Young journalists are finding it difficult to provide sufficient detail in their work because they are used to writing short stories, examiners have warned.
Moderators working for the National Council for the Training of Journalists, said tighter writing and more comprehensive stories are needed by candidates sitting the National Qualification in Journalism.
They once again shared their concern over “weak” shorthand following the July sitting of the NQJ, stating in the Examiners’ Report it had “proved a problem and was almost certainly to blame” for some major mistakes made in the news report exam.
It follows a series of previous warnings by examiners after previous sittings about shorthand, with left some candidates “guessing” at quotes rather than reporting them verbatim.
However, the moderators praised an “excellent set of results” in the media law and practice exam, which yielded a 98pc pass rate.
The moderator responsible for the law exam said: “The knowledge and application displayed by most candidates was very encouraging and should inspire confidence with editors.”
Candidates had to pass each of the four sections in the exam – media law and practice, news report, news interview and logbook – with 35 of the 53 candidates proving successful.
Here is a summary of the report on how the candidates performed in each section.
MEDIA LAW AND PRACTICE
Pass rate: 98pc
Candidates were tested on defamation and the qualified privilege defence, confidentiality and contempt, while the ethics portion invited candidates to debate how to respond when a bereaved partner does not want anything published despite there being a public outpouring of grief.
The examiners said: “Publishing nothing was not an option as there was public interest in reporting on a fatal accident, especially in view of the circumstances of this one, but candidates who did well showed a sensitive and sympathetic approach, explaining how they would do that and not just repeating what the code says. Application is as important as knowledge.
“Once again, candidates with a good writing style and a logical approach, allied to knowledge, tended to do better. A bullet-point approach when answering these questions is recommended but candidates will not be penalised if they do not adopt this.
“Examiners recommend that future candidates return to the latest edition of Essential Law for Journalists to brush up on defamation and contempt dangers and defences and court reporting restrictions, plus case studies.”
Pass rate: 67pc
The paper was a topical story about a garage discontinuing its VW franchise as a result of the emissions scandal and returning to its servicing and repair roots, while setting up a sales and restoration business in secondhand VW campervans.
The examiners said: “Candidates seemed to quickly get the gist of the story but tended to overlook the family detail which readers would want. Shorthand proved a problem and was almost certainly to blame for some of the major mistakes made that would have needed a correction.
“One candidate managed to write his entire story without once mentioning campervans. Poor spelling always upsets the markers and this time the biggest howler was from the 10pc of candidates who said the garage was ‘going back to its routes’.
“It seems that today’s young journalists are used to writing short stories on one aspect and they found difficulty getting sufficient detail in their exam papers to cover all the angles. Tighter writing and more comprehensive stories are needed, getting away from the assumption that readers will know the rest of the story.
“Direct quotes were far from verbatim in all but the best stories, again probably due to weak shorthand. There were extracts cut too short to be meaningful or cobbled with other extracts and presented as a direct quote, sections omitted and transcription errors. We cannot stress too highly how important it is for journalists to get their shorthand up to a workable reliable speed.”
Pass rate: 70pc
The story was about a raid at a stately home, in which three men tied the housekeeper’s husband to a chair and shut her and the family dog in a pantry before fleeing with candlesticks which were copies of expensive originals.
The examiners said: “Despite the amount of good detail, many candidates went for the pedestrian intro starting: ‘Police are hunting…’ Some candidates went on the line of what the raiders stole and the ‘hero’ dog. If someone is left for dead, it is a much better choice for an intro.
“Others got lost with the story and confused the reader after failing to understand the whole scenario. Several made lots of assumptions and added facts without any explanation or context. Many candidates called the injured man the housekeeper which added to the confusion. Others had the wife tied up.
“It was interesting to note that some candidates did not use up their allotted time; one only spent six minutes interviewing and another only nine minutes. Looking at scripts it was obvious that some candidates had issues with their shorthand – the giveaway two-word quotes were in evidence.
“Some also went over the word count, losing valuable marks. Overall some candidates did well, but the number of borderlines and fails for this exam was disappointing.”
Pass rate: 100pc
Markers enjoyed a strong range of submissions and there were no “major issues” with logbooks in this round.
The exmainers said: “Some candidates did still struggle with the problem of uploading the correct information when it comes to original copy and cuttings.
“Those submitting are reminded that any incorrectly uploaded documentation on key tasks will be marked as a zero. We would always recommend to double- check all copy which has been uploaded and also to seek a second opinion.
“Examiners advise all those undertaking the logbook to make sure that if they are unsure of anything, then in the first instance they should seek help from their editor or trainer, or contact the NCTJ and we will be happy to give advice ahead of marking.”