"NCTJ training is badge of quality" says Guardian reporter

Our first featured alumnus of 2012 is Haroon Siddique, a news reporter at the Guardian who previously worked as the political reporter for the Highbury and Islington Express.

Haroon gained his NCTJ Certificate in Journalism in 2004 and went on to achieve the NCE in 2005 while he worked at the North London paper.

“I wouldn't have got my first job at a local paper if I hadn't undertaken NCTJ training,” said Haroon. “It was that job that acted as the platform for me to get work at the BBC, ITN and eventually to get my current job at the Guardian.

“I apply what I learned every day, whether it is shorthand, legal training or other aspects, and all the skills I developed have become second nature to me. Without them I wouldn't be able to do my job.

“NCTJ training was an invaluable introduction to the skills needed to be a news reporter. Like many people I thought I could write reasonably well but there is an art to structuring a coherent and informative news article that becomes much clearer with tuition. The course stimulated my desire to be a journalist and by the end of my training I felt confident that I had the tools at my disposal to be one.”

Haroon believes it’s vital to study core journalistic skills such as media law, public affairs and shorthand, commenting: “It is essential to have an understanding of media law to be a competent reporter, to understand what you can and cannot report in relation to court cases but also to understand defamation and privacy laws. While sometimes it is necessary to consult a lawyer, a good reporter should not be relying on a lawyer to correct blunders that have arisen because they were not aware of the law.

“Shorthand can be incredibly frustrating to learn but it is immensely useful, despite a perception among some people that it is a dying art because of digital recorders etc. It is essential for covering court cases but I also find it indispensable for interviews as it is much quicker to transcribe than a recorded interview where you have to keep starting and stopping the recording while playing it back.

“I use shorthand on most days, whether taking notes face-to-face on the phone or off the television or radio.

“I remember early on in my career as a journalist, when I was working at the Highbury and Islington Express, someone, who was accustomed to interviews, said to me after a news story in which I quoted him was published: ‘You actually wrote the words I said.’ He seemed surprised but it was having good shorthand that meant I could accurately write what he said rather than just filling in the gaps.”  

Haroon concludes: “Although there is more than one route into journalism, having NCTJ training is a badge of quality that employers recognise. It says to the employer that you have the fundamental skills needed to be a journalist, which is difficult to prove otherwise.

“It is a sign to the employer that they can send you out on a story and you will be capable of understanding who you need to approach to obtain a balanced article, be able to take accurate quotes and understand any legal issues arising from the story.”