University whose staff had attended the Birmingham conference. Lucy Skoulding, a CJA executive member who is combining journalism with a master’s course at London University, put in a great deal of work to make the pilot happen.

Lucy’s review of the scheme, after her survey of mentees and mentors, made a series of recommendations: earlier advertising, for there had only been a month last year; more care to match the interests of mentees with the experience of mentors; a selection process before Christmas, which would allow for a start in early 2024; and a waiting list, so that those who fell out or failed to pay the nominal £10 junior membership fee, could be replaced. Two had dropped out in the first tranche. She recommended that there should be a check half way through, to make sure that everyone was happy.

The scheme involved more administration than had been anticipated. In the second year much of this may be carried out by the branch’s new secretary, Janette Daramy. Responses from mentees in the first batch stressed that they had gained professionally, and in confidence. Conversations had avoided personal issues, and practical problems of finance and housing. The huge changes in technology and the commercial underpinning of media in the UK do not seem to have barred a real and valuable interchange across journalistic generations.

When he was elected as chair of the CJA-UK, Raymond Whitaker declared in his manifesto that he wanted the association to be forward-looking, and to recruit and serve younger journalists. The Birmingham conference in 2022, between the Rwanda CHOGM and the Commonwealth Games, was the first product of this policy. A carefully constructed mentorship scheme is the second.