Trainee reporters not afraid to ask the tough questions post-Leveson, NCTJ ethics seminar told

Young reporters remain determined to tackle difficult stories and ask hard questions in the post-Leveson world of journalism, senior editors told an NCTJ conference on ethics training.

“Young reporters want to expose wrongdoing and hold people to account,” Kevin Ward, editor of the South Wales Argus, said at the approaches to journalism ethics event held on Thursday, 22 May at the Daily Mail’s London offices.

Kevin Duffy, who lectures at the University of Central Lancashire, told a panel of editors of his concern that “we are in danger of raising a generation of neutered journalists who are looking for permission to report”.

Donald Martin, of DC Thomson, replied that in his view “we are becoming better journalists”, working much harder than in the past to ensure reporting was accurate and balanced. Stories were judged from the perspective of the readers. “It’s not about what you can publish, but what it is right to publish in our market.”

Charlotte Dewar, director of complaints and pre-publication services at the Press Complaints Commission, underlined the importance of journalists being in touch with their readers. She said: “The ultimate form of self-regulation for newspapers is regulation by its readers telling them ‘we don’t want to buy your paper anymore because you have made us angry’.”

Neil White, editor of the Derby Telegraph, stressed the importance of ethical training for young journalists who might find themselves making decisions about stories to be published online soon after starting work in a newsroom. “They need to be good citizens to start with, and that is very important for our customers,” he told the audience of trainers and educators.

Last year, the NCTJ introduced a mandatory programme of study in practical journalism ethics for all students on accredited courses. Knowledge of journalism ethics is assessed in both the pre-entry Diploma in Journalism exams and the NQJ exams for senior journalists. Educators and trainers agreed the changes were working well, although there should be a greater proportion of marks allocated to the ethics question in the reporting examination.

For the NCTJ, vice chairman Brien Beharrell said: “It was clear that to do nothing, to change nothing, was no option at all if we were to maintain our credibility as a training organisation to the outside world.”

Lecturers teaching on courses in further and higher education and the independent sector discussed how they have adapted their courses. Ethics has been made more explicit in the curriculum and practical ethical dilemmas discussed on the course as well as with visiting speakers from the industry.  Roz McKenzie, head of journalism at Lambeth College, said young journalists on the pilot NCTJ journalism apprenticeship programmes were gaining “invaluable insights” from working in newsrooms. “They are learning a lot of their ethics on the job,” she said.