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Sun columnist stuck in ‘time warp’ says NCTJ chief

A training boss has accused former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie of being stuck in a ‘time warp’ after he called for all journalism colleges to be shut down.

Writing in today’s Independent, Kelvin said budding journalists did not need to go to university and there was nothing they could learn in three years studying for a degree that could not be taught in one month working for a local paper.

The columnist said supply was exceeding demand, with an ‘explosion’ of students on media degrees – while the number of jobs in the industry has shrunk by 30-40pc since 2001.

But his comments brought a swift riposte from National Council for the Training of Journalists chief executive Joanne Butcher who said newspapers rarely take on untrained journalists these days.

She said: “Kelvin MacKenzie, of course, exaggerates to make some valid points about media degree courses and the value of learning the journalist’s craft by cutting your teeth on a local paper.

“But he does seem stuck in a time warp. Unlike when Kelvin trained on the South East London Mercury and was sent away to college, newspapers simply don’t take on many raw recruits these days.

“Many would like to but can’t justify the time or the money to train them in the basic skills they need to the industry’s exacting standards.

NCTJ-accredited journalism courses are supplying the industry with talented trainees with these basic skills and more.

“Yes, nothing compares with doing the job, and too many non-accredited courses recruit people who are unsuited to journalism and don’t have the innate news sense he refers to.”

In his article, Kelvin, who achieved just one O-level, said the best way to learn how to be a journalist was in receiving on-the-job training at a newspaper.

He writes: “There are more than 80 schools in the UK teaching journalism. These courses are make-work projects for retired journalists who teach for six months a year and are on a salary of £34,000- £60,000.

“Students are piling up debts as they pay to keep their tutors in the lifestyles they’re used to. I’d shut down all the journalism colleges today.

“If you want to be a print journalist you should go straight from school and join the local press. You will have a better career and you won’t owe a fortune. Good luck.”

Kelvin previously caused controversy last October when he criticised the journalism school at Bournemouth University – which was then defended by previous students.

19 comments

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  • April 8, 2011 at 11:51 am
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    I have to agree with Mr MacKenzie on this. University was a waste of three years for me!

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  • April 8, 2011 at 11:57 am
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    Kelvin’s spot on. If you want a would-be ethics professor bothering you with points of order every five minutes, hire a journalism graduate. If you want some decent tales and a bit of bottle, hire a kid from your local comprehensive.

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  • April 8, 2011 at 11:58 am
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    Yeah, because so many papers these days are happy to pay for training courses for 18-year-olds with no experience whatsoever, aren’t they?

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  • April 8, 2011 at 11:59 am
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    I don’t know about undergraduate courses but my postgraduate degree was essential in giving me the skills I needed to become a reporter. I don’t deny that work experience is the best way to develop your skills further but you need to learn the very basics somewhere and, with hardly anyone taking raw recruits, journalism colleges are the best place for this.

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  • April 8, 2011 at 12:00 pm
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    I say don’t do away with NCTJ fast track course, because you really can’t just go from school onto a paper any more, but I would say there’s no need to get a degree as well if you’re not that fussed about going to uni.

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  • April 8, 2011 at 12:09 pm
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    Kelvin MacKenzie is half-right, I would say. Uni degrees in journalism are a complete and utter waste of time. Yes, the skills need to be taught, but the fast-track and year-long courses provided by the NCTJ are more than adequate (other than the fact they no longer crack the whip to ensure students get 100wpm before they leave). As for the NCTJ accusing anyone of being stuck in a time warp… ah, the irony.

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  • April 8, 2011 at 12:09 pm
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    Kelvin’s right about the number of worthless media degrees around, though market forces are gradually sorting that out. But is he really suggesting someone can learn shorthand and law in one month on a local paper?

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  • April 8, 2011 at 12:12 pm
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    But if you do want to go to university as an undergraduate, for heaven’s sake DON’T do a media course! That really is a waste of three years. Study a proper subject – preferably a science, but geography, history or even English will do. Then you’ll know a bit more about the world and perhaps be less prone to dropping howlers. The techniques of shorthand and video-editing and so on can come later!

