Brian Flynn

Brian Flynn is currently The Sun's investigations editor. After completing a one-year NCTJ pre-entry course in Cardiff in 1991, he began his career at the Western Gazette in Yeovil, Somerset. He also worked as a senior reporter for theBristol Evening Post and South West News Service before joining The Sun as a staff reporter in 1997. Other roles there since have also included night news editor and New York correspondent. His scoops have been recognised at award ceremonies and made headlines around the world. Here he explains how the NCTJ made it all possible:

"Quite simply, without the NCTJ I would not have enjoyed the hugely rewarding career that I have had so far. My work has been interesting, exciting and - very occasionally - a tad dangerous. I've flown to more than 30 countries around the world and met many interesting and inspiring people from US Presidents and pop stars to hero soldiers and rape survivors. But none of the incredible things I have seen and done as a newspaper reporter - whether it's been covering 9/11 in New York, reporting from warzones, exposing the world's most wanted World War II Nazi, or going undercover to catch an international baby-selling gang - would have been possible without the training that the NCTJ offered me. It's been my bedrock. My year-long pre-entry course at what was then Cardiff Institute in Colchester Avenue was not only one of the best times of my life, it also equipped me with the skills and confidence to walk into a newsroom knowing I belonged there and could flourish. What I loved about the training was that it was practical rather than simply theoretical, and based on what was needed to succeed as a journalist in real life. Along with the skills of composing a news report, we were taught the essentials of shorthand, law, and understanding the institutions that journalists must report on and grapple with on a daily basis at whatever level they work. That has underpinned my career from the moment I joined a weekly newspaper to the current day. It's only when you get out into the real world as a reporter that you appreciate the importance of this knowledge. Looking back, it's inconceivable I could have succeeded without it.

“No, I'm not going to pretend learning shorthand was fun and you wouldn't believe me if I did. Frankly, you'd have to have a very deep-seated masochistic urge indeed to enjoy spending hours bent over your notepad learning the outlines rather than down the student bar. But I promise you, the moment you sit in a crown court listening to a murder witness rattle off what they saw at 100 miles an hour, or get your first interviewee claiming you've misquoted them (and you will, no matter how accurate you are, because people say things they later regret and then try to wriggle out of it - just ask any politician!) you will be grateful for every second spent getting your shorthand speed up to 100 words per minute. There's nothing quite like the feeling of reassurance and relief when you're filing a page lead during the lunch break in a murder case and can't quite remember that brilliant soundbite the judge used as he sent down the killer, or you're challenged over an important quote by your news editor, and flick back to spot the crucial words among the mysterious hieroglyphics you've written in your notepad. Bingo! In fact, shorthand quickly becomes second nature. Nowadays, even my shopping lists are scrawled in Teeline shorthand. It's a skill no reporter should be without, even in these days of digital tape recorders. You try turning on your dictaphone at the Old Bailey. In fact, don't, unless you fancy swapping the press bench for the dock.

“Likewise, the law I learned with the NCTJ has been indispensable and started earning its keep the moment I headed out on my first job as a cub reporter. Libel or contempt, for instance, can end a career with one misplaced word or sentence. If you don't know what you're doing, you can blunder into a legal minefield without even realising it, especially on a local paper where there's no money for a lawyer to walk the newsroom day-to-day. And whether you're covering court for a local paper or arguing the toss with an in-house legal team on a national about whether your six-month investigation should be printed or not, knowing your law is critical. I've won newsroom arguments with trained lawyers using the legal knowhow from my NCTJ course. I've sent notes to magistrates respectfully asking for reporting restrictions to be lifted so that I can give more details about the case because I've suspected that they were unjustly or incorrectly applied. And my training in local and national government has given me a solid foundation whether I'm at a council planning meeting or trying to unravel details about suspect spending within a Government department. Government is like a car engine - if you don't know how it works, you can't expect to dive into the machinery and find the bits that aren't working properly.

“However, the NCTJ prepared me beyond the academic necessities. Rather than spending copious time in a lecture theatre theorising abstract concepts, I was taught how to find my own stories and write them up properly, and then sent out to tread the streets of Cardiff to practice what I'd learned. Journalism is a craft, and the NCTJ gives you the tools to succeed. I discovered and practiced how to follow a lead, how to persuade people to talk to me - whether it be on a doorstep or on the phone to a police press officer - how to conduct interviews, sources of information, how to check facts and how to turn the information I'd gleaned into readable, reliable stories. I was given practical advice on what do - and what not to do - by tutors and staff who were themselves experienced journalists who had been there, seen it and done it. There were certainly no ivory towers in our college! You trusted your tutors because you knew that they were speaking from (sometimes bitter) experience. I still remember all of them very fondly, especially my tutor Don Chambers. The NCTJ was the starting point on my hugely enjoyable journey as a journalist. Like taking the driving test, the learning continues once you've passed your exam and hit the road for real. But without the NCTJ, it is a road I would never have been able to travel. I remain immensely grateful to the NCTJ for transforming me from a schoolboy who dreamed of being a newspaper reporter into someone who can look in the mirror and see one staring back, albeit with a few more grey hairs. I've used my NCTJ training every day of my working life. And I know I'll be using it again tomorrow too.”

 

November 2012