Joanna Mills

Joanna Mills is editor of the BBC World Service Newsroom. She completed her prelims at Highbury College.

“It took me a while to find my first job in journalism - I found one eventually on a paper very close to home, in fact in the town where I'd done my A-levels at a local college.

“The paper sent me on the NCTJ course at Highbury College in Portsmouth - I ended up joining the Portsmouth Evening News a year or so later.

“I remember all of us on weekly papers being very envious of those who already worked on dailies - that was the big step we aspired to. In the meantime, it was back to being a student again with the courses on public administration, journalism and of course shorthand. I had the advantage here. I'd taught myself shorthand a couple of years earlier (Pitmans) and had used it when I worked in a lawyers' office in Paris for a year, so by the time I arrived at Highbury, I was quite fast - about 140 wpm. I think that was my peak - it's slowed down a lot since then. In fact, it turned out that the teacher who taught public administration and government was the twin brother of the lawyer I'd worked for in Paris. Small world.

“I remember using it all the time in local papers, particularly covering court and council meetings, when you needed to directly quote people. It was especially useful if they then challenged what you'd written. When I told them I'd taken a shorthand note of the interview or their comments, they often accepted that I had quoted them accurately - though that didn't always work.

“The NCTJ course was really useful in helping me decide in which direction I wanted to head. Some of the other trainees were obviously dead set on getting to Fleet Street (as it was then) and were already selling stories to the nationals - I wasn't sure I wanted a tabloid career. So after about a year on the Portsmouth News, I ended up applying to the BBC radio newsroom.

“I've been in radio ever since, with spells working in BBC Television. I moved to the World Service about seven years after I joined, on the basis that they always had decent stories even on a quiet Sunday in August! Since then I've found out that even the world can sometimes seem to go to sleep, not just the UK. I'm now the editor of the World Service Newsroom, which is a team of about 50 journalists working round the clock providing an hourly news bulletin for BBC World Service and our thousand or so partner radio stations around the world.

“I still remember the lessons of the NCTJ. The way we were taught to focus on a topline, especially when there were several possibilities. That's a crucial skill when you have to absorb lots of information about a complicated situation in, say, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and condense it into a 30 second news story explaining what's happened, and why it matters. I often remind my team that listeners have only one chance to hear the story, so if the journalist hasn't sorted out what the topline and the rest of the narrative is, the listener definitely won't understand it. 

“And even though we have a small team of lawyers at the BBC, and media law has got a lot more complicated in the age of Facebook, Twitter etc, I feel the NCTJ gave me a real grounding in contempt and defamation.

“As for the shorthand, I still use it occasionally, even though we're recording most of our interviews and editing them on the desktop. When I'm interviewing candidates for a job, I'll take a shorthand note of what they say - and hope that they don't come back to me three weeks later asking for specific feedback. Deciphering my shorthand several weeks later can be a bit of a challenge.”

October 2013