New bid to boost diversity among French journalists


Only one or two percent of students at the prestigious Ecole supérieure de journalisme (ESJ) in Lille, France, come from a working class background, says Marc Capelle, the school’s managing director. In a bid to increase this proportion, the ESJ has launched a foundation course to help students from less substantive backgrounds pass the entrance competition for French journalism schools. It has done this with Bondy Blog, a news website rooted in the banlieues, or suburbs.
Corentin Wauters spoke with Marc Capelle about the course.

Wauters: This summer the Ecole supérieure de journalisme launched, together with Bondy Blog, a course to prepare students for the entrance competition to French journalism schools. Who is this course for?

Capelle: The course is for some 20 students who represent French social diversity. I stress ‘social’ diversity. I am not talking about cultural diversity, though the two are often connected. We have recruited 20 students, all of whom are grant holders from France’s National Education. We have also chosen them on the basis of achievements at school and university. These young people come from the North of France, the Paris area and the South of France. We received 200 applications; we selected about 40 students for interviews, and we kept 20.

Because of their social background, these young people thought they could never get into journalism schools. They thought it wasn’t for them, because they noticed the lack of diversity in journalism recruitment schools like ours, the ESJ. That’s why we launched the preparatory course, ‘Diversity’. The idea was to widen recruitment in journalism schools and, on another level, to widen diversity in newsrooms.

Wauters: What does the course comprise?

Capelle:It’s a one-year training course. I must stress that students continue to study at university at the same time. They are all generally starting a licence [Third year of a bachelor’s degree] in different subjects. They take the preparatory class on top of this, so it’s a big effort for them. We trained them for the whole of July in Lille. In September, we trained them on a site we are opening in Bondy, in the greater Paris area. Then they will take classes through an e-learning platform.

We prepare them, very concretely, to do the entrance competition for one of the 12 journalism schools officially recognised by the profession in France. There is training on current affairs-knowledge, French writing skills, summary writing and everything connected to the concepts of creativity and personality. There is also training for a first small ‘reportage’, since some schools ask for this in the competition. It’s very practical training, not at all theoretical or academic. The aim is to look at the entrance competition and make the students work on that. They are trained by teachers from our school, by the academic dean and some former academic deans of the ESJ, and also by other teachers who make them work in small groups.

Wauters: Why did the ESJ get together with a news website, Bondy Blog, which can seem rather marginal on the French media scene?
Capelle:It isn’t that marginal. Bondy Blog is a real professional and social phenomenon in the French media landscape. Bondy Blog was created late in 2005 during the riots in the suburbs, mainly in the Paris area. Today this blog looks at news in general from the point of view of the suburbs. It’s a very interesting creation on the French scene; something that didn’t previously exist. Because of the makeup of its editorial team, the personality of its editor-in-chief and that of its founder, Serge Michel – who is actually Swiss – Bondy Blog is particularly well placed to have a sharp view on media diversity issues.

The idea to do something together stems from a meeting between the teams of Bondy Blog and the Lille journalism school in January, 2009. We met and went on to sign a partnership which resulted in the creation of the preparatory class ‘diversity.’

The core of Bondy Blog is made of many bloggers who, because of their social background, would never consider preparing for the entrance competition for journalism schools. They think, “We live in banlieues, in difficult areas, etc.”  – let’s be careful to avoid clichés here! – “but prestigious journalism schools are certainly not for us.”

We decided to do something about it. Since we didn’t want to do something only for Bondy Blog bloggers, the project is aimed at all young people in this situation in France.

Wauters: Some students will complete the preparatory class, and then – hopefully for them – succeed getting into a journalism school. Do you think they will bring a different view of current affairs?

Capelle:I’m positive that they will. You are right to say that the first step is to see how many out of the 20 will get into a journalism school – not only ours, but one of the 12 schools. After that, the aim is clearly to bring a different view. In a school like ours, about 1 or 2 percent of graduates are sons or daughters of working class people. Journalists are, by definition, observers of reality in many different walks of life, so it’s very awkward when people doing this job are predominantly from privileged backgrounds – middle managers, upper managers, professionals, etc. – and hence often ignorant about whole parts of French society. So, of course, young people from this diversity will bring something in their work.