Among thousands of aspiring journalists like myself, Polly Toynbee is one of the most admired names in the business: intelligent, witty and in touch with the thoughts and ideals of the majority of today's liberal- thinking youngsters. But her recent message of doom to all those hoping to enter her profession was ill-founded, arrogant and extremely patronising. For once, Toynbee was talking tosh.
Her argument was simple. With so many students embarking on media studies courses, she said, there will simply not be enough jobs to go round. This would be true, of course, if we accepted her rather snobbish assumption that the goal of every aspiring hack must be to work on a left-wing national broadsheet like herself and that anything else would be second best. Thankfully this is not the case.
The hopes and ambitions of today's budding journalists are as wide-ranging as the ever-expanding market they hope to enter. A significant section of young writers want to work on consumer magazines, popular glossies and specialist publications. An even greater number hope to work as grass- roots reporters on one of the thousands of local newspapers. For them community reporting would be far more rewarding than the anonymous, cut- throat and impersonal world of national newspapers. In her hurried and inaccurate analysis, Toynbee has neglected vast sections of the market- place. There are a lot more jobs on offer than she would have us believe.
Her most provocative and almost offensive message, however, was that a career on the tabloids must be inferior to a career spent pontificating on the broadsheets. "Do not imagine that starting on the Daily Scrub or the Sunday Scum is a first rung on a ladder to something honourable," she preached. "Unless you are exceptionally lucky it is only a training in grubby and scummy journalism."
What she fails to recognise is that for many aspiring journalists, to work on a publication like The Mirror or The Sun, which sell millions of copies a week and which are read by vast sections of society, is a dream far beyond the offices of The Observer, The Independent or The Guardian. Far from being a mere stepping stone to more "honourable" things, a job on a tabloid, local or national, is infinitely more worthy and exciting to some than a job on a small-circulation broadsheet.
Toynbee's impression that every would-be hack imagines themselves as a Lois Lane type figure, busting crooks and toppling the superpowers, is also as wrong as it is patronising. Most of us have ideas far more down to earth. The appeal for many is simply to act as a mouthpiece for the man in the street, reflecting his interests and voicing his concerns. And if that means discussing such trivia as the next hiccup in Coronation Street or the latest drama on the football pitch then so be it.
With huge numbers of British students expressing a desire to work in the media, there are bound to be a lot of disappointments. But this is true of many professions and Polly Toynbee is wrong to discourage any one of them. If people seriously want to go into journalism they should give it a try.
Amanda Kelly is a graduate trainee with the Mirror Group.Reuse content