Practical journalism experience is key to success, say NCTJ alumni

Journalism students from across the UK were given the opportunity to quiz a panel of NCTJ alumni working across the industry at the annual Student Council forum in London.

Robert Payling, sub-editor, Sky Sports News; Lauren Potts, broadcast journalist, BBC Online; and Alexandra Rucki, online journalist, London Evening Standard addressed 41 student representatives from accredited courses as part of an annual event, hosted this year by News UK on Friday, 6 February.

Lauren, who completed her journalism studies at News Associates, Manchester, advised students to: “Get yourself out there, make yourself known and make sure you have a digital presence.”

Robert, who finished his course in Sheffield before moving to London to work on the Sky Sports News graduate scheme, said: “When you’re going to look for your first job, be prepared to move. Unfortunately a job won’t always appear on your doorstep.” His top tip for those interested in the broadcaster’s graduate scheme was to make sure you could show passion for your subject, whether that be politics, law or sports.

On shorthand, a popular topic of questioning at the annual event, the panellists were unanimous. “There’s no getting out of it – you need it,” said Lauren, who added she still uses the skill every day in her job at the BBC.

Working for a 24-hour rolling news operation, Robert said he still used his shorthand for phone interviews and that accurate note taking was vital to maintain the broadcaster’s credibility with viewers.

Another Sheffield University graduate, Alexandra Rucki said the change of pace was the biggest adjustment when moving from a regional paper to work for the Evening Standard. She swapped weekly deadlines for the more immediate requirements of the 24-hour news operation. Alexandra advised anyone looking for a job in online journalism to pick up skills through work experience, working for app versions and websites of newspapers to get experience in content management systems and uploading content.

The annual Student Council forum also provides an opportunity for students to discuss aspects of the industry’s training scheme and contribute to its ongoing development. Preceding the panel discussion, the NCTJ senior management team, including chief executive Joanne Butcher, took questions from the student representatives on all aspects of accredited courses, including: exam availability; the scope of the public affairs exam; and  shorthand resources for those with disabilities.