Print journalism

To convince an editor you have the skills needed to work effectively as a reporter you will need to be able to demonstrate an interest in current affairs, ability to write quickly and accurately, a hard-working attitude and, most importantly, determination and persistence.

There are two main routes into the newspaper journalism industry – direct entry or pre-entry via university, college or commercial course provider.

Route one - pre-entry via college, university or commercial course

The majority of trainees are now recruited into the industry after attending full-time vocational training courses for both post A-level students and graduates. NCTJ-accredited courses are held at colleges, universities and commercial course providers. Some of these courses are for graduates only; others require five GCSEs including English and two A-levels. This route is known as pre-entry. 

What will I study on an NCTJ-accredited course?

Training courses lead to a variety of qualifications. All NCTJ-accredited courses cover those aspects of media law, public affairs and news writing necessary to enable a journalist to perform competently by the end of the training period. As well as demonstrating competence in these and other practical areas, trainees are expected to achieve 100wpm shorthand. If you have attended a full-time journalism course before obtaining employment, you will probably enter into an 18-month training contract - the first three months is likely to be a probationary period. At the end of the 18-month period you will be expected to sit the NCTJ’s senior qualification, the National Qualification in Journalism (NQJ).

Route two - direct entry

Trainee reporters are sometimes recruited directly by regional or local newspapers and carry out NCTJ preliminary training under the terms of a training contract. There are also those who may have secured employment with a newspaper group which runs its own training scheme. Although this route is still available with some newspaper groups it is getting rarer all the time. To find out if a newspaper group has a direct entry scheme contact the editor of the newspaper.

Qualifications

The entry requirement for reporters is a minimum of five GCSE passes (grades A-C) or equivalent - one of these must be in English. However, in recent years it has become rare for a trainee to come into the industry at this level. The majority of new entrants to journalism are graduates. There are exceptions, but they are rare.

Case study: top tips on newspaper journalism
Newspaper editor Darren Isted shares his top tips on how to succeed in newspaper journalism.
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Darren has been editor of The Comet series since 2002 and editor of the Royston Crow since 2008. After studying International Relations at Keele University he joined The Comet as a junior reporter in 1988. Qualifying as senior reporter following a fast-track NCTJ course at Darlington College, he went on to take a sports editor role at the Herald and Observer series in Bedford and Milton Keynes before returning to The Comet series in North Herts and Mid Beds in 1998 where he has held every role except that of photographer! The Comet is a free weekly paper distributed to 90,000 homes with a readership of 150,000. It has a staff of 11.

Hints and tips

Darren said he would only recruit NCTJ qualified people, aspiring journalists need to back up their enthusiasm with qualifications as there’s a lot of competition out there. He said working on a weekly newspaper is almost like working on a daily now because of the requirement for updated material on the newspaper’s website. Video, audio, interviews etc need to be up-to-the-minute.

A large number of different jobs stem from the basic journalism training that can be gained on a regional weekly newspaper – sports commentator (John Motson e.g.) chat show host (Michael Parkinson e.g.).

When recruiting, Darren looks for:

  • NCTJ pre-entry qualifications, and 9/10 times recruit with these qualifications
  • Good work experience background. Shows someone who has acted on what they’re saying
  • If someone is on work experience on his paper, looks for a person who gets stuck in answering the phones
  • Although there aren’t any particular A Levels or degree subjects he would look for, Darren said that English is good to see on an application.