Industry professionals host specialist workshops

Industry experts hosted a series of interactive workshops on the second day of the NCTJ Journalism Skills Conference. 

Four workshops took place yesterday at the University of Ulster, each designed to help journalism trainers teach students the skills they will need to find employment in different specialist areas of journalism. The workshop subjects were: finance and economics; health; international journalism; and lifestyle. These subjects are currently being considered by the NCTJ as potential optional modules for the future.

The finance and economics workshop was hosted by Jim Fitzpatrick, economics and business editor, BBC Northern Ireland; Colm Murphy, head of school of media, film and journalism, University of Ulster; and David Elliott, business editor, Belfast Telegraph.

During the workshop, delegates discussed key areas of training that would be beneficial for students interested in financial journalism. All panellists agreed that the most important skill for financial journalists is the ability to explain economic issues into everyday language that readers can understand. The vast majority of delegates attending the workshop were keen to look at the idea of a specialist option as part of the qualification.

The health workshop was hosted by Marie-Louise Connolly, health and social affairs correspondent, BBC Northern Ireland; Richard Evans, head of communications, World Cancer Research Fund and freelance journalist; and Frank Swain, national coordinator for science training for journalists, Royal Statistical Society.

The panel spoke about the importance of accurate reporting of facts and figures and not misrepresenting scientific research. They also discussed the need for journalists to be able to report on health issues using language that readers or viewers would understand and to be able to summarise complicated topics.

The international journalism workshop was hosted by Marion Bowman, director, One World Media and former journalist; Sam Robertson, output editor, Associated Press Television News; and Derek Thorne, programme manager, One World Media.

Topics covered during the session included freelancing abroad, the challenges of hostile environments, conducting risk assessments and having a duty of care. The panel explained how important it is that journalists understand the situations they are entering and do not take unnecessary risks. They also spoke about how to make stories relevant to the audience, linking stories from across the global to local issues.

The lifestyle workshop was hosted by Liz Kennedy, editor, Country Eye and In Gear (News Letter); Laura Dunlop, freelance editor; and Maureen Heaney, features journalist (advertising department), The Irish News.

The editors discussed the importance of lifestyle features and said it would be a good idea for this subject to be incorporated into the NCTJ syllabus. Liz said: “Papers are looking for features to sell their papers. Features that people find interesting will get them to buy it.” She said that it was important that students interested in writing lifestyle pieces thought about why and who would read their feature.

The workshop also looked at the difference between writing for the reader and writing for the advertiser; why it was important to be flexible and not to necessarily have a specialism; and why pitching, talking to people, keeping to deadline and networking were key elements to a career in as a lifestyle journalist.

After the workshops at the University of Ulster the two-day anniversary conference was rounded off with an optional tour of Belfast where delegates visited attractions such as the Titanic Quarter (Shipyards), St Anne's Cathedral and Crumlin Road Jail and Courthouse.