Students told ‘find the story, find the job’

Getting the story, good writing, passion and shorthand are what you need to succeed. This was the message to student representatives at the fourth annual Student Council meeting that took place at Press Association in London last Friday.

The Student Council provides an opportunity for students from NCTJ-accredited courses to share their opinions, raise issues and to offer their suggestions about the training and qualifications. As well the chance to meet senior NCTJ staff, students were also able to participate in a question time debate with a panel of three high-profile industry representatives, who answered questions about careers in journalism, and listen to a talk from Mark Austin, ITV Newscaster.
 
The panel was chaired by NCTJ chairman Kim Fletcher, and made up of Brien Beharrell, editorial director at Newbury Weekly News Group, Andy Cairns, executive editor of Sky Sports News and Jonathan Grun, editor at Press Association.

The panel members were asked what attributes they look for in new journalists and all were unanimous that trainees need the basic journalistic skills more than anything else.

Jonathan Grun said that good writing skills were the most important factor as multimedia skills can be learned on the job while Andy Cairns also thought that good basic skills were easily transferable across media while technical abilities could be taught. Andy also said that 100wpm shorthand was essential to be a good journalist.

On a similar theme students also asked about transferring skills from one form of media to another.

Andy Cairns replied that despite being a broadcaster he prefers candidates to have worked on local newspapers as they have the ability to dig out great stories, and pointed out that “without a story, there is nothing.”

Brien said that reporters now have to work in both print and online meaning they have to be able to construct shorter stories and update news quicker than before. However the basic skills remain the same and can be transferred from one media to another.

Asked about opportunities for ethnic minorities, Andy Cairns said that there was no barrier to anyone although he only receives a small proportion of applications from working-class trainees. Brien also said that she only selects applicants on the basis of talent and passion for the job, so everyone has the same opportunities.

The students asked if the panel thought the ruling on Twitter in courtrooms would change reporting at all. They all thought that it would have little or no affect: Jonathan said that all journalists have to understand the law and know how to behave, so won’t suddenly be tweeting live news while Brien commented that a good shorthand note provides journalists with legal coverage, so they will still need it.

The panel agreed that the most important skill for young journalists is the ability to find a story and then tell it in an engaging and informative way. If journalists have the basic skills, they are ready to work across any media.

Also at this year’s meeting students were updated on the actions taken by the NCTJ since last year, including introducing a student log-in area and other developments to the website, the Journalism Diversity Fund, and the new Diploma in Journalism.

Students were able to quiz NCTJ managers about a number of issues, many of which related to concerns about their exams.  There were requests for more feedback about exam results and more information to be available online such as programmes of study. In addition there were requests for sample exam papers to be available for free and for more information on careers and recruitment.

Students were also asked to say what they liked about the NCTJ and to suggest improvements that could be made in the future.  The representatives who presented these suggestions will take them to the NCTJ board meeting in June.

2011 Student Council representatives are listed here.