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Oxdown could be casualty in NCTJ's modernisation plans

The infamous town of Oxdown, where mayhem and drama always seem to break out on the deadline day of its local paper, could be about to be wiped off the map as part of modernisation plans by the National Council for the Training of Journalists.

Thousands of young reporters have written for the Oxdown Gazette, the weekly paper for the mythical typical English town, as part of their preliminary examinations or National Certificate.

But it could soon be out of print as the NCTJ moves forward with plans to cater for an increasingly wide range of journalists, many of whom work outside of the regional press.

The training body has announced it is exploring other methods of testing, and chief executive Joanne Butcher says it is “unlikely” that Oxdown will escape the axe.

She told HoldtheFrontPage that the much-loved fictional town had become outdated and that more felixibilty was now needed.

She said: “We are exploring other methods of testing that are both flexible and fair to all sectors and communities.

“Oxdown has been the bedrock of test papers but times are changing, the media world is changing and the NCTJ is changing.”

David Gledhill, chair of the NCTJ’s newspaper journalism board, added: “I think most people agree that the days of the Oxdown ambulance chasers are long since gone and we need to show everyone, readers and editors alike, that we are professionals, trained to an exacting professional standard.”

However not everyone thinks modernisation has to mean the demise of Oxdown, and some members of the Society of Editors (Scotland) have already expressed concerns.

Secretary Donald Fullarton said: “Using Oxdown may not be ideal — for a start it is a town with a population of 130,000, whereas in Scotland that would be a major city — but at least it offers a level playing field.

“Finding something else which trainees in Shetland, the Borders, Birmingham, London and Cornwall can all be equally at home with will be difficult, and whatever you do decide to do will certainly impact greatly on the teaching of basic news writing in colleges and universities.”

Candidates sitting October’s NCE will be unaffected, and more announcements will be made by the NCTJ after that.

Oxdown will also remain in place for the preliminary examinations until autumn 2006, so that trainers can prepare for the coming session in the usual way.