NCTJ announces compulsory ethics module for diploma students

The NCTJ announced proposals for a new ethics module to be included in the Diploma in Journalism on the first day of the annual skills conference on Wednesday.

Introducing the first session of the conference in Nottingham, Joanne Butcher, NCTJ chief executive, said “swift action” was being taken at the same time as the Leveson Inquiry.

The format and assessment of the new module was debated during a Q&A session with: Chris Elliott, readers’ editor at The Guardian and chairman of the NCTJ’s accreditation board; David Rowell, Johnston Press head of editorial learning and development and member of the NCTJ Journalism Qualifications Board; and Amanda Ball, lecturer at Nottingham Trent University and NCTJ principal examiner.

Chris Elliott said it would be “crazy for the NCTJ not to take cognisance of what has happened around Leveson.” He added more structure as assessment to a national standard was required as, according to an independent report commissioned by the NCTJ, current teaching was: “Patchy, random and implicit.”

David Rowell talked delegates through the revised structure of the diploma, which will be introduced in 2013 and involve 20 guided learning hours, as well as integration in other modules. He said: “Ethics has to be at the heart of journalism training and the new diploma structure does put much greater emphasis on this”.

He added: “Every death knock journalists do and every picture they take has ethical considerations.”

Explaining the decision to restructure the module, which included a proposal for a “slimmed down” version of the essential public affairs module with the addition of a specialist political reporting module, Amanda Ball told delegates: “It wasn’t an option to do nothing.”

She said the new module, with an emphasis on achieving the NCTJ gold standard, would create a consistent approach to the teaching of ethics at all accredited centres.

The newest member of the NCTJ board and editor of the Derby Telegraph, Neil White, told delegates trainees needed to have the confidence to deal with ethical issues on a regular basis. “Every single day my guys go out and they have to make decisions when they are doing death knocks, when they are covering inquests, on just how far to push people.”

However some delegates questioned the effectiveness of an exam-based assessment to test students’ knowledge of ethics, as it would be “hard to write a model answer”.