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Training Matters: Integrating ethics into NCTJ Diploma

Ethics will be at the heart of the revamped NCTJ Diploma in Journalism from September 2013.

This follows changes already introduced to test trainee reporters in ethics: those receiving their National Qualification in Journalism results will know this first-hand, having sat the new Media Law and Practice paper.

Work to restructure the diploma is more complex, catering as it does for journalists entering all media sectors and occupations, and a wide range of education and training providers running different types of accredited courses. But the new programme of study has reached the final stages of development, and the assessments are now being put in place.

How did we reach this point? Alongside the Leveson Inquiry, the NCTJ carried out its own review by commissioning independent research by Phil Harding, former controller of editorial policy at the BBC, as well as an internal analysis of qualifications and accredited training. Both reached the same conclusion that regulation and ethics are not the same thing, and that ethics goes much wider and deeper. Diploma students need to know how the law and the regulations apply to their work, and it is vital they understand the underlying ethical principles.

The NCTJ is taking a “practical” approach to ethics and is embedding the subject throughout the Diploma syllabus and assessments. Learners will be expected to consider ethical questions and dilemmas in their journalism training.

Examinations can be used to test knowledge and understanding of the law and codes of conduct. There often is a right or wrong answer, especially with the law. That is not usually the case when it comes to ethics, and it has been a challenge to agree the assessment of an industry standard.

The NCTJ has moved – for the time being, at least – away from a discrete one-hour examination as originally proposed. Instead, the knowledge and testing of ethics will be assessed across a much broader range of work to try and ensure the subject is properly integrated. Further discussions about the proposals are under way with the journalism training chiefs running accredited courses – as well as editors and senior journalists – as the final touches are put into practice.

In summary, it is proposed ethics will be assessed in the following ways:

  • The Portfolio. Each Diploma student has to produce ten pieces of work for a Portfolio, which is marked. For each article, the candidate will now have to explain the legal, regulatory and ethical issues which were considered – and the conclusions reached.
  • The Reporting exam. This has changed to introduce an ethical question, but retains the test of the ability to spot a story and write it in an accurate and compelling way. They will still need to know how to develop a story with original ideas and use social media effectively.
  • The Essential Media Law exam. Already reflecting legal and regulatory issues, this exam will further draw out ethical considerations.

In addition, the accreditation process will be used to check that centres can demonstrate the delivery of the 20-hour practical journalism ethics module, either as a standalone subject or integrated with other journalism modules. The NCTJ will not be prescriptive, and centres will be encouraged to share their practice.