Gemma Greenwood is Director of Content Inc. a UK-based content agency she established with her husband, Aaron Greenwood, when they returned from a nine-year stint working as editors in Dubai.
Gemma, whose media career spans almost 20 years, has worked across three continents (Europe, the Middle East and Asia) in a number of diverse roles, from newspaper and magazine journalism to PR, conference producing and custom publishing.
In her current role, Gemma produces bespoke publications, manages content and PR for a number of high-profile clients in the travel, tourism and real estate sectors, and also runs media and crisis communications training courses globally.
She completed her NCTJ post-graduate qualification at Harlow College in 1997 and her first proper journalism role was as a junior reporter on the Harlow Citizen.
My original plan was to be a TV presenter and one of my earliest ‘jobs’ was as a warm-up contestant for Bruce Forsyth on Play Your Cards Right – anything to get a ‘foot in the door’. I also temped as a secretary for producers and commissioning editors at Channel 5 in a bid to side-step into a TV researcher gig (which seemed more realistic), but after chatting to insiders, I was advised to get a journalism role and work my way up from there.
I approached the local newspaper and given my enthusiasm, the editor gave me a two-week trial. I was hooked. They promised to give me a junior reporter role on a sister title (the Harlow Citizen funnily enough) if I passed my NCTJ qualification. I can honestly say it was the best move I could’ve made.
NCTJ sets standards that are universally well regarded. The post-graduate course is intense, but provides you with an invaluable skillset that will set you in good stead throughout your career.
From how to structure a news story to the compulsory 100-words-a-minute shorthand, the course provides students with vital skills that I believe should always remain an industry benchmark. To this very day, I will employ an NCTJ-trained journalist before any other, because I know they will get the basics right.
Don’t believe for one minute that every ‘journalist’ can write a news story – they can’t. When I worked in the Middle East I was forced to run my own training sessions for new recruits and I adopted the ‘NCTJ way’. Only by imparting this knowledge could I get the results I needed from my team of reporters and editors.
When I worked in the newspaper industry, skills such as shorthand and media law etc, were a must and everyone possessed them. Not so in the magazine sector where more often than not, I was the only journalist or editor to use shorthand or have any idea about what you could and could not publish.
While others listened to hours of recorded conversations on their Dictaphones, I’d bashed out my copy, posted it online, and moved on. It gave me an edge over the competition – and it still does to this very day.
My career has spanned many different roles, but in each I have used my NCTJ-honed skills. In this respect, my advice would be that your NCTJ training can take you anywhere because it sets you apart from the rest.
Whether you forge a career in newspaper or broadcast journalism, or explore opportunities in magazines, PR or other content-related roles, your NCTJ training will be applied every step of the way and your employers will notice.
I’d also advise starting out on a local newspaper because what you learn on your NCTJ course will be applied and developed and if you’re lucky to get an NCTJ-trained editor (like I did), you will flourish.
I have very fond memories of my time at Harlow College. The staff were passionate about their subjects and their standards were high.
When I’m asked by friends or colleagues for advice on what steps their ‘friend, niece, son’ etc should take to become a journalist, I always recommend taking the NCTJ route. In my book it’s simply a must.