Leading editors urge students to aim for 100 wpm shorthand at 2018 Student Council

An audience of 45 journalism student representatives from NCTJ-accredited course providers were in attendance at the 2018 student council gathering, held on Friday, 2 February at BBC Academy in Birmingham.

The event was opened by NCTJ chairman Kim Fletcher, who told students: “The world of media has recently changed beyond recognition. There is so much information available that there’s a premium on what we can actually trust. There is a greater need than ever for journalism that has objectivity and trust engrained in it.”

He discussed recent investigative journalism stories in the news, adding: “While the mode of delivery has changed, journalism certainly hasn’t, and the excitement involved is still very much there.”

Rob Alcock, head of training at BBC Academy, also welcomed students to the Mailbox in Birmingham, where they have been based for 12 years. He said: “Of all our partnerships, we particularly value the relationship we have with the NCTJ, whose exacting standards are something we are very passionate about.”

The student representatives participated in a Q&A with senior NCTJ staff. NCTJ chief executive Joanne Butcher chaired the panel, with Amanda Ball, chief examiner; Lyn Jones, head of qualifications and Rachel Manby, head of quality and assessment.

The panel answered questions and listened to feedback from students on a variety of topics, including shorthand, exam structures, reasonable adjustments and the online exam platform, Cirrus.

Students then got into groups and discussed what they feel the NCTJ does well and where it could improve. The students all agreed that the NCTJ is great for preparing them for employment, with exams reflecting real-life scenarios. Students said they would like more digital training and more detailed guidance to prepare them for exams.

They also discussed reporting disasters and terrorism training. Each student who presented said they would welcome in-depth training on what to do in difficult situations, as well as how to deal with difficult situations emotionally.

Joanne Butcher said: “While others run away from terrorism, journalists run towards it. We want to ensure that you are prepared properly to deal with difficult situations.”

Those who presented their feedback to the room were invited to attend a main board meeting later in the year.

Thanking the students for their feedback, Joanne added: “Your voice really is at the heart of how the NCTJ runs. The industry is going through a revolution at the moment, so it’s important that we are open to change.”

Shorthand was a popular topic on the Meet the Editors panel, which was chaired by Laura Adams, editorial director of Archant London, Herts and Cambs. She told students: “Shorthand is really important and it’s such a drag if you go into a job without it and then have to put the extra work in”.

Laura was joined by Naomi Bishop, assistant editor, BBC Midlands Today; Mark McGregor, assistant editor, BBC Online; Abbie Scott, deputy managing editor, Financial Times and Martin Wright, editor, Shropshire Star.

Martin Wright echoed Laura’s comments, saying: “Please get 100 wpm shorthand. It is so, so important and any editor will ask you about it.”

The panel answered a wide range of questions from students, covering topics such as gender balance in newsrooms, reporting sensitive subjects and what editors look for when recruiting.

Martin Wright said: “As well as shorthand and an NCTJ diploma, make sure you read your covering letter properly, check for mistakes and don’t drone.”

Abbie Scott agreed, urging students to be creative with their applications: “Don’t be boring, try and inject your personality into it.”

Naomi Bishop added: “I’m interested in all the other things you’ve done, such as student newspapers. We want to see people who have gone the extra mile.

“Go above and beyond your studies to get to where you want to be.”

The panel were also asked about the survival of local news in an evolving media landscape, to which Martin Wright said: “Our audience is growing, which means there’s still an interest in local news. Increasingly, our top stories are real local news, which gives me great confidence in our industry.”

Laura Adams said: “It has been a challenging few years, but still there is a great affection for our local papers. While people’s habits are changing, we need to make sure we are reaching them in the right way.”