Surge in NCE candidate numbers

The number of trainee reporters who sat the NCTJ’s National Certificate Examination in March 2009 was the highest in two years.

The chief examiner said in his report: “With the newspaper industry still firmly in the grip of the recession, it was pleasing to see this surge in the numbers taking the exam and gaining the industry-standard qualification. Hopefully, it will stand them in good stead at this difficult time.”

A total of 242 candidates attended the exam day, On March 6, across 18 centres. The senior journalism qualification was awarded to 114 of them who were successful in all four areas: news interview; news report; newspaper practice and logbook.

The 49 per cent pass rate is on a par with the previous sitting last autumn.

The chief examiner said that a downturn in numbers would now be expected owing to recruitment freezes and redundancies.

The pass rate for the news interview exam was 66 per cent – 132 of the 200 who sat the exam. The test centred around a suspected arson attack which destroyed specialist boating equipment used by disabled and terminally ill children.

The aim was, as always, for candidates to conduct a face-to-face interview and elicit enough information to write a vigorous and well-balanced story.

The senior examiner specialising in the news interview said: “The best stories included key angles in the intro and used language that drew a vivid picture in the minds of the readers.

“Those who did not pass should take note of the skills needed by a reporter in a multi-media newsroom. Publishers quite rightly have a focus on changing technology but core journalistic skills must not be forgotten. It does not matter what platform is being used to tell a story, the basics must still be there. Reporters must take more than a superficial interest in a story. In today’s crowded market where there are so many news outlets, it is important to get the best story, the story that will make your publication stand out and be the first that readers will trust.

“The exam is, of course, all about the art of interviewing – a key skill needed by any journalist using any platform.”

In the news report exam, 114 of 214 candidates were successful – a pass rate of 53
per cent.

Information about an archaeological dig and its findings were given to candidates in a press conference setting.

The senior examiner said about a third of the candidates tackled the story well, painting a clear picture of the results of the archaeological dig and its findings and presenting the information in a professional newsy way for their newspaper’s website.

Markers were, however, disappointed to encounter ‘inexcusable’ mistakes in copying information from the briefing notes – names were changed and there were mistakes in calculating dates.

Tips from the examiner for this paper are:

• Brush up on shorthand speed
• Listen to the content of the speech as well as taking down selective notes,
• Allow time to read the finished story to ensure it makes sense.
• Double-check figures and details.

The pass rate for the newspaper practice exam was 71 per cent – 144 of 203 candidates.

Performances on this paper were generally good, the chief examiner reported.

“Generally, candidates who failed the paper will have done so because of an error which, if repeated in reality, would cost their employer money and/or involve publishing a correction.”

These included a failure to understand what qualified privilege protects and what qualities a report needs to have to enjoy this defence; and a failure to spot the dangers of contempt of court.

The logbook pass rate was 96 per cent – 149 of 155 candidates being successful.

The vast majority of logbooks reached the required standard, and the candidates responsible are to be congratulated.

Those who failed, did so owing to poor presentation. “Presentation was a key area of concern and it is the easiest to get right,” said the senior examiner for logbooks.