Editors face questions from students at NCTJ Student Council

Students were given the chance to quiz a panel of editors at this year’s Student Council at MSN in London.

Students were given the chance to quiz a panel of editors at this year’s Student Council at MSN in London.

The panel of industry professionals included: Andy Cairns, executive editor, Sky Sports News; Dominic Eames, editor-in-chief, MSN; Malcolm Starbrook, group editor, Archant London; and Karen Swayne, features and health editor, Prima.

They were asked a range of questions from 43 student reps from NCTJ-accredited courses across the UK, including what they look for when recruiting staff, how relevant their qualification will be in the work place and how to make a career out of freelance journalism.

Andy said the industry was “hugely competitive” and gave the example of the Sky Sports News graduate scheme getting 500 applicants this year. He made no apologies for setting the bar high for applications, insisting on NCTJ training and 100wpm shorthand.

“You probably get people saying ‘you don’t need shorthand, everyone has a dictaphone’. That’s wrong,” he said.

“Accurate note taking has never been more important. We need to get stories out first and in order to do that, I’ve got to be confident that the people getting those stories out are accurate, word for word.”

Malcolm Starbrook agreed: “If you go into an interview with a dictaphone, you are a passive member of that interview. If you go in and are taking notes, you are in control of that interview. It’s all about being in control and, as a journalist, you have got to be in control.”

He added his organisation were looking for multi-platform journalists, those who can write for print and web, as well as produce video content and manage social media.

He told students if they were persistent and driven, they would find opportunities. “If you’re keen you will get yourself supported wherever you go,” he said.

Karen Swayne, said she still looked for the basics when recruiting: spelling, punctuation and grammar. She said she was a “real stickler” for accuracy, with the amount of people looking for work in the industry at present, she would automatically put application letters with a name spelt incorrectly into the ‘no’ pile.”

As someone who employs a number of freelancers, Dominic Eames said it was important to be creative and build a solid reputation.

He said: “Bring something to the party that other people haven’t got. The world of freelancing is about being super-efficient and delivering on-time, every time. As soon as you fail to deliver on-time, that’s it, your reputation’s in tatters as far as an organisation is concerned.”

The editors’ panel has been an important part of the student council since it began in 2008. It allows students direct access to experienced professionals in the industry who are best placed to offer advice on progressing in journalism. 


Image: Left-right – Andy Cairns, Malcolm Starbrook, Karen Swayne and Dominic Eames (photographer Adam Partoon)

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