As many of us aspiring journalists know all too well, these days, it’s harder than ever to become a journalist. One of the many things that can add to your job chances is having done a journalism course.
I knew that I wanted to go into journalism after graduating university, but I wasn’t sure which way to go about it. I had heard a lot about NCTJ schemes through the people I worked on the student paper with, but when I looked into the routes taken by those high up in national magazines (where I want to work one day), I noticed that a lot of them had taken MA journalism courses.
I spoke to Barbara Rowlands, the Course Director of MA Magazine Journalism at City University, who stated that “NCTJ training focuses on skills. We do that too – all the students learn media law, ethics and central and local government. Employers often look to graduates for ideas, skills and knowledge in multimedia – this is very different than before, when they just wanted students to be passive. We don’t do passive.” Rowlands says that none of the postgraduate journalism programmes at City are accredited by the NCTJ – and every year many of their students get positions and graduate traineeships at the national media. “So no, we don’t regard the NCTJ as necessary to get into mainstream magazine or news journalism.”
Richard Parsons, Course Director at News Associates in Wimbledon (an NCTJ accredited course) has a different view. For him the fast-track NCTJ course which they run “is popular because it is a quicker, more compact way of getting the qualification. Ours is 20 weeks long and you are ready for the job immediately.
“Many people come to us because they have been in full-time education since they were five and now just want to get on with their lives.”
One advantage of the NCTJ accreditation is that it is recognized throughout the media industry and, according to the News Associates website, “the course delivers vocational training to a high standard that everyone who cares about the quality of journalism understands and values”. Corroborating Parsons’ view, former NCTJ student, Nicola Stewart, told me that she decided on the NCTJ course over an MA because “it also seemed wiser to be a qualified journalist in 5 months, as opposed to a journalism graduate in a year.”
Former Principal Investigative Reporter for Which? Magazine, Bob Tolliday, took an NCTJ course. However, when I asked him if he would rather have done an MA he said: “I wanted to write about politics, and if I’d done an MA course I would probably have managed it, but having done the NCTJ course I felt that I had no other choice than to be a reporter.”
To my surprise, the price difference of the courses was not something anyone I talked with mentioned, but it is, of course, an issue which needs to be considered. These days, MA Journalism courses fees can range from around £5,000 to £9,000 for a year, whereas a fast-track NCTJ course (the one I looked at was News Associates in Wimbledon) costs £3,950 for four months. Both are an investment, with the return of invaluable skills and contacts within the industry.
Costs are an impediment to those who may not be able to afford either course, but not a reason to give up hope. I also contacted Fiona Cowood, the Features Editor of Cosmopolitan magazine. She told me that she had started to do an MA in Magazine Journalism at City University, which she really enjoyed, however she left halfway through after being offered a job at Bella magazine. She told me that despite all the courses available, “there’s nothing like getting on the job and getting firsthand experience.”
From what I discovered, it seems as though the best route for those who want to go into local newspapers and reporting, would be an NCTJ course with a strong focus on shorthand. However, if you want to specialize in a particular field (e.g. Politics; fashion; magazines; or others), a Masters course with good credibility appears to be the best option.
Yara Silva has a degree in Sociology from the University of Southampton, and was Lifestyle Editor for the university newspaper, Wessex Scene. She has written for various publications including The National Student, Camden New Journal and West End Extra. She is starting an MA course in Magazine Journalism at City University in September 2012.
Image courtesy of Cowbark
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look