Radical new structure for NCTJ multimedia qualification outlined at Journalism Skills Conference

A proposed new structure for a preliminary multimedia qualification for all journalists was outlined by the NCTJ’s Journalism Qualifications Board at the Journalism Skills Conference.

The new qualification structure will allow NCTJ-trained journalists to work across all platforms in print, broadcast and online.

Donald Martin, editor-in-chief of the Herald and Times, a director of the NCTJ and chairman of the Journalism Qualifications Board, was joined by NCTJ chief examiners, Steve Nelson (journalism), Amanda Ball (public affairs), Mark Hanna (media law) and Marie Cartwright (shorthand) in outlining proposed changes.

Opening the session Donald Martin said: “The traditional differences in how journalists work in different areas of the media are disappearing and all sectors are looking for new entrants who are comfortable working across two or three platforms in the course of a working day.

“It’s vitally important that we provide trainees with the core skills to allow them to work in whatever sector of the media.

“At the NCTJ we are working to ensure that training meets the requirements of the industry in all media sectors.”

Donald said the new NCTJ qualification structure would consist of core skills assessments for all multimedia journalists.

The core assessments proposed include: reporting; essential public affairs; essential media law; regulation, ethics and code of conduct; multimedia portfolio; and shorthand.

Specialist options would then be available for candidates in: court reporting; sub-editing; sports journalism; and broadcast journalism.

Each chief examiner introduced the proposed changes to their subject which had been developed by the relevant subject board as well as consultation with editors and research such as last year’s Journalism Skills Survey.

Steve Nelson, production editor at The Press York, introduced the core skills reporting assessment, which will include news writing.

Steve said: “The internet has allowed us all to compete on equal terms whether we work in broadcast, print or online news. Our challenge is to equip all journalists with the skills to work across all platforms.”

The proposal includes:

• A new format ‘reporting’ exam to test candidates’ knowledge of multimedia platforms and how to apply them appropriately to stories.

• Integrating writing for the web and using other platforms such as interactive activity and social networking sites will also be tested. Candidates will be asked to write a news break for the web, an online headline and search the internet to identify relevant bodies to follow-up the story.

Steve Nelson also outlined a proposal for a new multimedia portfolio:

• Candidates will be encouraged to submit stories on different platforms including video, online and audio as well as traditional print and broadcast platforms

• The portfolio will include a video-editing exercise to assess the candidates’ ability to identify a legal issue and edit a short piece for a news website.

Amanda Ball, public affairs lecturer at Nottingham Trent University introduced a new ‘essential public affairs’ core skills assessment.

Amanda said: “The main change can be summed up in one sentence – no more key terms.”

This declaration raised a cheer from the assembled delegates.

The proposal outlined by Amanda included:

• No key terms questions in a new single exam made up of practical, applied questions testing candidates’ knowledge and application of public affairs to journalistic scenarios

• A practical assignment of 800 – 1000 words which can be produced on course and presented in any format, print, broadcast, online, video or audio.

Mark Hanna, senior law lecturer at the University of Sheffield, outlined the suggested changes to the media law assessments.

These included:

• A new single format exam testing a broad knowledge of media law for all journalists including an introduction to court reporting

• A further specialist option of court reporting would be available to students who require it

• Integrating a broad level of broadcast law, which would focus on Ofcom regulations, ethics and compliance as a core skill for all journalists

Marie Cartwright, a shorthand tutor at Norton College, Sheffield, and author of the new NCTJ textbook Teeline Gold Standard for Journalists introduced the shorthand core skills assessment.

The proposal included:

• The introduction of a quote, to be taken down with 100 per cent accuracy in the 90wpm and 100wpm exams to assess candidates’ listening skills.


A feedback session followed with conference delegates splitting into groups to discuss the proposals before reporting their findings to the conference.

Maggie Swarbrick, course leader at the University of Ulster, reported: “If the qualification is to be truly multimedia, the candidates need to be able to write for the radio.”

“Writing for print or writing for broadcast, it is like a child learning to speak in a bilingual family, the two languages are different but if they are taught to speak them together then it is much easier.”

Other areas of feedback reported included the need to include a specialist magazine journalism option and there was general support for assessing Ofcom regulation, ethics and code of conduct.

Richard Tait, head of journalism at Cardiff University, said his group supported the proposals but felt whatever platform journalists were working in they need a strong and in-depth knowledge of media law especially in court reporting.

He said: “The media industry is expecting us to produce students as ready as possible to take as much responsibility as possible from day one and media law is the lynchpin of that.”

Further consultation will take place with editors, tutors and trainers before the new structure is finalised. The qualification will be piloted across a cross-section of centres from September 2010.