So you want to be a journalist?

Journalism is an exciting and challenging career. No one day is the same as the next. Journalists know the news before anyone else and they have reports filmed and stories written before most people are even aware of the event.

Journalists have to be confident. They have to be ready to knock on doors and talk to strangers in the street. They must be inquisitive and they have to be ready to get the most out of their working day. Do you know the one question you would ask the prime minister at a moment’s notice? Ask any journalist and they will tell you five.

Journalism is fast changing and full of opportunity. New technology and new publishing platforms mean more people read news reports than ever before, and those reports are sourced, written and broadcast at faster speed than ever before. Once magazines and newspapers had daily, weekly and monthly deadlines; now every moment is a deadline for publishing on the web. Once photographers had to deliver film and develop pictures; now pictures are taken, viewed on laptops and sent to picture editors within minutes.

The pace of journalism has accelerated, and all journalists want to scoop the competition and be the first to break a story. Accuracy at all times is the journalist’s mantra. If you spell a name wrong, print a different charge, or even take down an incorrect quote, it could lead to serious legal trouble.

Learning how to take a good shorthand note will instil discipline and ensure accuracy in a fast-moving environment. Knowing the workings of government and public services will help you report the communities you serve as a professional journalist.

All journalists need to know how to work across all publishing platforms, in print, online and broadcast. In the course of one day a multimedia journalist can be expected to write a blog, film a short video piece for web publication and file an in-depth, 500-word report for print with an appropriate image.

You have to be versatile. Flexibility is core to the life of a journalist. The news waits for no one and many big stories break in the middle of the night. If a big story breaks at 4.55pm, nobody is going home at 5pm. Journalists need to be fast, flexible, accurate and confident working in all publishing platforms.

Careers in journalism

Trainee usually start a career in a news organisation, which could be a small newspaper, niche magazine or tiny cable channel, a large regional daily, top consumer title or the BBC. In very rare cases some reporters and photographers are given trainee jobs straight from school or university. This usually only happens after that person has proven themselves to an editor time and time again, producing content for love and little money.

Hiring editors need trainees who can hit the ground running and produce quality news content immediately. If you can't get one of the prized traineeships, the best way to gain the multimedia skills to succeed is on an NCTJ-accredited course or apprenticeship. Training gives able people a short cut. It saves them time by teaching them the basics of journalism quickly, accurately and effectively. It means they don’t need to learn by trial and error. They can get it right first time.

The NCTJ is the standard for journalism training. Through its examinations and the courses that carry its accreditation, it equips aspiring journalists to find their first job, and helps working journalists to progress to the next rung up the ladder. An NCTJ qualification will give you a solid grounding in all the essential skills. Editors and industry professionals have direct input into NCTJ syllabuses and examinations. That is why they are trusted. With an NCTJ certificate on your CV, an editor knows you have grasped the basics.