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 senior management team, 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.
Selina Sykes, left, is currently studying the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism as part of her MA in journalism at Kingston University. She is an editorial intern at My French Life, a blogger for Euronews Generation Y, and commentator for The Student Journals. Here she gives her thoughts on this year’s event hosted by News UK.
Tilting my head back to squint at the top of the News UK building towering above the rest of London, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As we reached the 17th floor and peered out in awe at the spectacular view, one thing was clear: the sky’s the limit.
While there were discussions about the doom-and-gloom of the future of journalism and job-hunting, those in the industry reassured student journalists not to despair and that there are jobs out there – you may just have to move for them. Despite ongoing uncertainty in the industry, we were told it was an exciting time to be breaking into journalism and the media is investing in its future generation – reflected by News UK’s move to a shiny new building.
I was immediately struck by the vast variety of NCTJ-accredited courses, ranging from 20-week fast-track courses to three or four-year long BA courses. This resulted in a range of different views, but the majority raised concerns over three topics: shorthand, reporting and public affairs.
I think I am right in saying that most trainee journalists tend to share a mutual loathing of shorthand. Acknowledging sympathetically that it was a labour-some slog, every speaker, alumni and editor told us shorthand was an invaluable skill that they still use every day. “There is just no getting out of it,” said Lauren Potts, a broadcast journalist at the BBC.
Upcoming reporting and public affairs exams also generated concern. Having got a distinction in my reporting exam, I agreed that rumours about the exam ‘setting you up to fail’ were a myth. As highlighted by NCTJ staff and alumni, spelling, grammar and factual mistakes could get your publication in trouble in the real world. It is not just about passing the exams after all, but applying your knowledge afterwards in the newsroom, as pointed out by principal examiner Amanda Ball.
Public affairs was discussed at length among students, with many admitting it was the exam they dreaded the most. While NCTJ staff recognised that there was a lot to learn, they emphasised the module’s importance, explaining how such knowledge of councils had led to the breaking of the Rotherham child abuse scandal.
Being able to put a face to the NCTJ was a real highlight. It turned out they were not – as some of my course mates had joked – ‘a group of grumpy old men set in their ways’. Unlike most student councils, the NCTJ representatives gave in-depth responses and seemed genuinely interested in our views.
The day closed with what everyone had been eagerly waiting for – meeting the editors. Hearing from some of the industry’s finest on what they were looking for in aspiring journalists was particularly useful. The editors agreed that an open mind, determination and hard work were key attributes, underlining that being a journalist is never a nine-to-five job.
Discussions ranged from what decisions have kept editors up at night, to page three, to Charlie Hebdo and David Dinsmore’s splash on gerbils being used as paper shredders in a police station. After a day of engaging conversation and differing opinions, one piece of advice from Bob Satchwell, executive director, Society of Editors, has stuck in my mind: “You’re only as good as your next story.”