NCTJ Diploma turns ambition into reality

By Victoria Bull, bursary recipient 2012/13

Just a short 20 weeks ago, I began the course I had been destined to do since I was about eight-years-old.

Before you think it, 20 weeks IS a short time and, well, when I was little I got into the TV programme Sabrina the Teenage Witch in quite a serious way.

That teenage witch wasn’t just wasting her time pointing at things to make her every wish happen, she wanted to be a reporter. And as she showed, accompanied by some witty feline banter from pet cat Salem, it was going to take a lot of hard work.

Okay, so fast-track NCTJ courses weren’t available to Sabrina, but they were to me as I got older and, after following in her enchanted footsteps by joining the student paper and getting work experience, I decided to really make my childhood ambition a reality and give journalism a shot.

The first thing you realise on a 20 week diploma (I study at News Associates, Wimbledon) is that it is not plain-sailing and you certainly cannot get the work done through any kind of pointing, or chanting spells. Though believe me, at times it has been tempting to try.

The course is gruelling, but you soon reap the rewards of working into the evening, every evening – I passed 100 wpm shorthand after just 11 weeks and that was all down to incredible teaching and perhaps, more importantly, pure dedication to the task.

When modules got tough – inevitable given the short space in which we’re expected to learn everything – I could count on fellow trainees for support, and the friendships I’ve made are among the best things about doing such an intensive course.

As a group, we’ve achieved some excellent results and I genuinely believe it comes from the camaraderie between us. The numerous practical exercises we do have really thrown us into the real world of journalism by getting us to work as a team towards a collective goal.

At News Associates, the focus is as much about getting real experience as it is about the grades. More so in fact. We don’t have to write lengthy essays about abstract concepts like at university, we learn practical and valuable journalism skills and we often have real fun doing it.

We’re now coming to the end of the course and, despite the intensity, I find myself sad to be finishing. But another great thing about the NCTJ is how employable it makes you – I’m now in the process of accepting a job offer and hope to start at the end of the month.

Of course, there are bug-bears about doing this course. Not everyone takes to shorthand from the off, there are some dry (even if vitally important) subjects to cover in law and public affairs, and the sheer amount of work required can be exhausting. But if I’d been looking for an easy ride, I wouldn’t have picked journalism as a career choice.

I’d probably have left Sabrina behind with the rest of ‘90s children’s culture and picked someone else, with less magical ambitions, as a role model.