Feedback from the NCTJ Student Council 2018

Hi all,

I was at the BBC Academy in Birmingham on Friday, representing CfJ at the annual NCTJ Student Council, so I thought I'd relay some of the things talked about back to you.

Firstly, and at the risk of coming across as a brown nose, CfJ seemed to be very highly regarded amongst people I spoke to on the day. Students from other univsersities spoke highly of us, as did Joanne Butcher, the NCTJ's chief executive (who hopes to make it to the Bob Friend Scholarship Lecture this year). Furthermore, it was interesting to see how other universities implemented the NCTJ's syllabus and how they merged this with academic subjects. For those who don't know, the NCTJ provides the course of study required to get the diploma, however it is ultimately the individual school's decision on how to incorporate this into their own curriculum. I therefore truly appreciated the way that CfJ works in the NCTJ modules over the three years for BA students, as some students from universities had complaints about having to sit the court reporting exam in first year, before studying essential media law, among other things. The uniqueness of CfJ's programme on teaching all four types of convergent journalism (print, online, radio and TV) also came to light, as I discovered that some third year students from other universities complained about not being able to film video for the NCTJ'S e-portfolio because they had never been taught how. I believe that these things show that CfJ's place among the top journalism schools in the country is well-deserved.

Several different issues were discussed throughout the day, but I'll narrow it down to the key points. Firstly, the NCTJ has introduced its online Cirrus platform for the new essential journalism exam (which replaced the old reporting exam), and the CfJ second years were among the first to use this software. There were complaints and compliments about this software. While some praised its convenience, others criticised the time constraints for individual questions, as well as technical issues. The NCTJ guaranteed us that this feedback would be taken into consideration and discussed at their next board meeting. Additionally, the Cirrus platform will soon be rolled out to more exams, starting with media law and public affairs, and eventually moving on to shorthand and others. I also spoke to Joanne Butcher after the event regarding the way NCTJ exams are marked, as some second years were disappointed in essential journalism exam results, and she assured me that all exams are marked fairly by multiple examiners, who are moderated. However, there is also an appeals process.

The NCTJ panellists also urged students to take advantage of the website, as it contains online resources which may benefit those preparing for exams. 

Secondly, due to the rise in terrorism incidents in recent years, the NCTJ sought feedback from us on whether we should have training in how to cover these events, as well as other disasters. Whilst a couple of students from London-based centres said that they had been given the opportunity to cover the Parsons Green bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire, most representatives agreed that it would benefit pupils to learn how to deal with these occurences and report them objectively, as they are often entirely sudden and can be overwhelmed with false witness statements on the internet. 

Finally, some representatives queried the amount of time it takes for shorthand results to be published, as the date can sometimes come after the deadline for booking a resit. The NCTJ said that there is no way to currently speed up the shorthand marking process, as they already try to get them out as soon as possible. However, with the future introduction of the Cirrus platform for shorthand exams, there is a slight possibility that this length of time could be shortened.

Furthermore, several people asked about Teeline. Whilst many complained about their respective centres' treatment of the subject (some students were not taught until third year), some also questioned its importance and wondered if they could simply refuse to learn it. The answer from the NCTJ board, senior figures from the BBC and Financial Times, and Nick Owen (presenter of Midlands Today) was no. Throughout the day, each and every panellist continuously highlighted the significance of having 100wpm shorthand, and all cited it as a key skill for getting a job as a journalist. They claim that a CV without a 100wpm shorthand qualification would likely be thrown out instantly. Even in 2018, where journalists are constantly looking for new ways to utilise technology, Teeline is still crucial for covering council meetings and court, and it can also be very helpful when on the phone. Moreover, in regard to the teaching of shorthand, some representatives mentioned fellow peers with learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia who struggle to learn the skill. The NCTJ encouraged anyone who faces these difficulties to inform their lecturers immediately so the issues can be addressed as soon as possible.

A few other issues were briefly discussed on Friday too, including diversity in the industry. The panel was chaired by Laura Adams (editorial director at Archant London), and also featured Naomi Bishop (BBC Midlands Today editor), Mark McGregor (BBC Online assistant editor), Abbie Scott (Financial Times deputy managing editor), and Martin Wright (Shropshire Star editor). All agreed that the industry had changed for the better in regards to the amount of women in senior roles, and claimed that for the most part, the male to female employee ratio was fairly balanced. The female panellists advised other women trying to break into the industry to be confident and to not be afraid to show off their skills. 

Overall, there were a lot of interesting conversations had at the meeting, and it was great to have the opportunity to give feedback (both positive and negative) to the NCTJ, who have promised to take everything into consideration. It was also fascinating to meet students from other universities and hear about how their courses are structured.

I hope this helps, and if there's anything I can help with at all, don't hesititate to send me an email at agt9@kent.ac.uk.