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March 2012 NCE: ‘Silly’ errors cost candidates dear

Lack of attention to detail coupled with what examiners described as ‘silly’ errors resulted in the lowest pass rate for a senior reporters’ exam for more than two years.

However the news report and logbook sections of the four-part exam “brought out the best” in the candidates, according to the examiners report.

“With an entry of 107 candidates – one of the highest numbers seen over the past two years – there was plenty in this exam for candidates to show their worth,” said the report.

“But what can only be described as silly errors cost some candidates dearly, while the challenging interview caught several people out when it came to attention to detail.

“However, a classic news report scenario brought out the best from more than a few candidates, continuing a strong pass rate. There were encouraging signs, too, among the logbook entries.

“Reporters who have now passed all four sections will know only too well that the NCE remains a thorough test of their abilities across several disciplines and a pass represents a major step in their careers.”

Of the 107 hopefuls, 48 passed all four sections News Interview, News Report, Newspaper Practice and Logbook to become senior reporters. Of these 30 were sitting the NCE for the first time while 18 were resitting the exam.

Here’s our at-a-glance guide to each section of the test and what the examiners thought of the candidates.

News Interview

Candidates: 96
Passed: 40
Pass rate: 42pc

The news interview concerned a story about a bank manager and his family held hostage by an armed gang, before he was driven in the boot of his car to the bank where the gang then bungled a robbery.

Examiners praised candidates who identified the hostage/kidnap line in the intro and built the drama, but also highlighted “sloppy, silly errors in copy with wrong facts and literals.”

“Many candidates did not even mention the town where the bank was based. Other major errors included getting names wrong,” said their report.

Two candidates had the family being held in “police” custody instead of “protective” custody, while several candidates had problems with the length of the story and lost marks for overwriting.

News Report

Candidates: 95
Passed: 50
Pass rate: 53pc

The news report centred on a 13th century church facing possible closure after being targeted by metal thieves for the fourth time in six months.

Examiners said that candidates grasped the essence of the story with regards to the latest theft and closure threat, but that too many overlooked the fact that Easter services had been cancelled because the building could not be used without heat and light.

They also highlighted a lack of knowledge about the correct way to address clergymen, including one candidate who called the Rector “Rec,” and weak shorthand with candidates “guessing at words or stitching phrases together in search of longer quotes.”

However they added that there were some excellent papers among the 95 submitted and that these candidates were “a credit to their newspapers.”

Newspaper Practice

Candidates: 89
Passed: 39
Pass rate: 44pc

Lack of law and ethical knowledge resulted in a “disappointing” set of papers in the newspaper practice section of the exam, said the examiners.

The questions focus on the main aspects of media law – defamation and contempt – that reporters encounter in their normal working lives.

“The biggest concern was the lack of law and ethical knowledge shown by some of the candidates, especially worrying as they can use McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists as a reference, just like they would be able to do in the office,” said the report.

“At this stage of their careers, candidates should have an excellent grasp of what is likely to be defamatory or contempt and what the defences are in each case.”


Candidates: 64
Passed: 62
Pass rate: 97pc

Candidates continued to submit a strong selection of their work in the logbooks section of the exam, said the examiners.

However they highlighted the accuracy of some court reports as one area of concern.

“Markers have highlighted some issues which, while not strictly legally unsound, have shown that candidates may not be taking the sort of thorough approach which is so vital to this key task,” said the report.

“With reporters encouraged to push to web quickly and sometimes without any other checks, it is vital that they are clear on what is required.”