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Training Matters: When journalistic life begins at 40

This week’s guest blogger Peter Madeley began his NCTJ-accredited journalism training at City of Wolverhampton College as a mature student. He is currently working as a reporter for the Express and Star.

I came into journalism at a fairly late stage, having spent the bulk of my working life as a teacher in further education.

For 12 years I ran a course at Solihull College for 16- to 18-year-olds, teaching maths and English classes and looking after recruitment and the day-to-day running of the course.

Although I loved the teaching side of the job, I found myself doing less work in the classroom and more administrative functions.

I felt I was getting stale and needed a new challenge.

When I was a teenager I wanted to be a journalist but never took the plunge. My wife had a lot of input here – she found out about the NCTJ course at City of Wolverhampton College and paid most of the household bills while I was studying.

Going back to college was a strange experience for me. I was now on the other side of the classroom, and most of my classmates were almost half my age.

Despite the differences I really enjoyed my time on the course. The work was intense and seemingly never-ending – which as I have subsequently found, is good preparation for the job itself.

Learning so many new skills in a short space of time was quite daunting. I enjoyed law and public affairs, but shorthand was a nightmare, and it’s only thanks to the efforts of my teacher, Julie, that I managed to scrape through the 100 wpm.

The key part of the course was the work experience I gained at The Chronicle – a weekly newspaper produced at the Express and Star offices in Wolverhampton.

I spent seven great months there, working two days a week and trying to soak up as much about the profession as I could. I was fortunate enough to work with an experienced team on the newsdesk that went out of their way to help me.

Crispin Clark and Sue Attwater have been in the business for years, and they were more than happy to tell me I had written 600 words when 300 was enough, or that I’d got the wrong angle of the story. I found no discrimination against me as a result of my age.

Twelve months to the day when I started the NCTJ course, I began full-time employment at the Express and Star.

At my interview there the deputy editor cited life experience as a positive. But my age does have one major disadvantage: I feel under pressure to learn things quickly in order to speed up my career development. Obviously younger journalists will have a few more years to practice their craft.

Reporting is similar to teaching, or any other profession for that matter, in that in order to become good at it you really have to put the hours in. In other ways it could not be more different.

Working in further education I was used to writing long-winded reports full of words and acronyms that no one really understands. As a reporter I work to take complex issues and write them in a way that makes sense to the average person.

In comparison to my old job the pay is much lower, the hours are longer and the holidays pale in comparison, but each day brings a different challenge, and I’ve enjoyed the experience so far.