Students on accredited courses must be given resilience training to cope with the demands of real-world journalism, says the NCTJ and its accredited course leaders.
The NCTJ has updated its performance standards for accredited courses to ensure students are adequately supported to deal with challenging scenarios in training and assessments, and to prepare them for what they may encounter in the newsroom.
These updates came after the NCTJ held a webinar with course leaders and tutors to discuss how to support students that may be impacted by these topics.
The updated performance standards were subsequently reviewed and approved by the NCTJ’s accreditation board.
In the webinar, Lisa Bradley, deputy head of journalism at the University of Sheffield, led a session on resilience training and tutors shared teaching techniques and learning materials with one another. They also heard from Nancy Fielder, editor of the Sheffield Star, about the importance of remaining resilient in the newsroom.
Nancy Fielder said in the webinar: “Being a journalist is not easy. It’s a lot harder now than it was when I started in terms of what you have to do.
“There is a massive amount of pressure, particularly for new journalists because they are expected to learn across platforms and do everything in one go.
“We work really hard to try and protect everybody in the team. We are aware that it takes a lot out of you to do the job.
“There are also situations where you don’t know what you are sending reporters into, so they have got to be able to cope to some extent.
“It’s just making sure that the journalists know that the team has always got their back. We are incredibly aware of the issue but we do need students coming out knowing what they are going into and that it’s not easy.”
At the University of Gloucestershire, students are given a three-hour confidence workshop in their first year using a specialist theatre group made up of the university’s performing arts graduates.
In the media law module, students also have an ethical speed-dating workshop, where groups move around the room discussing various dilemmas, including the best way to deal with public criticism and challenge.
Sophie Flowers, lecturer in journalism, said: “We recognise that resilience is one of the most important skills our students can possess going into the industry. We aim to build resilience and confidence from day one.
“We look at journalism as a commercial industry, why journalists write trending stories and the real meaning of clickbait. Students are taught that there is no shame in sharing their online content in the hopes that people might read it – after all that’s what it’s there for.”
Lisa Bradley, deputy head of journalism at the University of Sheffield, said: “I introduced trauma and resilience training three years ago at the University of Sheffield, on the back of research and evidence that mental health issues and PTSD symptoms in journalists were on the rise.
“I also wanted to prepare students for industry, after hearing some trainees were reluctant to do more emotionally harrowing stories and interviews through the fear of the impact of their own mental health. I found this very worrying and wanted to ensure we were empowering our students.
“News is harrowing. It can be brutal and disturbing, but that’s why journalists have the job they do. To inform and educate. My teaching revolves around managing expectations – from death knocks to war reporting, and teaching coping strategies and well-being techniques. It is about preparation and coaching so they feel able to do the job, not be scared of it.”
Rachel Manby, head of awarding at the NCTJ, said: “The NCTJ has always considered it important to adapt real-world stories for use in our examinations, to ensure we are appropriately testing a candidate’s ability to apply their knowledge and skills to a journalist’s role.
“We wanted to arrange a webinar with course leaders so that they could discuss the content of NCTJ exams, which can be emotive, and share best practice and to gather feedback.
“It was clear that tutors on accredited courses were keen to have guidance from the NCTJ about delivering resilience training to their students and for it to be reinforced as a requirement in our performance standards.”
The NCTJ’s performance standards have also been updated for centres that want to offer permanent remote delivery of some modules or to deliver a fully virtual course. New courses at the University of Portsmouth and News Associates London, to be delivered remotely, have already been accredited by the NCTJ.
A new course in journalism safety will also be launched on the NCTJ’s Journalism Skills Academy by autumn 2022.