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Training Matters: Essential skills for a new era

Major changes to the National Council for the Training of Journalists’ diploma in journalism qualification were outlined last week to the tutors at accredited courses around the UK.

John Cary, left, head of accreditation at the NCTJ, was at the meeting and reflects on a day when he also saw for himself how young journalists are using their training as they tell stories in new ways.

For a 30-year career hack who still owns the portable typewriter he bought to begin his indentured training, a glimpse into the world of the BBC’s apprentice digital journalists is eye-opening.

They’re helping to shape how a global broadcaster will inform audiences in the years ahead as they learn their trade working for embryonic services such as BBC Trending and Newstream.

They were hired for their potential as “creative, passionate, resilient, digitally savvy, story-tellers” and they’re trying out new tools and techniques in social media and mobile journalism.

And when they finish the apprenticeship next year, they will also have completed their NCTJ diploma in journalism, meeting the required standard in their knowledge of law and PA, just as I did at Richmond College, Sheffield back in an era – to borrow a phrase from Douglas Adams – so amazingly primitive that we still thought digital watches were a pretty neat idea.

I spent a couple of hours with the digital apprentices last week, talking to them about the work they’re doing, and how it meshes with their classroom studies, delivered by the experienced NCTJ team at City of Wolverhampton College.

One example – the script for an EU explainer to be delivered via the BBC News app must also work for on-screen subtitles (the content is for viewing on the move on a smartphone). So it’s unlikely to come in grammatically-pure sentences.

Then again, neither did the headlines I was taught to write as a young sub at the Eastern Daily Press in the 1980s.

What counts, as NCTJ chief executive Joanne Butcher had reminded an audience of accredited course tutors at Lambeth College earlier the same day, is that “we are not losing sight of the fundamental skills of finding and telling stories accurately”.

The tutors had gathered to be briefed on how the NCTJ is changing the content and structure of the diploma to ensure it remains a thorough grounding in the core skills needed to begin a career in the industry.

The key test of reporting and writing skills gets changes including a new name – essential journalism – and is moving online for the next academic year. Lecturers watched a demonstration of how the exam will look – including a video news release which is the basis for several questions candidates must complete against a tight deadline.

They never had one of those when I was chronicling the latest tragedy to befall the people of Oxdown in my NCTJ studies.

There’ll still be a question in the exam asking candidates to discuss an ethical dilemma. And in response to feedback from editors, students will also soon be tackling a new stand-alone regulation test. Candidates will be presented with quick-fire multiple choice questions to check their knowledge of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The diploma will be more flexible. It has to be to meet the needs of newsrooms which have seen changes described at the seminar by Neil White, editor of the Derby Telegraph and NCTJ board member, as “absolutely phenomenal”.

It will be possible to achieve a gold standard pass with or without 100wpm shorthand, court reporting or public affairs. Many editors will still demand applicants have their hundred, but other employers across different sectors of the industry have clearly told the NCTJ that they have journalist roles that will never involve taking notes in courts and council meetings.

That’s the world in which the BBC digital apprentices will be making their mark. The core skills of getting and telling stories will stay at the heart of great reporting. The diploma is changing to make sure NCTJ-qualified students are fully prepared to succeed in that world.

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  • May 19, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Gold standard = 100wpm shorthand. No shorthand? Silver standard.

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