NCTJ is still industry standard – but it might not be for much longer

Following the post by The Student about the relevance and worth of an NCTJ course Rhys Hayward – one of the latest hacks in the production line of the News Associates NCTJ in Wimbledon – gives his thoughts on the NCTJ and its future.

In my opinion it is impossible to judge the NCTJ certificate in black and white because of the vastly variable nature of both the industry and the centres which are approved to teach the qualification. I recently qualified at News Associates in Wimbledon as a 100%er – that is someone who has passed all four main disciplines taught by the NCTJ: News Writing, Media Law, Public Affairs and Teeline Shorthand at 100 words per minute.

National pass rates, particularly for Shorthand and News Writing are dauntingly low but on my course the majority of the 30 pupils were successful in reaching this target. Many have already gained employment; several as local journalists, some (including myself) in related fields such as PR.

Despite this apparent success, I have a mixed view of the NCTJ system.

The course has its positives; many of the skills the NCTJ course teaches are still invaluable. The art of writing tightly and accurately is the most prized possession of any journalist and, when correctly taught, News Writing exercises can be a superb tool. And however dull Media Law might be, it teaches the essential basics that keep editors out of jail and, though cumbersome and in need of tweaking, Public Affairs is still ultimately a useful addition.

And forget all you hear about shorthand being bunk; it is still an incredibly useful skill.

Quite frankly, when you’re doing 20 phone interviews in an afternoon, why would you want to listen back and transcribe every single inane chat with a pensioner whose cat is stuck up a tree when a glance at your notes tells you all you need to know? Billy big time at The Times might be able to get away with just a Dictaphone but your average £15k junior reporter simply can’t.

There are obvious pitfalls however.

The NCTJ, as is the case at City, is geared towards getting students a job in the local press: the traditional starting point for reporters. But in this age of constant media flux we constantly debate whether the local press will exist in ten or twenty year’s time. And even if it does, will there be enough jobs available to offer even 5% or 10% of the growing number of qualified journalists a position? If you’re reading this blog then you will probably already have half an idea of the rapid rate of change in the industry – buzzwords like hyper-local should ring a bell.

The NCTJ has finally cottoned-on and starting right now, new students are taking compulsory modules or optional modules in skills such as video journalism.

But is it too late?

I get the impression from many tutors and other people involved with the industry at various levels that many of the older generation have ‘gone ostrich’ when it comes to modernisation. There might be a token introduction to a content management system but it all seems too half hearted for me.

For me the NCTJ course was ideal, moulding and rubberstamping my existing skills, while acting as crucial window-dressing for my CV. It is far from perfect however. As journalists must get to grips with an increasingly diverse field of skills I fear that, unless the NCTJ translates itself into the digital age, it may well get left behind.


About The Chancer
Tom is the former news and sport editor of Redbrick and also worked as the sport editor for The National Student. He has done work experience at local papers across the country and is currently studying the Newspaper Journalism MA at City University. He also co-writes the sport blog with The Student.

2 Responses to NCTJ is still industry standard – but it might not be for much longer

  1. Cleland Thom says:

    Great post, Rhys – we dinosaurs ignore you at our peril!!

    Sadly, the NCTJ is even further behind in its attitude to modern learning methods. We run e-courses in newspaper, magazine, broadcast and photo journalism, achieve exam results on a par with the best NCTJ colleges … but if you call the NCTJ and ask about distance learning, they will not mention our courses.

    I can live with that – but it does short-change many inquirers and discourage diversity, since our courses tend to attract those who are less well off and unable to follow the college route as you did. My view is that if they really cared about journalism training they would tell inquirers about all available options!

  2. Pingback: The Blog Collection – Week 1 « NCTJ and Beyond

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