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?”
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.”