Picture: Ewan Palmer, University of Sunderland, Kyle Sinclair, Robert Gordon University, Malcolm Vickers, NCTJ board member and group director of human resources for Johnston Press, Peter Davidson, University of Ulster, George Thorpe, Lambeth College, and Joanne Butcher, NCTJ chief executive.
The NCTJ’s excellent industry reputation, its exacting and sometimes harsh marking standards and the need to embrace all routes into journalism were among the topics student representatives discussed with the charity’s directors at their board meeting.
Kyle Sinclair, a student at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, George Thorpe, of Lambeth College, Peter Davidson of the University of Ulster and Ewan Palmer of the University of Sunderland were invited to join the NCTJ directors at their quarterly board meeting on 3 June at the Guardian.
The four students were invited by chairman, Kim Fletcher, to present their views to the NCTJ directors on behalf of the 41 student representatives who attended the Student Council 2010 in February. The Student Council meets once a year to discuss NCTJ-accredited training and qualifications to ensure that students have a voice and are involved in decision-making.
Kyle Sinclair, a student on the MSc journalism course at Robert Gordon University, called for more clarity about what level of legal knowledge students are expected to learn to achieve NCTJ qualifications. Kyle said he felt the exam required him to memorise and quote from legislation which he felt was not necessary for a working journalist.
Brien Beharrel, NCTJ vice-chairman and editorial director of the Newbury Weekly News Group, said: “I would hope our journalists would have sufficient knowledge of law to stand up in court and challenge an erroneous order. You have to be quick and on your feet and if you don’t have the confidence to do that, you have lost the moment.”
The students valued the NCTJ’s reputation and standing among editors in all media, a point which was reinforced by George Thorpe, a foundation degree student at Lambeth College.
George said: “Editors know what you have to do to get an NCTJ qualification; people know what you can or can’t do.”
George said he appreciated the chance to speak with editors and would like to see more editors’ panels organised for students around the country.
He also praised NCTJ staff. He said: “NCTJ staff do a really good job, they are always approachable, ready to help and open to feedback. What other examining body invites you to speak to their board and which other chief executive would shake your hand and congratulate you on passing 100wpm shorthand?”
Peter Davidson, a student on the MA journalism course at University of Ulster, said he felt shorthand was geared too much toward speed development and the public affairs syllabus needed updating.
He also said that marking for NCTJ exams was much harsher than for the university’s academic exams and too many marks were deducted and work heavily penalised.
Peter added: “Journalism is changing so much, moving much more toward the internet. If there could be some way of implementing a top-up service focussing on web skills, just to help students and journalists on their way that would be a help.”
The trend toward diversification of journalism and fragmentation of the media was echoed by Ewan Palmer, a student on the BA magazine journalism course at the University of Sunderland.
Ewan said: “People keep saying there are more journalists than there are jobs and a lot more people are trying to find alternative routes into journalism. The NCTJ should be more aware of the different routes and promote them.”
In response, Donald Martin, chairman of the journalism qualifications board, said many of the students concerns had been addressed by the introduction of the Diploma in Journalism, a new NCTJ qualification which will cover all the essential core skills as well as allowing students to specialise in particular areas of journalism.
Donald said: “The NCTJ is aware of the need to change regularly, as shown by the introduction of the Diploma in Journalism which has been developed after more than 18 months of hard work.”