Society of Editors and Training

Dedicated to improving the quality of journalism through the active support of education and training


Advice for aspiring journalists

Training AdviceIf you are considering a career in journalism, there are many opportunities available in print, broadcasting and digital news organisations. But it is essential you choose the right training course and path that will aid your job prospects.

This section is intended to set out what editors look for when they are recruiting entry level journalists, including the types of pre-entry training they consider most useful. It also advises on the best ways of securing an interview, what to expect when you meet a potential employer and how to ensure you stand out against all the other candidates for the job.

Training Advice

Editors do not necessarily regard journalism degrees as having more weight than those in traditional subjects. However if your undergraduate degree is in a traditional subject other than journalism you may well need some additional pre-entry journalism training, either in the form of a postgraduate qualification or a short course. Editors rarely give interviews to applicants who have no pre-entry journalism training.

Be warned: media studies (whether at A level or degree level) is not highly regarded by editors.

Editors expect trainees to be able to tell a story well alongside an absolute respect for accuracy. This applies to every type of news platform (print, broadcasting, online).

Editors expect trainees to have a high standard of English, with a proper command of grammar, spelling and punctuation. And contrary to popular belief – this applies to broadcasting as well as Press. This standard may well be higher than that expected by some educators and examiners.

Qualifications

Editors require trainees to have a good standard of education - most trainee journalists have a degree and/or journalism qualification. Not having a degree is not necessarily a barrier to entry to the industry, but the vast majority of new entrants do have degrees and an approved journalism qualification.

A number of media organisations offer apprenticeships in journalism available to school-leavers. Although the number of places available is still relatively small this route appears to be a growing trend. However, most aspiring journalists opt for a degree and/or journalism qualification. Aspiring journalists should thoroughly research what is out there, what skills they will gain from specific pathways and the job prospects and the jobs achieved by those who have gone down the same route.

A degree in journalism is no guarantee of getting a job in the industry. Many journalism graduates do not do so, some through choice and others through lack of opportunity. It is also vital to understand that a strong of portfolio of work (for example student journalism), work experience and proof of commitment to the industry are as important as academic qualifications.

Accreditation

Accreditation refers to the granting of credit or recognition to an educational institution or course. It acts as a “kite mark” confirming the course meets specific standards set by the accreditation body. There are three main accreditation bodies for journalism courses: the National Council for the Training of Journalists, the Broadcast Journalism Training Council and the Periodicals Training Council.

 

The three websites of the above can be found below:

National Council for the Training of Journalists: Visit website
Broadcast Journalism Training Council: Visit website
The Periodicals Training Council: Visit website

Speech by a JDF bursary recipient at the 10th anniversary celebrations (PDF)

Accredited Bodies

The industry places significant value on courses officially accredited by the BJTC, NCTJ, and the PTC


 NCTJ 

The NCTJ, an industry charity founded in 1951, runs a multimedia training scheme for journalists in the UK. Alumni work in all sections of the media and 73 per cent of qualified journalists are NCTJ trained. Qualifications cover news, magazine, sub-editing, court reporting, sports, business and finance, on-line, video, radio and television journalism.

The NCTJ accredits courses at universities, colleges and independent providers. It also offers short courses, a distance learning programme and provides careers advice for those already in, or contemplating taking up a career in the industry.

A full list of accredited courses and more information can be found here.

BJTC

The BJTC is the principle industry-led body for broadcast and multi-media journalism training. The BJTC is a partnership of 90 per cent of UK broadcasting employers: the BBC, ITV News Group, ITN, Sky News, Thomson-Reuters, RadioCentre, APTN, plus the NUJ and Skillset, the sector Skills Council for the media industries. It accredits courses but does not run its own exams. A full list of accredited courses and more information can be found here.

PTC 

The PTC is the training arm of the trade association for the magazine industry, the Periodical Publishers Association (PPA). The organisation monitors and accredits pre-entry courses run by universities and colleges, and also provides careers advice. It offers an accreditation scheme for magazine journalism courses across the country. A full list of accredited courses can be found here.

Some distinctions between the three bodies remain. The BJTC accredits courses, but has no involvement in examinations. It is a non-profit making charity. The NCTJ accredits courses, as well as delivering qualifications and industry training schemes.The PTC monitors and accredits pre-entry courses for magazine journalists at colleges and universities. All three bodies have criteria requirements ensuring set standards of teaching and facilities. They also all offer independent advice on careers in journalism.

The industry places significant value on courses officially accredited by the BJTC, NCTJ, and the PTC.

In general, editors regard accreditation as an important kite mark to a training course. Most regional newspapers, and many other employers, insist that job applicants have the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism including 100wpm shorthand. Some are very effective and their graduates get good jobs. But it is vital that anyone considering enrolling in a non-accredited journalism course checks out the syllabus and the success of course graduates in finding work.

Equally, there are variations in the standard of accredited courses, so again do your research. Try to talk to current students who will give you an honest view of the course, and track down people who have done the course in the past to find out how many have got jobs as a result.

What skills do you need?

Dedicated to improving the quality of journalism through the active support of education and training


Training Advice Editors place a lot of emphasis on trainees being versed in what they judge as core journalism skills. They demand a sound knowledge of media law, court reporting, a working knowledge of local and national government and public affairs.

Most newspaper editors insist their journalists can do at least 100 wpm shorthand. Employers who are principally broadcasters may not insist on shorthand and some very successful journalists do not have it, but the Society of Editors believes it is an important skill which ideally all journalists should possess.

Editors expect all their journalists to have a clear understanding of media ethics and the rules of relevant regulatory systems. They expect ethics to be taught as part of a journalism course, so students should check that it is included in any course for which they are applying.

The other skills which employers rate as particularly important are news sense, general knowledge, interviewing ability and news writing. This does not, of course, mean they disregard everything else taught by journalism courses, simply that these core skills are deemed as fundamental to the job.

All journalists should expect to work on more than one platform – newspapers, broadcasting, on-line. The wider the range of skills they have, the more employable they will be.

Familiarity with social media is increasingly important. Could you track someone down on Facebook?; Are you a Twitter user? Do you use Linked-in?

What else do you need?

Dedicated to improving the quality of journalism through the active support of education and training


Training Advice Media organisations receive many applications from aspiring journalists, so it is vital to do everything you can to secure that first interview.

Your CV should be error-free and set you apart from other candidates. Employers will not just look at your academic qualifications, but will place high value on a demonstrable dedication to a career in journalism. Did you write for a student newspaper? Do you blog, tweet or have you a website? How much work experience have you undertaken? How well do you communicate? Crucially, how can you demonstrate a natural curiosity in the world around you?

It is absolutely vital you have a portfolio of work (e.g. cuttings, showreels or online work – either done at university or during work experience). One editor said he no longer asks what course applicants have done but what journalism they are doing already – in the form of blogs, social media or their own websites.

Many candidates devote a lot of space in their CVs to what they did at school It is better to emphasise your interest in the media industry and what you have done to further that interest. Editors want to know what you will be able to do in the future rather than what you did in the past.

Applicants should understand completely what will be expected of them at a job interview. They should be up-to-date with relevant news and current affairs, be familiar with the organisation and its output, as well as its competitors, and have some original story ideas. Get as much advice as you can on how to prepare for job interviews. Below is some guidance from members of the Society on the dos and don’ts when being interviewed. These are the people that are likely to employ you and have considerable experience in the industry.

  • Know the name of the Editor and publisher, and ideally the key reporters (or presenters in the case of broadcasting). When interviewing someone for the job as a picture researcher on The Sun an editor asked ‘Can you tell me who owns The Sun?’ After a long pause, the applicant said: ‘Is it Robert Maxwell?
  • Consume as much of the output of the organisation where you want to work as you can.
  • Read its papers, watch its news programmes, listen to its bulletins and browse its website. Understand what makes it distinctive compared with its rivals. When interviewing for The Sun’s graduate trainee scheme, a member was once told: ‘I read The Guardian most days and The Times a couple of times a week. But I don’t really read The Sun.’ Not surprisingly, the interview ended there.
  • Don’t be afraid to be critical, but make sure it is thoughtful, evidence-based and intelligent.
  • Gratuitous rudeness won’t get you anywhere, but a considered evaluation which demonstrates how much you have studied the product will impress, especially if it is balanced by equally intelligent praise.
  • Research the area in which you wish to work. Who are the local MPs? What is the political make-up of the main local councils? Who are the major employers locally and the main events that go on in the area?
  • Have at least two questions to ask at the end of the interview. If necessary write them down so you have a piece of paper to jog your memory.
  • Turn off your mobile completely before the interview. Switching it to silent is not enough as it will vibrate and hum if someone calls.
  • Smile and look interested. It’s natural to be nervous but a smile and friendly demeanor goes a long way.
  • Be up to speed with current affairs.

At one point during interviews for a graduate trainee scheme, candidates were shown a photograph of a person in the news. In one interview, a member reporting holding up a picture of the then newly appointed Leader of the Opposition Michael Howard and asked the wannabe national newspaper journalist to name him. After a painfully long silence, the candidate shook her head and sighed:
‘No, sorry. Don’t know.’
They were offered a clue: ‘He was on the television news last night.’
More silence.
Another clue: ‘Think politics.’
‘I’m not really interested in politics.’
She got full marks for honesty and no marks in the interview.

  • Keep your CV to no longer than 2 pages.
  • Make sure there are no spelling or grammatical mistakes in your letter and CV.
  • Don’t address your letter to ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’ – always send it to a named individual – and make sure you spell his or her name correctly.
  • Do your homework on the paper, the area and the website and arrive armed with some story ideas.
  • Do not refer to an interviewer as “mate.”
  • While the media industry has a reputation for casual dressing, turn up smart for an interview. First impressions still count.
  • Do not create an impression that becomes a barrier to getting your message over.
  • Do not turn up late - you will lose no marks by being early.

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