By Liz Jackson, Journalism Diversity Fund recipient 2013-14
Hosted by Pearson inside the beautifully redeveloped Shell-Mex building in The Strand, the NCTJ Student Council exceeded all my expectations, and this was not only due to the impressive surroundings.
“Stories are about real people and information that can change the world,” said NCTJ
chairman Kim Fletcher in his opening speech, kick-starting the day’s events and confirming my reasons for training to become a journalist. He told trainees that in an industry like journalism, there will never be a more exciting time for news than the future. This definitely set the tone for later discussions about the changing role of journalism and how it should be delivered.
After the opening speeches NCTJ executives addressed all kinds of queries from the student council, from worries about intense exam timetables, to advice on the reporting exam and questions about the availability of extra resources.
During the discussion and feedback sessions most students agreed having industry-taught NCTJ training was beneficial, as was the practicality of a pared-down syllabus which equips trainees with working knowledge for future jobs. Suggestions for improvements were also made and included offering peer networking or professional mentoring opportunities and incorporating mandatory training in the digital storytelling skills employers increasingly look for in candidates.
Getting to know the other attendees over lunch, I realised NCTJ qualifications have a global reputation as some students traveled across the world to train on UK NCTJ courses. Coming from the smaller teaching environment of a fast-track course it was motivating to share professional interests and discover similar opinions of our courses despite our varied routes into journalism via BAs, MAs, fast-track diplomas and apprenticeships.
NCTJ alumni gave students top tips for making the transition from training to a journalism career. Rachel Blundy, online journalist for the London Evening Standard, explained how her first job at a local newspaper prepared her well for her future career because it offered chances for greater responsibility, providing valuable experience for a later position at the Daily Mirror. Ollie Joy, digital business journalist for CNN, said he initially had no formal understanding of economics but looked for “gaps in the skills market”, teaching himself skills alongside the graduate scheme at Bloomberg.
For me, the NCTJ definitely left the best until last as we had the opportunity to grill influential media professionals on the skills and qualities employers wanted from future journalists. The panel consisted of Doug Wills, managing editor of the London Evening Standard, i, Independent and Independent on Sunday; Mary Hockeray, head of the BBC’s multimedia newsroom; Chris Elliott, readers’ editor at The Guardian and Laura Adams, editorial director at Archant London.
Among a range of questions put to them by Student Council members, the editors gave advice on how to make job applications stand out: research the organisation and the patch, never use “Dear Sir/Madam”, and use examples to show you can hit the ground running. They also discussed the importance of data journalism and info graphics in online journalism, and enthusiastically debated the future of print journalism – a lively close to the day which demonstrated the importance of being passionate about the industry.