Olivia Heath, student journalist at Brunel University and a bursary recipient of the Journalism Diversity Fund, reports on the NCTJ Student Council meeting at MediaCityUK
The NCTJ’s annual Student Council forum at the University of Salford in the heart of MediaCity kicked off on Friday with a few words from the NCTJ chief executive, Joanne Butcher.
She addressed the student council representatives with an introduction detailing the agenda and role of the NCTJ, which celebrated 60 years in journalism last year.
“We want students to be at the heart of our decision making process,” she said. “You are the industry’s future journalists and it is important you have a voice in our strategy and operations.”
Following Joanne’s opening statement, Angela Birchall, director of journalism and communication at Salford University, gave some encouraging words and said she was sure the NCTJ would listen to students’ views and take action.
Sports journalism awards
The proceedings began with the sports journalism awards. Presented by BBC Radio 5 Live’s Peter Allen, the awards are sponsored by The Football League to recognise the best performing sports journalism students.
The winners were Marcus Chippindale who is now features writer at Police Professional, Will Wainewright who works as a financial journalist at HFMWeek and Chris Baldwin who is working for Ticketmaster on their Olympics project.
The three finalists, who all studied at News Associates, will get the chance to write match reports on the Championship play-offs at Wembley in May for The Football League’s website.
Peter Allen’s presentation
Peter Allen, co-presenter of Drive on BBC Radio 5 Live addressed the student council with a witty and good-humoured talk.
With 40 years of experience in journalism, Peter has supreme knowledge of news and current affairs and was quick to share his expertise with the student representatives.
“Journalism should be fun. That’s the whole point,” said Peter who completed his NCTJ training with the Southend Standard and West Ham College.
He described his route into journalism from joining a local newspaper; to progressing onto nationals, moving to Australia and getting a foot in the door at commercial radio station LBC.
In a refreshing presentation full of anecdotes and advice for tomorrow’s journalists, Peter, who was recently inducted into the Radio Academy Hall of Fame, gave tips on how to impress at the interview stage.
“Make them smile, sit up and remember you,” he said.
Having worked as Westminster’s political correspondent for LBC and ITN, he described his trials and errors reporting on the job.
But he listed key moments that made his job “the best of the lot” including Hosni Mubarak stepping down as the president of Egypt, the Iraq war and the Beijing Olympics.
Peter took questions from students on a range of topics including employment, work experience, newspaper decline, advertising and technology before heading back to the BBC offices.
But he left the room with some final words, “Grab it, do it and move on.”
NCTJ Q & A
The Q&A session was crucial to gain feedback on the NCTJ course accrediation and qualifications.
Chaired by Joanne Butcher, chief executive of NCTJ, the discussion was soon in full swing with a host of issues raised by student representatives on behalf of their peers.
The panel included Amanda Ball, principal examiner, Shevon Houston, events and website manager Lyn Jones, head of qualifications, and Helen Tindle, head of examinations.
Issues addressed involved the wording of questions in media law exams, the number of shorthand exams available, core module content and discussion about the NCTJ online student portal.
This was followed by an in-depth group feedback session where student representatives dispersed into groups based on undergraduate, postgraduate, private and college courses.
They discussed what was good about the NCTJ, what needed improvement, and what needs to change in the future. Joanne Butcher said that the student presenters on the day would be invited to attend the Council’s June board meeting.
Meet the editors
The editor’s panel chaired by Chris Elliott, readers’ editor at the Guardian, was an invaluable opportunity to talk to editors about what they look for in potential employees.
The panel included Lynn Ashwell, deputy editor of the Bolton news, Eamonn O’Neal, managing editor at MEN Media and Michelle Mayman, TV editor at BBC North West Tonight.
The session was full of questions from the student council keen to know how to make their first step on the ladder to a successful journalism career.
“You’re going to have a very tough economic five years,” said Chris, who has been a journalist for 40 years and is also the NCTJ director and chairman of the NCTJ accreditation board.
“A very tough, although exciting five years in journalism,” he added.
Passing shorthand at 100 words per minute was a popular topic where students questioned how applicable it was to the newsroom today.
“It’s so important you get your shorthand while you’re at university or college,” said Lynn who carries out a lot of work for the NCTJ in setting exams, marking and moderating portfolios.
“We don’t even consider anyone unless they are all NCTJ clued up,” added Eamonn.
Chris highlighted how data journalism is an area of expansion and Lynn discussed how business journalism too is a major growth area. Michelle agreed: “The economy is the single biggest story of the moment which affects all our lives”.
The panel spent time discussing the qualities they look for when a candidate applies for a job.
Determination, enthusiasm for news, having a depth of knowledge and being curious were among the top qualities alongside showing real application and commitment to the job they are applying for.
The discussion moved onto work experience with students eager to find out how many work placements and internships they should carry out to impress editors. The agreed view was that quality was more important than quantity.
The final topic was about CVs, application forms and covering letters and the panel agreed that they are looking for CVs that show some personality.
Michelle told students to follow instructions on application forms carefully while Eamonn said: “It’s about how you write the letter as well as what you put in.”
Chris concluded, “Be yourself, but not too much.”
By Olivia Heath, Brunel University student representative
Photographs taken by Laura Garcia Rodriguez Blancas, University of Kent student representative