Phil McNulty

Phil McNulty is chief football writer for BBC Sport.

This blog is being written in the media centre of the Maracana in Rio three hours before the World Cup Final between Argentina and Germany – the NCTJ helped me get here.

My career in journalism effectively started on a one-year pre-entry NCTJ journalism course at Preston Polytechnic in 1980 and I am eternally grateful for it.

From there I started work at the St. Helens Reporter weekly paper for exactly three years before moving to the sadly-defunct Liverpool Daily Post, where I stayed for 10 years, working as reporter and assistant news editor for four years before becoming chief football writer in 1987.

After four years on TODAY national newspaper I returned to the Liverpool Echo as assistant sports editor before being appointed BBC Sport chief football writer in June 2000.

That is the path I have taken and it all started with that year of NCTJ training at Preston. It was effectively a newspaper journalism course and the industry is unrecognisable these days, but all the lessons learned under some wonderful tutors and lecturers at Livesey House still hold good today.

The basic principles such as accuracy, reliability and a professional and dedicated approach (with lots of laughs thrown in) were drummed into us, as well as the practical lessons. One lecturer, the old school and gentlemanly Clive Roylance, used to wave us off for an afternoon of “newspaper practice” in a cloud of pipe smoke with the words: “Don’t bring me excuses bring me stories – then bring me a pint.” Expletives deleted.

We were taught by time-served, experienced journalists who knew exactly what advice and guidance we needed but more importantly gave us the benefits of their practical experience in the industry. If I speak to students who are thinking of attending NCTJ courses I am probably encouraging to the point of being boring. I also tell them to listen to their lecturers because they have been there, seen it and done it.

One of my great memories of Preston was not only the fun and practical journalistic advice I received, it was the genuine excitement I felt about embarking on a journalistic career as the year went on – but always with the words of our course leaders pointing out there can be no short cuts. You had to be serious about the job or you would soon be found out. As you would be today.

There was the law advice that is so crucial – I can still picture my battered copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists – and someone I will always be indebted to was the wonderful shorthand lecturer Beryl Caunce.

With endless patience, Mrs Caunce got my shorthand speed up to 120 wpm and it is still the perfect aid to memory today. In the age of the dictaphone, any budding journalist should still learn shorthand and keep using it. Anything else would be removing a crucial tool from your list of journalist skills.

Use of language and knowledge of public affairs were also covered in detail and while journalism and journalists have moved with the times, so has the NCTJ.

If journalism students want the best training from journalists who have experienced all facets of the industry, I would always point them in the direction of an NCTJ course. They will get experts, expertise and if my experience is anything to go by, they will be provided with the perfect platform to start their career.

This is the fourth World Cup final I have covered, from Japan in 2002 to Brazil today. I have travelled all over the world and have some fabulous experiences to recall, as well as some not so fabulous experiences I must admit.

As I sit here now I am about to experience another special moment – and the part played by attending that NCTJ course back in Preston all those years ago cannot be underestimated. I may not be here without it.

July 2014