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Local press route into journalism is ‘questionable’ says NCTJ report

Training bosses have questioned the ‘traditional’ route into journalism via local papers in a report published today.

The report, commissioned by the National Council for the Training of Journalists, takes a wide-ranging look at the future of the industry in the wake of the digital revolution and the Leveson Inquiry.

Entitled ‘Emerging Skills for Journalists’, the report suggests that the “shrinkage” of the local press sector has left a question mark over whether local papers will remain the main entry route into the profession.

It also raises “serious concerns” about the “hollowing out” of the workforce, with a lack of more senior, experienced journalists to guide new journalists in their early years.

The report says:  “The continuing of the traditional route of entry into publishing journalism, via local and regional newspapers is questionable.

“The shrinking of this sector could be expected to lead to a declining number of employment opportunities to exist in this sector, but at present this shrinkage appears to have been offset by the increase in turnover, with journalists leaving after a few years for more lucrative opportunities in PR and corporate communications.

“Whether the regional and local newspaper sectors wish, or are able, to continue to be the training ground for the sectors journalists seems to be the issue here.

“With the increase in journalists across related sectors, a question is whether entry to journalism can be via a non-traditional core employer? For example, could a future trainee work towards and gain the NCTJ’s professional qualification whilst working in any other environment other than a newsroom?”

The report’s other key findings include:

  • The business environment, digitisation and the Leveson Inquiry have created, and will continue to create, dramatic changes within journalism.
  • There is a changing age balance of journalists, with older, more experienced, journalists being replaced by younger workers.
  • The increasing use of non-journalists to develop content, and the intensification of work is raising issues around maintaining the quality of journalism.
  • Photographic and video skills are increasingly needed by all journalists as part of their skillset.

The report says: “It seems clear that within the journalists employed, there has been a re-balancing from older to younger journalists.

“Two factors are given for this trend: either a cost-based one with the replacement of expensive (older) journalists with cheaper (younger) ones (with the obvious implications for wages and wage costs), but also a skills reason, with the change driven by the need to recruit the different skillsets that younger journalists may have (greater awareness of IT, social media, etc).

“However, there are serious concerns about this changing balance of the workforce, with a particular concern that it has led to a hollowing out of the workforce, with a lack of more senior, experienced journalists to guide new journalists in their early years at work.

“This is thought to be impacting on the way that journalism is carried out, including the maintenance of ethical standards, and can have a damaging impact.

It goes on:  “The use of non-journalists to develop content brings with it a number of issues, including maintaining the quality of output, whether the non-journalists have received adequate training in the legal aspect and ethical considerations of journalism, how they are supervised, and particularly whether they require journalistic supervision to ensure that legal and ethical boundaries are not crossed.”

The report also says the “increasing intensification of work” – with fewer journalists to produce the same output – was leading to a “general lowering of the quality of work, with less originality and creativity, with less time being made available for ‘proper’ investigative journalism.”

Three leading industry figures – Society of Editors boss Bob Satchwell, Archant London editorial director Laura Adams, and Derby Telegraph editor Neil White discuss the report’s findings on HTFP today.

The full report can be read here.


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  • September 9, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Quite apt that this should be old news! Journalists coming out of education have long been finding alternative routes into industry, with many carving a niche in specialist publications or digital roles. The problem the NCTJ has in all of this is how to change its role and remit to reflect the changing world. Some of its efforts so far have been cringeworthy and akin to grandparents trying to teach teenagers how to use the internet.

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  • September 9, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Meanwhile, a study carried out by Cambridge scientists has concluded that bears defecate in the woods.

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  • September 9, 2014 at 10:27 am

    The NCTJ has shone a light on to the true state of local journalism that makes for some uncomfortable reading – though not exactly ‘news’ to many in the industry.

    While suggesting a new training pathway is emerging to meet cultural and technological demands, it has not shied away from the truth that culling older more experienced journalists has to impact on effectively growing younger ones.

    But I could not find the HTFP article where three leading industry figures discuss the NCTJ’s findings? I have seen pieces from them, effectively extolling how things have changed, have to change, will change and that essentially change is good, with terms like maintaining ‘the supremacy of local brands’, a coming ‘golden age’ and the incisive conclusion that journalists of the future ‘are going to be busier’?

    Have they read the same report?

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  • September 9, 2014 at 10:43 am

    I feel a ‘new, unitised suite of vocational qualifications mapped to a national credit framework’ coming on…because why would a PR person or content wrangler need 100wpm shorthand? Mission creep, I say!

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  • September 9, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Late but spot on. Too few staff to have time to train kids and too few experienced reporters. Those that could have left. Some very talented youngsters around but lack of real training and thorough checking of work on job shows on just about every paper. Meanwhile the kids plod on through the next 100 e mails thinking they are the finished article.
    Of course no-one would be so stupid as to send an unqualified junior out to cover a court case or inquest alone.
    I am sorry to say this report is right, although, as others say, hardly news.
    one north of Watford HR bod (now late of the parish) actually told reporters not to expect their copy to be checked so thoroughly (because of staff cuts and new system). Unbelievable but true.

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  • September 9, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    This ‘Local press route into journalism’ header reminds me very clearly of an ancient UKPG (print version) headline to the effect ‘there are more ways into journalism than working in / on provincial newspapers,’ and I ask now the same question as I did then in a letter to the UKPG editor of the day (Tony Loynes, as I recall): just what do you think we are doing ‘out here’ if it isn’t journalism?

    Apart from anything else, in my experience a fair proportion of national paper stories always have been adapted [I’d prefer ‘lifted.’ if I wasn’t being careful] by national stringers from local papers. And we don’t all want to live in London, you know.

    I received a defensive reply full of stats on how many stories the UKPG had carried over maybe the previous 12 months on various aspects of local, regional or provincial newspapers, but I regard it as significant that my letter wasn’t published on the letters page.

    So I ask again: is it not journalism we’re practising out here and add that if it isn’t, how can those who wish to get into it hope to learn anything useful from working in the local press?

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  • September 10, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    I have just taken up a position at a local newspaper.
    I work in several sectors of the organisation and try to use as many of the skills I have learnt as possible.
    I still gain very good advice, support and training from my editor and many reporters, which leaves me in a very desirable and privileged position.
    I couldn’t think of a better place to start my journalism journey and I hope that the effort I put in to my work benefits the newspaper as much as myself.
    Therefore, I believe that if all local press are as thorough, encouraging and honest as my employers, then it is still a viable route into the industry.

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