The Guardian Masterclasses and the Death of Equal Opportunity
It’s no great secret that The Guardian is in financial difficulties. Together with its sister paper, The Observer, The Graun has lost around £340 million in the last decade, with Alan Rusbridger’s ambitious expansionism serving primarily to deplete the Scott Trust of funds which should have ensured the paper’s survival for many decades to come.
Dangling over the abyss of impecunity, one of the paper’s responses has been to attach Wikipedia-style begging requests at the bottom of its articles, like so;
But the number of people willing to shell out £49 a year for the privilege of helping a paper notorious for its extravagant overspending appears to be somewhat limited. Faced with the prospect of being forced to set up a Fairtrade lemonade stand outside its Kings Cross HQ, the paper has instead opted for the editorial equivalent, offering readers the chance to enjoy ‘masterclasses’ with journalists, authors and publishers. These classes range from anywhere between £49 — £449.
Now, The Guardian may be struggling to hang on to solvency. But surely, I thought, this would not come at the expense of its dedication towards equal opportunity? So I decided to call up the Masterclass 0800 number and find out.
My ears were promptly serenaded by a tinny version of Boccherini’s Minuet, as I was placed in a holding sequence. Whilst patiently waiting, I ran through my mind the question that I was going to ask.
‘Good morning. I was thinking about taking a Guardian Masterclass. I was wondering whether you had any process in place to help people who might otherwise be unable to afford to take the class?’
When after a couple of minutes I was put through to a very pleasant lady, I asked her that very thing.
‘Which course are you thinking of taking?’
I hemmed and hawed a bit (whilst frantically clicking the ‘Go Back’ button on Chrome to reach the webpage I had previously been on) and by a happy coincidence hit the ‘Develop Your Book and Get it Published’ course, due to take place next weekend and priced at the not inconsiderable sum of £449 (although the page does make it clear this includes VAT, booking fee, lunch and refreshments). So I told the lady on the line that this was the one I was considering.
There was a brief pause. ‘Well it depends on whether you’re a Guardian member or not. There’s the basic membership which is free. Then there’s the supporter and then for £135 a year you become a partner. If you’re a partner then I can offer you a 20% discount, but apart from that I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do. I’m sorry.’
‘No problem’, I replied. ‘Just let me get this straight. If I’m a Guardian Partner then you can offer me a discount for your courses, but otherwise not.’
‘Yes, that’s right. I’m sorry.’ To her credit, she really did sound sorry.
Let’s do the maths. If I pay £135 a year for the privilege of being a Guardian Partner, then I would have been offered this particular course at £359.20, instead of £449. Otherwise, there’s no provision whatsoever for those, say, who don’t have the hundreds of pounds necessary to access such a course.
It’s worth pointing out that many of its courses don’t cost quite as much as £449 (although a significant number will still set you back by hundreds of pounds). Furthermore, The Guardian certainly isn’t doing anything illegal or even anything particularly wrong. They have a perfect right to charge whatever they want for their masterclasses.
But this is a paper with proud left-wing values. I have no doubt that if you asked every single journalist and editor at The Guardian whether they believed in equal opportunity, they would reply with an emphatic ‘yes’. Although equal opportunity encompasses issues of race and sex, it undoubtedly also applies to the idea of wealth — giving people with less the ability to access the same chances as people with more.
But when it comes to their masterclasses — many of which are designed to give people a helping hand with their writing or publishing ability — The Guardian is not following this praiseworthy course. Opportunities to ‘discover the tricks of the trade’, to ‘boost your career or develop your business’, to ‘learn from bestselling writers how to start your novel and get it published’ — all of these are only open to people with a couple of hundred quid to spare. Those who do not will find that they are faced not with an open door, but a padlocked gate.