Confessions of a fast-track NCTJ student

I am 16 weeks into the 20-week fast-track NCTJ course, and I finally have the time to take stock of the last few months and write something that’s not a) for my portfolio, b) shorthand or c) revision notes.

To say that things have been pretty full on since 5 September, when I arrived at Highbury College as a spritely new student, would be an understatement.

“Sorry guys, we don’t have time for a half term,” said my teacher at the start of the course, to a disappointed class.

Back then, I had no idea how tired and time-poor I could get.

I am a single mum to an 11-month-old boy, and before embarking on this whirlwind journey, I spent my days going to baby groups, with mum friends or watching daytime TV — including the morning, lunchtime and evening news, naturally.

During term time, things could not be more different.

But I’ve emerged four fifths of the way through — Christmas break, our first since the start of the course — armed with invaluable knowledge and a reaffirmed sense of why journalism is where it’s at for me.

The past three months have involved preparing for and sitting the 60 wpm shorthand, ethics, court reporting and essential journalism exams, and placements at the Southern Daily Echo and Solent News and Photo Agency.

I’ve had plenty of stories published, co-produced a scoop that went national, and have already been invited to interview for a trainee reporter role at the Solent News.

I have also filmed and edited a two-minute long news package for the video journalism module, having learnt to use a Sony EX1 camera and Final Cut Pro from scratch.

I know how to challenge reporting restrictions in courts, write a good news intro and turn a Freedom of Information request into a story.

And it’s not over yet. After Christmas, we will be gearing up for five more exams, including public affairs, media law and the all-important, highly sought-after 100 wpm shorthand.

I feel so fortunate to be able to study at Highbury, and I owe many thanks to the JDF because without them, I wouldn’t be here.

My advice to anyone thinking of taking on the fast-track behemoth is as follows:

  • Embrace time management. There is a lot to fit in to five short months, with shorthand speed development, a multimedia portfolio to build, exams to revise for and work experience. It is not for the faint-hearted. Knowing how to organise my evenings and weekends to fit things in has been crucial to my success so far.
  • Apply for jobs as soon as possible. The fast-track course is so fast, it’s a good idea to start networking early. That way, you’re more likely to have plenty of options at the end of the course. Some of my colleagues have already secured job offers for February.
  • You can do it. There may well be tears, sleepless nights and wondering what on earth possessed you to subject yourself to 20 weeks of hard graft when you could have spread it out over a year. On the other hand though, it will prepare you for the first paced world of the newsroom and make you feel like you can accomplish anything.

Happy new year to all journalists, actual and aspiring!

Hayley Pearce