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Regional press ‘no longer way into journalism,’ says academic

Lily CanterA journalist-turned-academic has claimed the regional press is “no longer” the established pathway into journalism for many graduates.

Sheffield Hallam University’s Dr Lily Canter, left, was responding to a debate among HTFP readers after we highlighted her research showing course accreditation was not a key factor for journalism employers when recruiting trainee.

Writing on her blog, Dr Canter said the topic needed to be “discussed and evaluated”, and also addressed the fact that her own university has been unsuccessful in getting its courses accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists.

She presented her research to the Association for Journalism Education conference last month.

Dr Canter wrote: “The findings, albeit on a small scale, indicate that employers are looking for individuals with writing and digital skills, work experience and an ability to hit the ground running, rather than a certificate stating they are from an accredited course or have a journalism qualification.

“It must be noted that this research involved interviews with editors across the whole sector: TV, radio, online, newspapers, magazines from a hyperlocal, regional and national level. It also looked at all three accreditation bodies: NCTJ, BJTC and PPA.

“It was not about recruitment into the regional press as this is no longer the established pathway into journalism for many graduates.

“It should also be noted that this research, funded by an AJE grant, was initiated in January 2014 and was completely independent of any accreditation that the institution I work for has, or is seeking.”

Dr Canter, a former regional journalist who served as features editor on the Northampton Chronicle and Echo, interviewed 14 editors from newspapers, magazines, websites, TV and radio as part of her research – including an unnamed Johnston Press editor.

She added: “Not surprisingly the findings have caused a bit of a reaction with lecturers under pressure to reluctantly accredit courses taking the results back to their institutions. Furthermore a story on HoldtheFrontPage has caused some strong responses – both supportive and defensive.

“But the reaction can only be a good thing, as it highlights the need for the topic to be discussed and evaluated.

“I am a graduate from an accredited journalism course myself and I am fully aware of my own institution’s drive to get courses accredited. But that doesn’t mean that as a researcher I shouldn’t be able to operate objectively and ask these challenging questions – after all isn’t that what journalists do?”

In response to our story about Dr Canter’s research, Local World editorial trainer Paul Wiltshire defended the value of course accreditation on his own blog.

Wrote Paul: “One of Lily’s interviewees rightly says that qualifications aren’t everything – and that a known quantity ex-work experience student might be preferred over the devil we’ve never met before.

“My colleagues and I are no strangers to that choice. In fact the last reporter I ever recruited came to us with no journalistic qualifications. But he had bags of enthusiasm and came highly recommended. And he had bothered to research the paper and the area where better qualified but less motivated candidates had not.

“Whenever I am talking to journalism lecturers whose courses aren’t accredited, I always ask them why. I tell them that, when faced with someone from an accredited course and someone from another regime, I am likely to plump for the first, all things being equal.”

Paul added that there was a financial imperative to that choice as well, although this was not the main consideration.

He concluded: “If we take on that second student, we will have to fund, plan and administer their NCTJ diploma regime because we will want them to take the NQJ.

“There remains disquiet among some editors over whether that regime has moved sufficiently with the times, whether it is digitally-focused enough, and whether it encourages diversity of writing. So it’s good to see the NCTJ reviewing the content of its diploma scheme.

“For now, the NCTJ system is the best I can see. Its seal of approval still means something. But there’s no reason why we shouldn’t make it even better.”


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  • July 8, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Call me controversial, but the reason why the regional press is no longer the prime route into journalism is because the regional press is no longer the prime source of journalism.

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  • July 8, 2015 at 8:22 am

    My prediction is, by the end of the day:
    27 comments in total, including all the usual suspects.
    Of them 25 will be the expected negative twaddle.
    The other brave two will be supporters (also twaddle)

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  • July 8, 2015 at 9:22 am

    My prediction is Kipper tie will post an arch self-referential piece of twaddle unconnected with the topic in lieu of an intelligent comment… oh, blow me down, look at that. Hey presto!

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  • July 8, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Can I get a doctorate for stating the bleeding obvious…

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  • July 8, 2015 at 10:20 am

    When regional journalists learned their craft on the job, newspapers were thriving and reporters generally respected.
    Today, we have no end of university and specialist courses for trainees, but circulations are nosediving.
    Unfortunately, many of my acquaintances regard journalists as people they can use to hit back at their enemies with bad publicity.
    Whether or not the story is accurate doesn’t matter, some mud always sticks, and many journalists swallow the bait, no matter how many modules on critical thinking, ethics, law, etc etc they’ve been through..

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  • July 8, 2015 at 10:28 am

    The Good Doctor seems to forget that the best of the accredited courses teach these skills that she talks of. Perhaps that’s why her course didn’t get accredited, because they don’t.

