Mark Fox is currently chief executive of the Business Services Association. He studied his NCTJ qualification in 1992/1993.
My training at Harlow College was invaluable. Getting the basics in law, how to write, what to do and so on is fundamental to a career as a professional journalist. So too is a clear sense of right and wrong. What is and is not ethical. Really fine journalists also have a huge sense of integrity.
I started by doing shifts on various newspapers whilst having other jobs. I did six years as a political journalist first with the Sunday Express and then the Mail on Sunday. It was exciting and a huge privilege to be working at the centre of political life. During the 2001 general election I spent time on both Tony Blair’s and William Hague’s campaigns. It was a real insight into how they both operated.
In my journalistic career I was very lucky to work with some of the finest political journalists of our time. Watching, listening, learning by working closely with a senior professional is a really useful way to master the necessary skills. How to write a page one, or order a diary column, or the difference between a page two and page five lead, are all judgements made with the benefit of experience. This you can only gain over time.
I helped co-found the magazine Total Politics and wrote a column in it for a while. I also write features and columns for various magazines from time-to-time, for fun, including the political website Conservative Home.
Over the years I have interviewed many leading political figures, including William Hague and John Major. They are always interesting to meet and to listen to. On the Sunday Express I suggested we interview Gerry Adams. This was not a fashionable thing to do at the time and it was slightly controversial to suggest it – his voice was still banned from being heard on the broadcast media. I went over to Northern Ireland and interviewed him on the first working day of the new legislative assembly.
Being in the ‘lobby’ during the years New Labour and Alistair Campbell were in their full pomp was certainly an experience.
I moved out of the lobby to become a communications person in business and for the last five years have been chief executive of the Business Services Association. Many of the skills of writing, gathering information, accuracy and ordering information have been of enduring value throughout my career. Also the basic understanding of the law in the era of tweeting and blogging has also been incredibly useful.
Many people want to be a journalist and think that by putting their thoughts and comments out in a tweet or blog that it’s journalism. It isn’t. There is a vital role for people who seek the truth and do so honestly and with integrity. That’s what I learnt with the NCTJ.