Who Gets to Write?

By Claire Malcolm


The barriers to people from lower income and other underrepresented backgrounds getting to work in the media and publishing industries have been increasing since the mid 1980s*.

Of course, these are very competitive fields of work that require exceptional talent to succeed: but talent alone won’t grant you access, especially if you lack confidence, role models, useful networks, a financial cushion, the right education and encouragement or the ability to persevere through knock backs and rejections.

For many new writers, progress does not correspond to their talent and is defined more by a structural lack of opportunities.

Media and publishing jobs and opportunities are predominantly London-centric, and access is often supported by unpaid and low-paid internships. Traditional routes into the industry through local journalism have been decimated since the mid-1990’s by cuts to local papers. If you come from a lower income background or have caring responsibilities or health limitations, these slim opportunities can be out of reach financially and geographically. What’s more, those from working-class backgrounds often face intersecting challenges due to historic under-representation in writing and in the media, including but not limited to ethnicity, disability, sexuality, gender identity, age, and religious beliefs.

The cold facts are hard to argue with and it’s clear the make-up of these industries are not representative of the population at large. For example:

  • 47% of authors and writers are from the most privileged social starting points, contrasting with only 10% from working-class backgrounds (Office for National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey, 2014)
  • 12.6% of those working in publishing come from working-class social origins, compared with a third of the population as a whole (Cultural Capital: Arts Graduates, Spatial Inequality, and London’s Impact on Cultural Labour Markets, 2017)
  • Newspaper columnists, who significantly shape the national conversation, draw from a particularly small pool, with 44% attending independent school, compared with 7% of the population and 33% coming through the independent school to Oxbridge ‘pipeline’ alone, compared with less than 1% of the population (Sutton Trust, Elitist Britain 2019)
  • Just 0.2% of British journalists are Black, compared to 3% of the population (and of course a much higher per-capita percentage in London where many jobs are based) and 0.4% of British journalists are Muslim, compared to nearly 5% of the population (City University, 2016).

Many wonderful and talented writers will just never get the opportunity to shine. That’s why New Writing North has worked with partners from across industry and the arts sectors to create A Writing Chance, a staged intervention to empower a cohort of new writers and to prise open the doors to a persistently hard to crack industry, to encourage access for all.

We all deserve to hear different perspectives and new stories that better reflect the experiences and concerns of most people in this country. Everyone deserves a writing chance.

Claire Malcolm
Chief Executive

*Culture is Bad for You by Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor. Manchester University Press, 2020.