Mick Dennis is the Daily Express football correspondent. He attended the NCTJ’s full-year, pre-entry course at Harlow from 1970-71.
In a career that spans over 40 years, Mick has written about football for five national newspapers and held executive positions on the Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard.
He currently has a regular spot on Sky Sports News as well as contributing to BBC 5 Live and other broadcasting outlets.
“After the first term of my year-long NCTJ course at Harlow, I received an assessment of my progress.
“It said: ‘Mick shows all the signs of being a good reporter. He digs well for facts but his writing style is rather insensitive. He will respond to greater demands made of him. In the end of term journalism examinations he gained an overall credit (72%).’
“I can’t remember why I dropped 28 marks. Looking at the pictures from those long-ago days it might have been my haircut.
“I did rather better in the exam on Newspaper Law. And of the many aspects of the formal NCTJ training which have stood me in good stead, the understanding of defamation, drummed into me at Harlow, has been the most valuable – literally, because it has saved employers from expensive libel cases several times, I reckon.
“The NCTJ course at Harlow gave direction to my entire life. I didn’t have a job to go to when I started, but the course equipped me well enough to land one: on the Eastern Daily Press. A course tutor told me of the vacancy. The fact that I was editor of the course newspaper swung the interview.
“It was at the EDP that, a few years later, I met the (younger) Harlow graduate who is now my wife and the mother of our two sons. And it was at the EDP, after courts and councils and then learning sub-editing, that I moved into sports reporting.
“What else do I treasure from the Harlow days? One strong friendship, forged in the course football team and the Painted Lady pub, has seen two blokes remain mates down the decades. Steve Hardy is ITV’s Cornwall correspondent.
“I can still do shorthand when the need arises and the basics of writing – grabbing the attention with the intro, telling the story with a logical flow, getting facts right – have remained in my mind. The lessons learned at Harlow helped whether I was writing for The Sun or the Daily Telegraph; whether I was producing a pithy short or, as I have done in latter years, composing stridently opinionated columns.
“So that ‘rather insensitive’ writing style didn’t hold me back. Perhaps I was prodded by that remark to be less callous.
“There is one other, similar document which I have kept alongside the assessment from Harlow. It is my school report from the first year of my A-Levels. The geography teacher wrote: ‘Dennis’s essays read like cheap journalese.’
“He didn’t mean it as a compliment, obviously, but I was thrilled because I’d already set my heart on being a newspaper man. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the ‘cheap’ bit, but hey ho!”