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Training Matters: Towards a new-look Diploma in Journalism

Neil WhiteNeil White, left is the editor-in-chief of the Derby Telegraph and Burton Mail. He is also a director and trustee of the NCTJ and chairman of the journalism qualifications board.

In the week that the NCTJ will announce draft proposals for changes to the Diploma in Journalism at the Journalism Skills Conference, Neil outlines some of the reasons behind the review.

Since becoming a board member of the NCTJ three years ago, I have regularly posed one question:

What is a journalist?

Surely, it is essential to know the answer before we embark upon journalism training.

Years ago, it seemed straightforward. All journalists needed to have the same basic attributes whatever their particular medium.

But, nowadays, it is not quite so clear.

Is a journalist someone who works for a printed product, radio or TV?

Or can a journalist also be someone who breaks news on social media? And can they be people who occupy jobs in PR?

While fewer careers are available in what many of us would know as the traditional media, more are being freed up in unconventional arenas.

Recently, I hired a very bright young woman who specialises in reaching out to the Derby Telegraph’s social media audience.

She is trying to engage more than 60,000 readers. Is she a journalist? I think so. Who is to say she isn’t?

However, it is possible that she will never attend a council meeting or a court case or require shorthand. But she is an integral part of our office, coming up with quality ideas which she then sees through.

As it stands, she is not offered the opportunity of a gold standard by the NCTJ.

There are scores if not hundreds of people in her position across the country and there will be more as the media develops.

This is why we have looked at reviewing at the Diploma in Journalism and within our revamp proposals we address the big picture as well as detailed areas.

Extensive research has informed our findings.

We found that representatives of some media platforms did not believe public affairs and shorthand to be essential.

However, we would emphasize that both have considerable prominence within the model which has been proposed.

I am editor-in-chief of two daily titles and two small weeklies.

I liaise daily with other editors within our group and am aware of their demands.

The type of journalists required for our fast-changing industry differ much from those of years ago.

I would have to say time management is almost as import as story-telling.

Journalists have to be multi-skilled and fast. We are targeted much more on audience figures than we were in the past and they are aware of that fact.

They are capable of analysing data and respond with an agenda which will increase our reach.

And they will be guided in the direction of the big hits. They will need to be full of ideas as to how to exploit a story which is trending well.

It is a fact that local politics stories and, in particular, health stories do not do as well as many others.

I love campaigning and my papers have won the awards to prove it. I think scrutiny is vital. But it is an arena for specialist journalists. As an editor, I do not need every trainee to be expert in public affairs but I need them to know a bit about everything.

The important point about the changes is that we are trying to make the NCTJ relevant to everyone who is entering the industry and not put off those who will not require elements which we may have previously seen as must-haves.

I took my proficiency test on a typewriter in 1986. I achieved 100 words per minute shorthand and passed public affairs just as everyone else who took the exam did.

But times have changed more markedly that anyone could have possibly imagined.

At that time, there were no mobile phones or social media and the thought of reporters taking photographs was laughable.

Our young people expect to be ready for the day-to-day work when they come into jobs whatever type of journalism they practice.

It is our duty to make them ready and that is what we hope the new-look diploma will enable.


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  • November 24, 2015 at 7:09 am

    Still can’t spell the English form of emphasise though, Mr Editor-in-Chief.

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  • November 24, 2015 at 11:19 am

    I’d say shorthand is still an extremely valuable skill. What do you do when your smartphone battery dies when you’re out and about? Duh! Silly me! You don’t go out and about. You just sit in the office “reach out” to people on social media and “engage ” them. The truth is virtually anyone can call themselves a journalist, diploma or not.

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  • November 24, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Neil – there is not enough to go on here to know what your new employee’s role actually is.
    But I would say that someone who re-tweets, links YouTube videos to a website, trawls Facebook for tributes to a road accident victim and compiles lists of ‘things you didn’t know about…’ without ever engaging in a proper conversation with or about their subject and reporting what has happened, been said, been alleged, claimed or clarified is NOT a journalist no matter how many likes, retweets and hits they generate.

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  • November 25, 2015 at 6:36 am

    I very much hope that Neil and the NCTJ will bear in mind the purpose of the latest incarnation of the journalism diploma.
    This is a basic, what we used to call ‘pre-entry’ qualification, which needs to equip people with the core basics of the job.
    It shouldn’t try to add a whole host of bells and whistles at the expense of focusing on those basic, core skills.
    I still use pretty much all the skills and knowledge that I gained on my pre-entry course a couple of decades ago. I’m wondering if that would be the case if there had been lots of focus on the technology rather than those basic tenets of the job.
    In other words, the skills – shorthand, story-telling, writing crisp, clean copy, being able to interview well and understanding law haven’t really changed at all. And they probably won’t change for another few decades – unlike the platforms that deliver those stories.

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  • November 25, 2015 at 11:04 am

    Recent editorial candidates want to tell us all about their multi-platform skills, but seem to have very little sense of where stories come from, other than social media. They want to impress with their tweets, but none seems to have written a story/feature longer than 300 words in all their time at college/university. They may have passed exams in public affairs, but were unable to spot the story nestling in some given minutes. They all seem to misunderstand our audiences and demographics (one confidently opined that over 40s couldn’t understand the internet and therefore she was writing for people under that age) and have even less interest in learning.
    Perhaps worst of all, they seem not to read news, on any platform – given that pictures of cats and the tiny percentage of stories that end up on Facebook don’t count as bread and butter news.
    So I would like to agree with Another Hack and say that to us, and pretty much every news provider I know, the basic skills are most important. As long as a candidate isn’t scared of technology, I really don’t care whether or not they have learned to tweet pictures or code. Those come under the ‘nice to have’ heading, not the ‘essential’ one.

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