    Then again, she did interview a massive 14 people so perhaps this is a definitive piece of research after all…

    As for the regional press as a pathway, it is not the only way in to the industry anymore due to new platforms thus this point seems pretty obvious to me. It doesn’t mean it is a bad pathway though. For many it is still the best place to hone their skills.

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  • July 8, 2015 at 10:37 am

    I am a regional reporter, and I AM a journalist!

    My career is not a pathway ‘into journalism’ it is a journalism career!
    Some local newspapers are not up to scratch, I will be the first to admit that and it’s a real shame. But there are plenty of top class journalists working for local newspapers that would run rings around national churnalists.

    I’ve also worked for national newspapers so know what I am talking about. Achieving the heady heights of re-writing agency copy and local newspaper stories wasn’t really my bag.
    A good local newspaper is where the real journalism is at. People who consider it to be just a stepping stone are in the wrong job.

    We have to put up with rubbish salaries, long hours and increased staffing pressures, but are still dedicated to this job we love. People assuming that we aren’t actually the journalists we trained to be at all is not cool!

    Rant over!

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  • July 8, 2015 at 11:21 am

    If you get a trainee job on a local or regional newspaper, you need your NCTJ prelims to be eligible to sit your senior exams and get a nice pay rise.

    The good doctor’s groundbreaking piece of research involving interviews with 14 unnamed industry figures may provoke debate but it won’t make the slightest bit of difference.

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  • July 8, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Newspapers are the only way into newspapers as far as I’m aware, other than the trainee schemes the likes of the BBC run.

    I didn’t learn much from my NCTJ in all honesty, I learned on the job and through work experience, so I agree with her there. That being said, if I hadn’t have had the NCTJ I wouldn’t have got an interview at all.

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  • July 8, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    An accredited course is useful but not essential. Daily news – local, regional or national – is the frontline of journalism and the ultimate breeding ground. Full respect to those who serve with distinction.

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  • July 9, 2015 at 4:06 am

    I am a former senior editor at the LA Times where I hired more than 200 journalists over 15 years. I have taught part time for decades at an accredited journalism program. I doubt that most of those I hired came out of accredited programs, but they proved themselves writing at regional and other metro dailies. This discussion is highly overblown given such a tiny sample. No conclusions should be drawn from such a small sample and if anything just underscores the pressure on academics to publish and present papers of little scientific merit.

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  • July 9, 2015 at 11:51 am

    Simply wrong-headed and arrogant. Regional newspapers have had the lifeblood sucked out of them by other news mediums, but it is patronising to dismiss them as some onerous rite of passage towards a proper career in journalism. There are still plenty of very skilled and creative writers doing the job they love on proper local newspapers. True, their days are numbered; but look at the dross that is spouted out constantly online and I know which I would rather read. Qualifications aren’t everything, but accredited courses remain a valuable starting point to what should still be a fulfilling career.

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  • July 9, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    I read the first three pars three times and I still don’t understand a word. Dr Lily Canter has no idea what she’s talking about, and the press release HTFP has reproduced makes no sense. Everyone involved with this drivel should be ashamed of themselves.

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  • July 9, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    Unfortunately, the ‘suits’ are killing good regional journalism, but there’s no doubt Britain’s best journalists worked on the big provincial dailies in days gone by.
    There was a huge difference in class between the regional heavies like The Scotsman, The Yorkshire Post and the Western Mail and the spivvy, superficial Fleet Street tabloids.
    On the big regionals, you had to be good all-rounders. There was no hiding place. In Fleet Street, there was always room for the lazy drunk whose sloppy copy never saw the light of day for months on end.
    Today, I get the impression that many Fleet Street ‘journalists’ aren’t journalists at all, but pimply, privileged kids whose career paths have been oiled by family connections.
    Standards have plummeted alarmingly because most recruits have never had a real provincial grounding.
    One former Fleet Street colleague told me recently: ‘You don’t need a proper training nowadays. Nobody seems to be interested in shorthand, media law or even good writing.’
    I suppose if you’re turning out crap about Kim Kardashian, Posh Beckham and Jeremy Clarkson, that’s true. And it doesn’t take genius – or even talent – to knock out yet another caption about Carol Vorderman’s rear end.
    By the way, national circulations continue to go through the floor. No wonder!

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  • July 10, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Brassingdon, you’re spot on. I’ve had some professional dealings with the national press of late and let’s just say I’ve been underwhelmed. I had visions of All The President’s Men, but what I got were 22-year-olds called Poppy and Pandora. As for the BBC, the less said the better. I attended an EDL rally once (as a reporter, I might add) and the BBC crew there had their own bodyguards, they also stole my Tweets, STOLE MY TWEETS!! (I wasn’t really that bothered).

    The best journalism was, and is, being done on good quality regionals, there just sadly aren’t many left.

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  • July 13, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Dr Canter ….. addressed the fact that her own university has been unsuccessful in getting its courses accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists.

    No need to say another word.

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