Pippa Middleton has recently been named a 'contributing editor' to Vanity Fair, in a move that many 'serious' journalists are finding hard to swallow. I for one am slightly miffed, if unsurprised. This kind of thing has happened before, especially in fashion magazines (Alexa Chung as contributing editor for Vogue, anyone?) and there are certainly arguments to be made about why Pippa is the right choice for the publication. Yet some view her appointment as indicative of a more widescale problem in journalism. Owen Jones summed it up neatly on Twitter.
Journalism is a closed shop for the elite. Over half the top 100 journos privately educated. Pippa an extreme example of a national disgraceIt got me thinking - is this the case for fashion journalism as much as it is for journalism as a whole? Casting your eye down the masthead of British Vogue, the sheer number of familiar surnames, many of which are double-barrelled, gives you some indication of the social position of its staff. But I wanted to look a little further, so I've done some research into the editors of the top 10 UK fashion magazines according to this list by Cision. In a few cases I couldn't find the information I wanted, but of the 7 editors whose education details I could find, 6 went to comprehensives, secondary moderns or public high schools, with only one (Alexandra Shulman of Vogue) educated at an independent school. What's more, two of the editors chose not to continue to higher education or dropped out to take a job in the industry. One of them, Jo Elvin, is the editor of Glamour, Britain's top-selling fashion magazine. It could be observed though that there is a possible correlation between the cost of your education and the RRP of the publication you work on.
— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) June 5, 2013
So what does this tell us? Well for a start it looks like there might be a fairly decent spread of different types of schooling represented in the top fashion mag jobs. We can also infer that expensive higher education qualifications are not essential to success, especially if you can gain relevant experience instead. Of those who did go to university, none went to Oxford or Cambridge (though personally I don't consider this to always be a sign of the 'elite' anyway, since many state-educated and even underprivileged students are now being admitted), though many did go to other prestigious establishments such as Central Saint Martins and City University. It's difficult to tell whether they would have succeeded without these courses, but they must have contributed to their rise through the ranks in some way. This is one of the problems which Jones identified on Twitter, there's an emphasis on "expensive qualifications from the likes of City University" which can become the preserve of the wealthy elite. However perhaps this is more of a problem for newspaper journalism than fashion magazines?
Of course, education is not the only factor. If you've ever read any advice on making it in the fashion industry (my personal Gospel is the Teen Vogue Handbook) then you surely must have come across that age-old advice: make connections. Only, how do you make the initial connections which allow you to enter situations in which you can make further connections? The moment I realised it was going to be hard for me to break into fashion journalism came back in 2010, when I read Rachel Johnson's A Diary of The Lady. In one entry, she takes her daughter to Fashion Week - for a start, let's just think about the fact that her daughter gets to go to Fashion Week, which is already an opportunity she wouldn't have if it weren't for her mother - and they are subsequently surrounded by important fashion editors. She refers to a deal she made with Lisa Armstrong of The Times: "I told Lisa I would give her daughter work experience if she had Milly into the Times fashion department. One can see why everyone hates the middle classes so much - they divvy up the glittering prizes now even before university has already begun, in a sort of members' enclosure to which only the privileged VIPS ever gain entry." Well it's nice of you to acknowledge the unfairness of it Rachel but that doesn't change the fact that, at the time, the injustice of it all brought tears of rage to my 15-year-old eyes. So this is the way of the world, I thought.
It's simply a fact, not just of journalism, but of most professions:hard work, skill and intelligence will get you to a certain point; nepotism will get you the rest. I'm not saying that everyone who's ever wrangled a job through their parents' connections didn't deserve it, nor that well-connected people will always take advantage of links to get a foothold in the industry. Perhaps the only way of tackling the problem is to remove unpaid internships from the system. After all, it's only really those with wealthy parents who can afford to live in London, one of the most expensive places to live in the world, whilst getting no pay. If you can't get that kind of experience, it's difficult to market yourself as employable. Another solution has recently been put forward by the NCTJ, who plan to set up apprenticeships with The Independent, The Standard and The BBC for non-graduates, making it possible for some to enter the industry without the need for an expensive university qualification.
On a personal note, I'm hoping one day to become a journalist, possibly within fashion journalism, but I do worry sometimes.Because despite the advantages I have had in life and the fact that I'm going to an excellent university in October, the "glittering prizes" will have already been handed out to the children of the wealthy who already work in the industry. Researching this post has soothed my fears a little; it seems that there's greater diversity in the fashion industry than I first thought - socially at least, because let me tell you there's not exactly a lot of racial diversity (every editor on the top 10 list is white). But if the kind of blatant favouritism which I read about in Johnson's book is still in existence then that makes me very worried, partially for myself and even more for people who aren't lucky enough to have had the opportunities I've had.
Let's start thinking of more ways we can open up the "closed shop".