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Training Matters: Business module can aid success

Koos Couvée, 28, has been working as a reporter at North London and Herts Newspapers since graduating with an MA in Journalism from Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2011. He is currently studying the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism by distance learning in preparation for his NQJ exams in July 2014.

Koos was one of the first candidates to successfully complete the business and finance module that was launched by the NCTJ in February 2013.

Almost every aspect of people’s lives is impacted by the workings of the economy, and for any reporters a basic understanding of the world of business and finance is vital.

As an NCTJ diploma candidate already working as a reporter for a local paper in London, I chose business and finance journalism as one of my specialist options because I thought it would be an interesting one that would help me get better at my job.

It did: the course provided me with a better understanding of economics at a macro level, yet taught me to make stories accessible to readers at a local level. For example, if a local factory is shedding jobs because the squeeze on household incomes has made it impossible to put prices up, then it leads to a fall in profits.

Live coverage of business news is crucial, and the course is based around writing reports for different platforms over the course of a day, such as a scene-setter piece before an important press announcement by a big firm, a longer report published online immediately afterwards, and a background news feature for the printed edition of the newspaper coming out the following day. (The course also has a unit on business features).

The module’s knowledge section covers a wide range of material including background on the financial crisis, how bond markets work, the government’s fiscal policy and the Bank of England’s role in setting monetary policy and regulating the financial sector.

For the exam, which is essentially a reporting exam with a knowledge test, the key to success is to write a number of tight news stories that make the facts and figures immediately accessible to readers. Your ability to quickly analyse the facts and figures you are provided with is important, and be sure to find the human angle that will give you the basis for a sharp intro.

The best preparation for passing the knowledge section of the exam is to regularly read the business pages of newspapers and develop a general interest in economics. Follow coverage of industrial disputes, the work of the Bank of England, and new developments around fiscal policy in Westminster.

You won’t pass the exam if you read through the course pack the night before, because the exam will test your working knowledge of these issues.

Developing a more in-depth knowledge of the world of business has certainly made me a better journalist. I am now able to quickly contextualise local stories within a macro context, and ask union representatives, business owners and politicians the right questions.

For example, when the Bank of England eventually decides to raise interest rates again, I will know how to turn this into a news feature on how this move will impact on businesses and the lives of residents in the area I cover. Taking this module has improved my news writing as well.

I took the module as a distance learner, but that didn’t mean I was without tutorial guidance. I had a helpful tutor in Steve Dyson, who was contactable via telephone and email. He was generous with his time and gave me some great tips for the exam, which I successfully passed in November.

I’d highly recommend taking the business and finance option to anyone determined to break into the industry as a reporter. Because of the skills taught and subject matter covered, you will find yourself better equipped to succeed in any newsroom.