Practical journalism ethics is most important change made by NCTJ says DC Thomson boss

Watch the panel discussion here, courtesy of Bournemouth University students Tom Bennett and Jasper Taylor:

The introduction of compulsory ethics training for student journalists is the most important change made by the NCTJ, Donald Martin, editor of The Sunday Post, told delegates at the NCTJ Journalism Skills Conference.

The panel, chaired by Karen Fowler-Watt of Bournemouth University, also including Ollie Joy, business journalist at CNN, and Sandra Laville, crime correspondent at The Guardian, and Andrew Wilson, head of the journalism foundation at the BBC, discussed the issues around training responsible professionals with an emphasis on the post-Leveson environment.

Donald, an NCTJ board member and chairman of the Journalism Qualifications Board, said the NCTJ had a responsibility to prove it's belief in the importance of ethics. Centres needed to provide students with a basis to recognise ethical issues and understand how their stories can impact peoples’ lives. Those trainees should then seek employers that offered continuing training and development as their careers progressed.

He was confident that the industry would have better journalists post-Leveson, a sentiment echoed by Andrew Wilson, who put it to the audience that Leveson was making the industry braver and more determined because of the need to articulate why journalists do what they do.

Sandra Laville spoke about how the Leveson Report had affected her work, giving the example that she was no longer allowed to have an off the record conversation with a police officer because it was “unethical”. She thought journalists had been “cowed” by recent events and stressed the importance having “irreverent voices” in journalism.

She added journalists should be able to hold power to account and “to give a voice to the voiceless”.  

Ollie Joy, business journalist for CNN and former BA journalism student at Bournemouth University, said it was important to be taught how to distinguish what was in the public interest and what was of the public interest, adding editors should also be willing to trust their trainees’ story choices.

He concluded: “Is journalism trade or profession? No it's a vocation, a calling - something you care about.”