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Training Matters: Giving journalism students a voice

Every year, the NCTJ holds a Student Council forum, giving student representatives from every accredited course across the UK a chance to speak to the NCTJ management team and discuss aspects of the industry’s training scheme and contribute to its ongoing development. The event is also an opportunity for the representatives to get advice from alumni now working in the industry and to network with editors who provide a wealth of insider knowledge.

Jamie Smith, a student at Leeds Trinity University, and Matt Jackson, a student at Glyndŵr University, share their thoughts on the 2014 Student Council.


Jamie Smith, centre, at the NCTJ Student Council meeting

Like many things related to my journalism course, the NCTJ Student Council meeting at 80 Strand in London was an adrenalin-powered jump into the unknown.

As a representative of Leeds Trinity’s Journalism MA students who only started their training a month before the event, I felt more in the dark than my fellow attendees but I tried not to let this stop me from making an impression.

Given that the event was being attended by some of the biggest names in today’s news media, as well as 45 of the hottest prospects for the future, leaving an imprint seemed important.

That said, our hosts made it easy for everyone involved to speak up, welcoming us and quickly moving on to encourage our questions in the morning’s Q & A session.

The questions and feedback was varied and occasionally intense, something which might be expected in a room of journalism trainees of different ages and backgrounds. Everything from shorthand resources to Irish public affairs was covered.

I guess that this comes with the territory of training journalists; in fact it would have been a let-down had the representatives sat tight-lipped counting down the minutes to lunch.

The NCTJ listened to what we had to say and seemed to really take it in, unlike the occupants of a certain nearby seat of government.

On the subject of really taking things in, I was enthralled from start to finish when the NCTJ’s guests came to speak to us and answer our questions.

NCTJ alumni Rachel Blundy, Andrew Dickens and Ollie Joy came to us from the London Evening Standard, C21 Media and CNN respectively for a brilliant motivational talk.

Rachel explained how she’d learned to distinguish herself from the start while Andrew affirmed the importance of getting the core skills down.

Ollie meanwhile told us how his post as business journalist had allowed him to “experience the Wall Street culture with twelve hour days, trips all over Europe and journeys to the Middle East”.

Any event needs to go out with a bang and after waiting for the editors, managers and general big players of the media world to give us their wisdom I wasn’t disappointed:

Chris Elliott, The Guardian readers’ editor, Laura Adams, Archant London editorial director, Mary Hockaday, BBC multimedia newsroom head and Doug Wills, managing editor for The Independent titles and the Evening Standard all introduced themselves, answered our questions and even gave a little of their time to talk one-on-one with us.

There are things that can’t be learned except from a person who can look down from the top and see the industry as a whole. For example, I would never have guessed that there is a great need for investigative journalists despite the specialism’s apparent decline or that info-graphics and data journalism are huge growth areas in the industry.

Most of all I would never have guessed that four of the biggest news managers in the UK had such dramatically clashing views on the importance of specialisation in journalism.

Apparently I did make an impression because I’m now looking forward to returning as a student representative at the NCTJ board meeting later this year.


Matt Jackson at the Student Council meeting

Practise, practise, practise. If you put a group of people who have been studying journalism in a room together the inevitable topic will spring up. Of course, the NCTJ student council was no different and a recurring topic of the day was everyone’s favourite journalistic skill: shorthand.

Almost every speaker, alumni, or editor weighed in with their opinions of shorthand and how vital it is to journalists followed by the dread students have when realising that they ought to be hammering as much shorthand as they can take.

Another hot-topic seems to be the ‘doom-and-gloom’ of journalism, the chances of graduates or trained journalists finding themselves in meaningful employment, and the apparent lack of jobs. This was a myth that was dispelled by the meet-the-editors panel.

Of course this isn’t to say that work experience and placements should be frowned upon but anyone on course to enter the world of journalism shouldn’t just look at job sites and worry. Laura Adams, editorial director at Archant London, assured the room of student journalists that there are jobs out there and that it’s not all panic stations.

An overriding positive tone came from the alumni as well. One key point seemed to be finding a gap in the market, a niche that you can fit into and hone your skills on without neglecting what else you have learned.

Whilst it may seem popular to try and dive into the world of sport, are there more opportunities elsewhere? We’ve seen data journalism and the value of a proper digital environment become more en vogue as the media moves towards the digital world.

I found the amount of diversity offered by an NCTJ-accredited course to be interesting and how, despite what level someone was studying at, the experiences and tribulations were similar. The hours and hours of shorthand seemed to be a chore to MA students and BA students alike.

It was interesting to see how differently a similar set of topics were covered across the board, it seemed as though no two courses were the same. It can be quite easy to fall into the trap of thinking every course would be the same when it’s actually almost the opposite.

The chance to grill the NCTJ staff was a particular highlight. Often in education governing bodies manage to remain anonymous to students and authoritarian to academic institutions but facing a select number of students gave the NCTJ chiefs an air of accountability, the knowledge that their choices, no matter how big or small, were there to be questioned. Maybe the journalism industry as a whole should look at that accountability.


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  • February 11, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Interestingly, the meet-the-editors panel neglected to mention the derisory wages students will receive, even after passing all their exams.
    I did a cursory check of the average wage for a bin man in the UK, and it was £17,000 at entry level.
    I started off at £12,500-odd and after four years, earning my NCJ stripes and a promotion, I find myself on £15,500.
    Mostyly likely, these kids will not receive any bonuses for syndication, and will see their sales colleagues earning tidy commissions for work they have contributed to.
    The satisfaction of getting a great story wears thin very quickly nowadays.

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  • February 11, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Apologies for the typos – hard to be accurate when you’re in a bit of a grump.

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