Laura Brown is a senior feature writer for Take a Break (the UK’s biggest selling women’s magazine).
Laura completed a BA degree in Journalism at Dublin City University in 2005 before gaining the NCTJ qualification through distance learning. She began her journalism career as a reporter for the Brentwood Gazette and has worked in a freelance capacity for the Sunday Express and The Mirror. Laura began working at Take a Break in 2010.
“After completing a journalism degree in Ireland, when I moved to England all the jobs specified that they were looking for someone with NCTJ qualifications. My degree had taken four years so by that stage I was ready to work and didn't want to be studying full time for another year. There was also my financial situation to consider: I simply couldn't afford paying for the course and not earning so I decided to get a job in PR and marketing and study for the NCTJ alongside it.
“Doing the NCTJ through distance learning is tough. It was a lot of working and studying at the same time and took up most evenings and weekends, but it meant that when I started looking for work again I had all the necessary qualifications and (although it was in another field) good work experience behind me so I got offered the first two journalism jobs I interviewed for.
“The area of the NCTJ that has proved most valuable for me is the law training. Take a Break is a true life magazine so there is great potential for legal issues if stories aren’t handled with great care and attention to detail.
“It’s important to be able to spot any potential legal issues immediately to avoid time wasting if the story has to be pulled later down the line.
“Our stories are of a very sensitive nature covering everything from sexual abuse, rape, murder and issues involving children, family courts and social services to love rats and issues of privacy. Accuracy and knowing what you can and can’t publish is essential. Everything must be backed up should any potential legal issues arise. These are all things you learn through doing the NCTJ course.
“Shorthand was my biggest battle. While recording devices can be used it’s always good to have a shorthand note as back up too and it’s handy for jotting down a quick quote should someone return a call when you might not have a dictaphone to hand.
“Other essential skills I learned in my time as a local reporter were how to spot the line in a story. This is essential for anyone pitching on a freelance basis but is important in my role at Take a Break when we have countless people contacting us with their stories everyday. Sometimes the gem and line of the story can be hiding in a five page essay of useless information.
“I also learned how to speak with and reassure people who might initially be unwilling to share their story, and get them on side so they come directly to the magazine rather than through an agency.
“My advice to anyone doing the NCTJ is to try and get as much experience alongside it as possible. Not only is it good for the CV but it will help you to establish which area of journalism you might be best suited to.”