Alex Crawford has won the Royal Television Society (RTS) Journalist of the Year award three times. She is currently based in Dubai as Sky News’ special correspondent reporting from the Gulf and the Middle East, and is soon to transfer to Johannesburg.
Alex began her career at the Wokingham Times and then moved to the BBC and TV-am before joining Sky News at its launch in 1989. While at the Wokingham Times, Alex completed her NCTJ training and is very positive about her experience. She says:
“When I finally got selected for the NCTJ course, I realised when I turned up in Newcastle that I had applied to every single newspaper represented on the course and been rejected. Great start. And those weren’t the only ones which rejected me. I basically got the list of Thomson Regional Newspapers and went through the list applying to every regional editor I could. Unemployment was high then and newspapers were cutting back on training and trainees.
“Somehow I managed to persuade Adam Mackinlay, the editor of the Wokingham Times, to take me on. He was an important mentor for me and a lot of what he taught remains with me now. He believed in training and despite being editor of a tiny weekly with a readership of just 13,000 he spent money on sending his trainees to the NCTJ course in Newcastle.
“The great thing about the course was the mix of theory and almost immediate practice. I was on a course with a great mix of people – many of whom have gone on to be great successes in their field – Dave Morgan on The Sun, Dave Connett who was a backbone of the Sunday Times Insight team, Paul Benbow also of The Sun as well as Mick McSherry of the Scotsman and later Dow Jones and John Scammell who went onto TV-am.
“We were expected to come to the office with ideas for stories from day one and encouraged to always be ‘on duty’ wherever we were. Walter Greenwood lived, breathed and loved law and enthused us and encouraged us to challenge everything. He would regale us with stories of reporters who had challenged judges’ rulings. They were held up as heroes who had changed events for the good – and we all aspired to do the same. When we returned to our newspapers we really believed we could contribute and make a difference.
“Shorthand was/is invaluable. Obviously we all hated it. It was time-consuming and numbingly boring but my god, what a necessary evil. I can’t tell you over the years how many times it has saved my a**e. Even if it’s scrappy, almost impossible to read back, when your back is against the wall, it can pull you right out of the mucky stuff. Competition was always stoked amongst us on the course so achieving 140 wpm by the end of the course was the goal. I can’t for the life of me remember the shorthand teacher’s name but my gosh, she earned her pennies. She dragged us through it despite ourselves. I think her name was Sandra. She should have been called Saint Sandra.
“I think the thing which set the NCTJ course apart was you were practicing what you learned in the classroom almost immediately. I am always amazed when we get work experience people at Sky who never really ‘know’ if they want to be journalists or not. I wouldn’t let them through the door if it was down to me. I know that sounds harsh but it is an all or nothing profession to me. You have to really want it – 110 per cent.
“I don’t believe you can really be a thorough journalist without a thorough training like the NCTJ. We have had Oxbridge guys shadowing us who don’t know how to find a story or what is a story. My heart always sinks when anyone walks into the newsroom and says they want to be news presenter. When I worked at the BBC I remember Michael Buerk telling me; ‘news reading isn’t a job for a grown up’. Well actually he was wrong but none of the presenters who are any good have gone onto presenting without many years hard graft reporting. And most of the excellent ones find it a terrible dilemma to come off the road in the first place but my goodness, years out in the field can really make the difference in the studio. And some real training can make a real difference in the field.
“I can’t imagine a better career. I have worked in newspapers, radio, TV and online and have had a ball – and it all began in an NCTJ training room above the Bigg market in Newcastle. God it was fun.”