By Mirela Vulaj
When I was elected by my postgraduate peers at the University of Kent to represent them at this year’s NCTJ Student Council meeting, I was a bit nervous to say the least, mainly because I didn’t quite know what to expect.
But I was very quickly relieved of my, frankly unnecessary, nerves when I was greeted by friendly faces upon my arrival. This year, the event was hosted by News UK, and for those who have never been, I highly recommend the views we were lucky enough to admire from the 17th floor.
The turnout was particularly impressive with some centres sending reps for multiple courses. Following a few hot drinks to warm us all up from the painfully cold windy weather outside, we all settled into our designated seats ready for the question and answers section chaired by Joanne Butcher, the chief executive.
It was very comforting to see how willing the panel were to listen to us and answer our questions unreservedly. What I found to be even more reassuring is that we were able to put into writing, through a group exercise, what the NCTJ is doing well but also what it could improve on.
The recurring topics concerned the reporting module, the public affairs module and the availability of exam dates. Most students felt that the reporting exam was very tough. Others felt that the delivery of the public affairs module was not clear enough, and more of less everyone wanted more exam dates to be available on top of existing ones.
The panel were very quick to respond and I was happy to hear that the NCTJ communicate with lecturers to give them guidance and assistance with the delivery of modules.
For me it was very important to learn that the NCTJ are recognising the need for more diversity in journalism. I was reassured that they are trying to think of ways to attract and cater for more diverse applicants. One particular student pointed out that more provisions needed to be made for students with various forms of hearing loss, particularly when it comes to shorthand. The panel’s reaction was positive, appreciating that there is a need to assess ways in which the diploma can be revised to better suite all kinds of students.
Another important point to be raised relates to funding. The NCTJ provides a bursary through the Journalism Diversity Fund, which many people don’t know about. The unanimous feeling was that many aspiring journalists are unable to pursue a career in journalism because they cannot afford it. I am one of those people and I can honestly say that without the help of the diversity fund I would not be able to do what I love the most.
The event was not just an opportunity to make our voices heard, but it was also a great way of celebrating high achievers and motivating others who are coming up to their exams. It was nice to see that the NCTJ reward those who work hard.
They also invited previous diploma recipients who have gone on to great careers. I felt that speaking to previous students who have been through the entire process was a nice addition to the day, particularly as it was easier for us to relate to them. It was interesting to hear their stories and to be given the chance to ask them questions.
The NCTJ went even further by inviting editors happy and willing to answer our questions, even the awkward ones. This was particularly nice because it allowed us to get a better understanding of the demands of the industry as it currently stands.
The student council meeting was a great occasion to have our voices heard and to guide the panel on ways in which the diploma can be improved, including what is working well so far. It was a brilliant opportunity to celebrate talent and to network with others in the industry.
So, what did I take away on a more personal level? Work hard, be persistent, persevere and if you truly love journalism, know your law, know your public affairs and definitely have your shorthand. And most importantly, don’t mistake journalism for a nine-to-five job.
Read about previous bursary recipients speaking on the alumni panel at the Student Council here.