Questions in The Guardian We Can Answer - public domain

I might just have to change my opinion of Poppy Noor here. Normally she trots out the usual regurgitation of currently fashionable points when she’s not managing to entirely misunderstand something. Then she pulls an absolute blinder like this. For what she’s done is used a column in The Guardian to point out that The Guardian pays absolutely vile, pisspoor, wages. Which is really pretty good if you can get away with doing so and still keep your job.

The column is the usual stuff about millennials being burdened down with student loans, high rents and all that sorta stuff. And so how can anyone save for a pension and all that? I particularly enjoyed this:

“I have to be constantly conscious about money. If I buy a coffee, or don’t make my own lunch one day, or have something other than Super Noodles for dinner, I can’t afford a drink at the weekend,” says Eloise Fry, a student in London. Saving is the last thing on her mind – Fry scrimps on luxuries, such as washing her clothes (“I have to pay £3 for it, it just feels painful”) after moving to the capital to do a master’s in journalism and taking out a £10,000 loan.

The bulk – £9,600 – of Fry’s loan pays for a tiny room in London (of 104 “journalism jobs” listed in her home town, not one was based at a paper; a London search returned coveted positions at the Guardian and Vogue). She sleeps pushed up against a pod with a toilet in it that she can smell from her bed. A sofa in the kitchen is her living-room; her heating is sporadic and her water frequently runs cold. But it’s not how much she spends that prevents her from paying into a pension – it’s debt.

Left reeling from a student loan that didn’t cover her costs, she is now thousands of pounds into her overdraft. Just paying back the interest and the career loan will cost her around £400 every month. She isn’t making a dent in what she owes, let alone contributing to a pension. “How can I think about saving when I don’t have the money to pay what I already owe,” she asks.

I make my living as a freelance journalist these days. And there’s something interesting about the gig. Which is that if you need more money then you work harder. You go and find an editor who will pay you to write something for them. No, this doesn’t mean beating down the door of The Times. Sure, it’s nice to get in there but that’s not bread and butter work. There’s all sorts of stuff out there which a vaguely competent writer can make £5 an hour at.

Sure, sure, I know, but seriously. There’s as much work out there for someone who can write as you can shake a stick at. I had a builders’ bill looming a few months back. Picked up a contract to write a trade book to cover it. 100 hours of my work (at a little better than £5 an hour to be sure) bill paid, thank you. Or write student essays (wrote one, just to see what it was like doing it, $15 for 30 minutes work). Or – well, there are thousands of these sorts of scut work out there.

And here’s the point. If you want to be a journalist then you really ought to be doing these sorts of things, no? In fact, if I were evaluating people who should be journalists I’d want to see that they’d been making their pocket money by doing this sort of guff for their pocket money since they were 13. It is, after all, how Caitlin Moran started out….

Apparently none of that makes sense to someone doing a masters in journalism. Sigh, I’d rather take it as an essential qualification for doing such training that you can in fact pick up freelance work.

But this is the true joy. Poppy talks about the Noor household:

So basically, millennials such as me should be bloody depressed. Today was my rent day, and despite owing only £400 in rent, I was £330 short. The other £70 came from selling an old phone for a quarter of what I bought it for; and the rest came in the form of a loan from my 22-year-old sister, who has an overdraft and is on her way to racking up £50,000 of student debt.

Well, that’s a pretty good millennial moan you’ve got to admit. So, who is it that treats poor Poppy so cruelly?

Poppy Noor is a Guardian columnist and commissioning editor

She’s not just getting a per piece payment (from memory, £250 a piece or so in The G) we must assume that she’s also paid some form of salary arrangement for the editorial work. For of course The Guardian wouldn’t oppress the workers, would it?

Or, in fact, obviously it does. And isn’t that a great thing for a Guardian employee to manage to do? Print, in The Guardian, the proof that The Guardian oppresses the workers?

Hats off to Ms. Noor there, hats off gentlemen!

Unless, of course, she doesn’t realise quite what she’s done there. As none of the other editorial staff seem to have done?

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Most of the comments are pointing out that if people are on such crap salaries, they *don’t* in fact have any student debt, and if they *do* have student debt, by definition they are *not* on a crap salary.

  2. The comments jgh allude to describe the situation correctly.
    It would appear that the author and her acquaintances feel under a moral obligation to repay the debt. If so good on them, it’s an attitude to be encouraged.
    However they have plainly been the recipients of appalling advice. They borrowed money, and did without three years income, for a degree that didn’t enable them to pay the bills and led them to live in a place where the bills were sky high. Maybe they got sufficient satisfaction from the degree course itself to justify the hardship, but I doubt they were advised as to the hardship when deciding on their degrees.
    Furthermore the system is such that those taking economically worthless courses get a subsidy (eventually) whereas those taking economically valuable courses have to pay. This gives an incentive for universities to provide economically worthless courses- great for universities, they get more customers- not so great for anyone else.

  3. The Guardian may only last another five years or so the way it is burning through its trust fund. So, Ms Noor has close to zero likelihood of ever making a decent living working at the Guardian. Of course, in a just world the cash wouldn’t run out.

  4. Eloise has to choose among luxuries! Eloise’s flat is smallish and smelly. (Pro-tip: Flush the toilet.) My goodness, Eloise lives alone! This is not squalor, for a country girl starting out on a career in the capital.

    Clearly, the aspiring journalist would do better amassing two years of well-written newspaper by-lines than two years of graduate school in journalism, both in terms of employability and personal debt. Seconding Pat, I wonder whether the undergrad studies were worth it either.

    Poppy is supposed to be able to sell an obsolete phone for near what she paid for it? Her rent payment is heavy on pathos and light on arithmetic.

  5. What do they teach on a journalism degree course, let alone a masters, that can’t be learned on the job? Some subjects do need an academic foundation before you can be let loose in the real world, but journalism?

    This just looks like more evidence of credentialism to boost the salary and ego of those already employed, as Parkinson demonstrated in his wonderful paper.

  6. “What do they teach on a journalism degree course, let alone a masters, that can’t be learned on the job? Some subjects do need an academic foundation before you can be let loose in the real world, but journalism?”

    this is my perspective. Sciences need university because there’s just so much to learn and it’s pure knowledge. Medicine and veterinary? You really want to make sure people are solid at what they’re doing before they’re unleashed on Fido.

    But a lot of jobs have a high tolerance for failure and the job isn’t clearly defined. Computer science degrees are a very expensive way to get spade-ready programmers, and they aren’t even spade-ready, because they’re academic. They teach people a lot of theory, most of which is not worth worrying about today. The lecturers have rarely left university so have no idea about the actual job. You need about 2 months to learn the skills you need to be a junior programmer. The rest can be taught on the job.

  7. Journalists need to “learn to skate” (spelling, grammar, sentence structure; read about it and test yourself on-line). Organize your thoughts (like chess or music, some of this needs to be innate). Learn about interpersonal relations and teamwork (famously not taught at university). Learn your boss, your staff, and your audience (you can’t, until you know where you will be working).

    So “Eloise” should have taken a job in the Guardian mailroom, out of grammar school, submitted articles for extra pay, and paid acute attention to how they were edited before publication.

    At the least, this would have given her the freedom to conclude that journalism wasn’t for her, and try something else without spending years to buy her way out of bondage.