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Training Matters: On the agenda at 2014 skills conference

David Holmes, University of Sheffield; Helen Johnston and Tracy Mitchell, Sheffield College, reveal the highlights of this year’s NCTJ Journalism Skills Conference in Sheffield.

The Times chief investigative reporter Andrew Norfolk admits he spends little time talking to newsroom colleagues about the string of exclusive stories that have taken him deep into the dark world of child sex abuse. It’s not that he’s anti-social; more that the complexities of his forensic investigations draw him towards a different type of conversation.

“At least 90 per cent of my time is spent with our lawyers, and I would guess less than 10 per cent of my time talking to other journalists on the paper,” he said.

“And every single day I am drawing on the legal training that came solely for me from the NCTJ. It was a vital grounding.” Andrew last year won both the Paul Foot and Orwell prizes for journalism, but his first national award actually came many years ago when he came first in the proficiency test law exams as a block release student at Harlow College.

He was then an indentured trainee on the Scarborough Evening News, also receiving part of his training at Sheffield College, and we’re thrilled that he’s returning to Sheffield as an “old boy” to pass on his experiences and his views in the context of journalism training and education at this year’s NCTJ Journalism Skills Conference.

We’re co-hosting the event at the University of Sheffield on Thursday, November 27 and at Sheffield College on Friday, November 28, with the focus very much on what the next generation of Andrew Norfolks need to know if their reporting is to flourish.

Andrew will take part in a Friday panel discussion with the Rotherham Advertiser editor Andrew Mosley, whose newspaper cleared the decks for the abuse scandal for weeks on end, not just reporting it but hosting so much of the local community’s discussions about its ramifications. What does the story tell us about the balance between the new media skills that every newsroom now strives for, and the traditional if less glamorous aspects like law and public affairs?

The rapidly-evolving multimedia skillset will of course be centre-stage, and we’ll kick off day one with a canter across the changing Yorkshire media landscape, with Sheffield Star editor James Mitchinson (another ex-Sheffield College student) and Yorkshire BBC head Tim Smith giving us a snapshot of their current editorial priorities. These include the Yorkshire-based BBC “pilot” to share its web space with local newspaper content, which conference delegates will no doubt be keen to hear more about.

We’re getting two for the price of one from The Star, with James kindly freeing reporter Alex Evans to return to the university where he did his NCTJ training. He’ll be offering a “grassroots-up” view of the key components of digital-first multimedia reporting. He’ll be joined on this panel by Trinity Mirror digital innovations editor Alison Gow and by Guardian Style chief and production editor David Marsh. His best-selling grammar book “For Who the Bell Tolls” spells out the fundamentals of good writing, and his celebrated Facebook group “The Horny Handed Subs of Toil” seldom lets an editorial slip evade its attention. All well and good, but in the slimmed-down digital-first newsroom, how do we get both the multimedia content and the quality of the writing right-first-time?

And where do the sparkling pictures come from if nobody is training photographers any more? Hold the Front Page recently reported Paul Delmar’s concerns over the shelving of the renowned Sheffield College NCTJ photography course that he ran for so many years. The College is now pondering how to relaunch the course to reflect the industry’s priorities, and last month HTFP also reported NCTJ skills research that highlighted photography as a key skill for all reporters. Paul Delmar’s successor at the college, Jane Parr, will chair a session debating the future of photojournalism. She’ll be joined by radio journalist cum photographer Paul Kerley, who produces stunning audio visual slideshows for the BBC website, by press agency chief photographer Stuart Campbell, and by Derby Telegraph editor Neil White.

Sports journalism is a key audience driver for so many newsrooms, and plays a significant role in the NCTJ training portfolio, but it’s been a while since it appeared on the conference agenda. So how could we not include it in a year that saw the Tour de France’s steepest climb go straight up the now-legendary Cote de Wincobank, and when we have the NFL sponsoring the awards dinner that forms part of the conference? While the cyclists were exerting themselves, MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport select committee were exercising their minds over how to raise the profile of women’s sport and the involvement of women in sports journalism. Sky Sports News editor Andy Cairns gave evidence to them, and he’ll be chairing a discussion about how sports journalism might broaden both its editoral focus and its editorial teams. Janine Self, vice chair of the Sports Journalists Association and Mail sports reporter (and university old girl) Martha Kelner will be helping him.

IPSO’s up and running, Brooks Newmark’s paisley pyjamas are in Sir Alan Moses’ sights, and it seems journalism ethics are only going to grow more controversial, so we’ll be devoting time on day two to how we take ethics training into the newsroom without going too far towards a culture of self-censorship.

Those of us who teach in universities are experiencing strong demand for international journalism training, and the NCTJ is starting work on an international accreditation standard and qualification. This at a time when journalists are being kidnapped and murdered by global terrorists. At the university in Sheffield our Centre for Freedom of the Media is working with UNESCO to develop an international educational syllabus that encourages reporters to think about their safety, and their legal rights to freedom of expression. We’ll take a little time to update the conference on progress, and to invite views from the floor.
We’re very proud to be hosting the event at the college, which is one of the NCTJ’s longest-established training partners, and at the university as we celebrate the twentieth birthday of our Journalism Studies department. We hope to see you in November, and maybe on Twitter in the meantime where conversation can congregate around #NCTJconf

For further information and to book your place, please visit the NCTJ website: