Journalism skills debated by top editors from Welsh media

A topical and informative question time panel debate took place at the NCTJ Journalism Skills Conference at the Wales Millennium Centre on 2 December. The debate covered multi-skilling, diversity, good writing, academic study and vocational training, and advice for young journalists.

The question time panel was made up of Alan Edmunds, publishing director at Media Wales, Tweli Griffiths, political content editor at S4C, Phil Henfrey, head of news at ITV Wales, Barrie Jones, editor-in-chief of North Wales Newspapers and Mark O’Callaghan, head of news and current affairs at BBC Wales.

NCTJ vice-chairman and Newbury News Group editorial director, Brien Beharrell chaired the debate in which an audience of heads of journalism, tutors, trainers, examiners, students and editors put questions to the panel in a vigorous conference session.

Brien welcomed delegates to the debate, before inviting the panel to comment on the most important skills students need for the newsroom.

The panel were asked if they thought the industry was moving towards requiring journalists with broader skills and few specialisms rather than a narrower range of specialist skills.

In response, Alan Edmunds said that while there is still opportunity to specialise, all journalists now need to use multimedia to utilise their talents in different ways and apply skills across all platforms.

Barrie Jones commented that trainees should still focus on core journalistic skills such as the ability to dig out stories, more than technology, because the technical skills can be learnt on the job. However he also said that today’s journalists do need to be able to work across a range of platforms.

Mark O’Callaghan believes that multi-skilling is here to stay, partly to keep costs down, but said that the basic skills for being a good journalist haven’t changed despite the new technology.

Asked about recruiting more university graduates, and how they can ensure journalists are in touch with their readership, Phil Henfrey said that given the expansion in university education it’s inevitable that more trainees will have degrees, however maintaining diversity is still important.

Barrie commented that it depends very much on the university course, as ‘the NCTJ shows you how to be a journalist’ but some other courses teach more about the academics of journalism rather than the core vocational skills required.

Tweli Griffiths said that he would look more favourably on applicants with work experience in a newspaper rather than a first class degree, and added that he regretted not working in a newspaper before going into television.

Alan added that tutors should spend some time in a newsroom every six months to keep up to date and maintain professional experience.

The panel were also asked what one piece of advice they would give young people considering a career in journalism. Phil said, “To have perseverance”, while Tweli’s advice is, “To go the extra mile and work hard”.

Mark said they need, “To have passion and stamina”, while Barrie said they “Must believe in quality journalism”, and Alan commented they should, “Find a mentor and learn as much as possible from them.”

The question time debate was filmed by two students studying the NCTJ-accredited course at Cardiff University. Ben Bostock and Katey Pigden are also both recipients of the Journalism Diversity Fund and their work will be available to view on the Journalism Diversity Fund website.