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  • April 8, 2011 at 12:26 pm
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    Kelvin talks sense. I have employed people that have come from these courses and they haven’t been taught about the real world. The radio courses are particularly laughable.

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  • April 8, 2011 at 12:48 pm
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    They are both right. Depends on the course and depends on the person. Best reporter I ever knew had no formal training.

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  • April 8, 2011 at 12:55 pm
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    How amusing that Kelvin thinks accuracy is so important when his own rant is so ill-informed, both about the recruitment policies of local newspapers and the quality and relevance of journalism training in our universities.

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  • April 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm
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    I have to say Kelvin is talking out of his back side. You need to learn shorthand, law, government and the rest somewhere. Shorthand certainly takes a lot longer than a month to master, particularly if you are working at the same time. Plus, my time at university was invaluable to be getting a job, not because I did a media degree (I didn’t – English Lit) but because I spent so much time and effort on an award-winning student newspaper and this helped me get onto a paid traineeship with my local paper, for which I had to train for four months at a one of the centres Kelvin would want shut down. You don’t get the kind of valuable experience on a student newspaper anywhere else without already having trained as a journalist.

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  • April 8, 2011 at 3:30 pm
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    I couldn’t agree more & from a photographer’s point of view I’d say things are much the same. I studied for a pointless media degree & then spent 7 years working my way up through the photography industry to getting newspaper staff jobs. I don’t claim to be the world’s best photographer by any stretch but one work experience graduate said that she learnt more in 3 days with me than she did in 3 years studying for a photography degree. Most undergraduates we get in clearly aren’t being taught anything which is relevant to making a living as a photographer. There’s no substitute for real life work experience.

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  • April 8, 2011 at 5:05 pm
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    Doing the job and experience are the best ways to learn. And as you can get the basics of law, shorthand and Govt in four months on a pre-entry course, why would you need to spend three years studying it? I have no idea why careers advisers started telling kids to study it at uni, because it’s certainly not what editors wanted.

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  • April 8, 2011 at 5:12 pm
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    Whatever the rights and wrongs of the argument, the best reporter I ever worked with was Andy Donkersley of the Express and Star, and he was famous among his colleagues for extolling the virtues of the School of Life.

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  • April 11, 2011 at 9:40 am
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    Ideally reporters coming out of training should then be taught how to write properly when they start work on a paper. Mostly they are not, because no-one has time with staff levels at crisis point to supervise them properly. So often they write poor copy and it gets in the paper and they think they have cracked it. I am so glad someone had time to put me right, though it hurt at the time! I thought I’d cracked it when I was younger, but I was writing drivel until some older hands showed me better. Now I am writing a lot of drivel again; but for entirely different reasons.

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  • April 11, 2011 at 11:09 am
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    Shame that Kelvin is now reduced to a make-work column on an “unpopular” newspaper, as he likes to call it. I think he sees education as some kind of threat. I suppose it is to some people. There are many media degrees because people exercise a choice and many people benefit from their studies. Universities may prepare people for the world of work but I don’t think there are many philosophy departments that feel they are turning out candidates for the entry level jobs as philosophers. By the way the number of vacancies for philosophers has declined by 90 percent since 3000BC. Maybe some college will give Kelvin a job teaching shorthand, if he can stand the pace.

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  • April 11, 2011 at 1:57 pm
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    Ha! And the NCTJ’s not stuck in a “time warp”, is it, Joanne Butcher! Crikey!

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  • April 14, 2011 at 1:44 pm
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    There’s a glut of journalism students when you look at the number of jobs avaiable, but I’m wary of the graduate-bashing dinosaurs in this industry too. There are plenty of great journalists without a degree (journalism or other subject), but a degree and some extra time to mature can make for a fantastic new recruit. Beware too of the shortcomings of utterly unqualified hotshots, without any training or apprenticeship behind them, who might go places fast but tend to be lacking some of the really essential basics.

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