We must wait and see if NCTJ is still industry standard

Roy Greenslade has flagged up an interesting point in his latest Guardian blog. In short, he questions whether university journalism courses need to be accredited by the National Council for the Teaching of Journalism (NCTJ) and, citing the example of the University of Strathclyde (who withdrew from the NCTJ in 2008), asks whether the course actually provides the skills for the ‘journalists of the future’.

Journo Students

This is particularly pertinent to the Wannabe Hacks as myself, The Chancer and The Detective will be starting journalism masters at City University next week.

City (as Mr Greenslade points out in his article) is not NCTJ certified.

In the year or so before applying to study journalism at City, I had to weigh up whether it was better to study a postgraduate course at a non-NCTJ accredited institution (like City, Goldsmiths or Westminster) or to do a short course NCTJ qualification and supplement that with work experience. In effect, I was torn between what I was told was the national standard for journalists – the Michelin Star for journalism courses – and what I thought would equip me with the skills to be a top-class reporter.


One question that I had, and that many young journalists may have too, is whether or not having an NCTJ qualification would affect job opportunities in the future. My answer would be probably not.

National newspaper generally don’t deem any journalism qualifications essential and, although some local newspapers editors swear by the NCTJ and will not employ anyone unless they have passed it (the editor of the North West London Newsquest titles told me as much), it’s not a hard and fast rule.

Whilst on work experience on The St Albans and Harpenden Review, I met a reporter who was employed with no formal qualifications and was one of the better reporters in the newsroom. Such instances are by no means typical but it goes to show that being NCTJ certified can be as much about journalists feeling they need to equip themselves with certain skills than it is about editors demanding an NCTJ as a prerequisite training in journalism

As for the bigger question about whether the NCTJ is fit to be a national standard anymore, we may have to wait and see. The new students who have just started their NCTJ courses are the first to take the qualification in it’s new format, said to be more relevant to the digital age. According to Richard Parsons, the Director of Training at the News Associates NCTJ, based in Wimbledon, the new batch of students will be trialing a new course structure which will make the NCTJ more applicable to 21st century newsgathering and story telling.

So, Mr Greenslade’s question of whether it’s worth being NCTJ qualified may only be truly answered when those students pass and attempt to get jobs. Only then will we be able to tell whether the NCTJ still holds the high reputation it used to.


About benwhitelaw
Ben is Communities Editor at The Times

7 Responses to We must wait and see if NCTJ is still industry standard

  1. Matt Wiggins says:

    I think it can be taken as a positive that the NCTJ are moving with the times by altering their syllabus for the 21st century. As you say it is an untested course as yet and only time will tell but you can’t fault the NCTJ for trying.

    It just comes down to personal preference and the type of journalist you want to be. For local reporters I personally think the NCTJ course is pretty good, and I have got my own article at http://wp.me/p146AP-t about the Greenslade piece as well.

    I guess you can’t please everyone though!

  2. Currently I study on an NCTJ course, so I’m watching this debate unfold with quite a keen eye.

    I’m about to start my second year, but have already been frustrated by the lack of flexibility and the possible stifling of creativity that can be found in the course content. That said, this year I’ll be learning law, and the year after next shorthand.

    If you only do an NCTJ course and expect to come out a fully formed journalist, I think that’s unrealistic. If you do the course, work on other, more creative skills, then I can’t see any employer turning their nose up at you if you’ve gone out of your way to learn advanced online, video and audio skills. Still, here’s hoping :O

  3. Pingback: We must wait and see if NCTJ is still industry standard « Wannabe … guide university

  4. Peter Demain says:

    My website had a piece along these lines (University & Journalism – A Global Kareoke) based off perceptions I had reading from online course modules, plus some dialogue from people who’d gone through what this topic alludes to. Frankly for the cost the course does not merit the money, the time, or the effort one puts into it. I’d sooner do a photography course and start at 18 rather than a Journalism BA with zero camera-tutoring and emerging to a bad labour market at 22.

    Look at FOI. That’s a common module – but 70-80% of FOI request are from private citizens who aren’t journos – most of those didn’t study it formally. It’s not that hard to ascertain how to do it, infact it’s mostly common sense and being salient. Consider that many competant journalists studied English, or Media, or wholly different subjects; they picked up much of what comprises a Journalism BA as they went along – kind of like how there’s a lot of detectives who didn’t do Criminology, or comedians who never did comedy and so on…

    Pete, editor at Dirty Garnet.

  5. Pingback: NCTJ is still industry standard – but it might not be for much longer « Wannabe Hacks

  6. filmgeek says:

    I completed an NCTJ-accredited foundation degree in Newspaper and Magazine Journalism and I think it is essential that student journalists about media law and the art of news and feature writing as well as shorthand, but I couldn’t help but wonder how important public affairs is. Sure, many undergrads expect to start out on a local paper but for those headed for specialist areas (I want to go into film journalism), is it really that important? Although I could just be saying that as the only NCTJ exam I didn’t pass was local government…

  7. The Student says:

    @filmgeek, thanks for your comment and for letting us know what you’re getting up to.

    It’s an interesting point you make about public affairs and you’re probably right that specialist journalists will use public affairs less.

    But, unfortunately, as we all know, you can’t be guaranteed of work just writing about films and, after a period of time, you may want to/have to turn your hand to news, when public affairs will become more useful.

    I started my MA at City today and will be learning about public affairs and local government. I will let you know how I get on and how essential I think it is.

    Hope you pop back to WH soon

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