To mark the 15th anniversary of the Journalism Diversity Fund, we will be sharing the stories of past bursary recipients throughout the year.
We spoke with April Roach, who studied for her diploma at PA training in 2017, gained her NQJ at the Romford Recorder in 2019, and is soon starting as a digital reporter at the Evening Standard.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a journalist?
I first decided I wanted to be a journalist after joining The Boar, Warwick University's student newspaper. I enjoyed telling stories and meeting people from all different parts of the university.
While at university I did some work experience at the local paper, the Leamington Courier and PA Media. These experiences really confirmed my interest in a career in journalism.
But before university I’d always enjoyed writing and in Year 6 at primary school I put together a monthly class newspaper with a friend. It was mostly full of puzzles, games and rewritten stories from the BBC, but little did I know it would be my first step into a career of writing.
Did you have any particular journalistic heroes?
There are many journos I've come to admire over the years. Recently I've been reading Sue Lloyd-Roberts' book, The War on Women and learning about her incredible career reporting in countries across the world for the BBC and ITV. I think she's an amazing writer.
What led you to decide to do an NCTJ diploma? Did you worry from the outset about the financial burden?
I decided to do an NCTJ because I saw how students from my university newspaper had benefited from the course.
I quizzed them about what to expect and whether it had helped them get jobs after the course. After doing a lot of research I decided that this was the best way for me to get qualified and secure a journalism job.
I knew from the outset that paying for the course might be difficult as my family don't live in the UK and managing London rent, bills and paying for the course was going to be tricky.
How did you hear about the Journalism Diversity Fund?
I heard about the Journalism Diversity Fund from a student at my university. I looked into the fund and knew instantly that it was something I wanted to apply for.
Having the fund would mean I wouldn't have to delay applying for the NCTJ course by working in another industry to save money.
Where did you study for the diploma and what did you enjoy about the course?
I studied for the diploma at PA Training. I did the four month fast-track course which was pretty challenging as you have to learn a lot of new things in a short period of time. At the same time, I think the fast-track course helps you learn shorthand faster because it means you're completely immersed in learning the new skill.
I did find the volume of new information we had to learn for public affairs and media law quite challenging, but it did help that we had a good teacher who always encouraged us to apply the law and topics in public affairs to current high-profile cases and stories in the media.
I can also confirm that everything we learnt in those classes I now use every day in my job when covering court and council meetings.
And how about your experience of dealing with the NCTJ and the JDF?
Overall I had a great experience of the NCTJ and the JDF. From the outset, the JDF was able to help with advice about getting work experience while studying for my diploma and offered networking opportunities with experienced journos.
Having the JDF bursary meant I was able to devote most of my time to my studies and I definitely wouldn't be where I am now in my career if it wasn't for the fund.
In the years since you received your bursary, the JDF has introduced a mentorship scheme – pairing new recipients with journalists from sponsoring organisations. How important is personal support from people with experience of the business when you are trying to make journalism your career?
I think personal support is extremely important when trying to make a career in journalism. I really valued the conversation and advice I received from experienced journalists at events organised by the JDF when I was studying for my diploma.
There are so many ways into journalism and so many different types of journalists out there that it can sometimes be confusing when trying to decide what to do. While the mentor scheme wasn't in place while I was studying my diploma, I was able to link up with ITV and BuzzFeed journalists at a JDF network event.
At a tour of Bloomberg's offices we were also able to gain insight into what it might be like to work for a major financial news organisation. I'm currently participating in a great mentorship scheme run by Second Source for female journalists.
I would also add that it's good to get support from your peers. I still keep in touch with journalists I met while studying for my diploma. The world of journalism can be quite small and you never know who you will cross paths with again.
After you finished your NCTJ course, how did you get your first break in the industry?
While studying for the diploma we were encouraged to take part in work experience placements. After having a lot of success at previous work placements at local newspapers I applied to work for the Ilford Recorder.
I really enjoyed my time there and when a job opportunity became available towards the end of my course, I was quick to apply.
Journalism jobs are extremely competitive so I was very lucky to be able to start at the Romford Recorder, a local Archant newspaper, a day after my course ended!
And how have you progressed since then? You took the NQJ, for instance, didn’t you?
I took the NQJ exams in June last year. I was part of the first group to try the new reporting and law exams and they definitely weren't easy but thankfully I passed!
After working at the Romford Recorder for just over two years, I decided it was time for a change. I'll soon be starting as an online digital reporter for the Evening Standard.
I'm looking forward to writing for a national news organisation and exercising more of my digital skills as a reporter.
Do you have any tips to people wanting to get into the news media business?
Try and get as much experience as possible, whether it’s a week at your local paper or a two week internship at one of the nationals. This will not only help you network with journalists but also help you start to build a portfolio that you can show to future employers.
My other advice is also to be persistent, whether that’s being persistent when it comes to pursuing what you think is a good news story, or being persistent with applying for jobs.
It can be quite hard breaking into a career that’s so competitive. You may have to apply four or three times before you’re accepted for an internship and it may take time before you work your way towards your dream job.
As a local journalist I also can’t help but recommend local newspapers as a stepping stone into the world of media. They’re a great training ground and will get you immediately working on using your investigative and news sourcing skills.
What do you love most about being a journalist? Is there a piece of work you’re most proud of?
It's difficult to choose one thing I love most about being a reporter. I think it's great when you're the first to break or tell a story that you know is important and of significant interest to your readers. It's also great when you're able to gain a sense of achieving an outcome through a story.
In terms of work I'm most proud of, there's lots to choose from as east London makes for a great news patch and there's an incredibly hard-working team of reporters behind the Recorder series.
In my time at the paper I've covered the bizarre story of a man who got trapped in a drain for more than 24 hours, the Jodie Chesney murder trial at the Old Bailey and the story of Costa Coffee baristas at a franchise who were told to pay the difference after the cafe was robbed, which eventually led to Costa saying it would conduct a full review of all of its franchises.
Click here to find out more about the Journalism Diversity Fund.