“Lots of people want to be journalists; not many people can actually be arsed.”
The University of Brighton event, BECOMING a Journalist, ran at the Grand Parade campus today, headed by award-winning BBC Radio & Television Journalist, Paula O’Shea.
Paula is both Managing Director and Tutor at Brighton Journalist Works alongside her long-running journalism career, mentoring students who wish to gain the prestigious NCTJ qualification.
We headed along, and asked her a few questions:
So, tell us about yourself – how did you get into journalism?
I did a geography degree, but always wanted to be a journalist. I remember going to my careers advisors, and saying [this], and they would say “but it’s really tough to get in, it’s really competitive. Have you thought about teaching?” And I remember thinking, “well, there are journalists out there – so how did they get to be where they are?” And not long after, I found out about this organisation called the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), which was set up in the 1950s to train people for jobs in journalism. And so, I did one of their courses, and soon after got a job [in the industry].
Okay, great. So what were your first jobs like? How has your career progressed?
Two of the first jobs I had in journalism were at local papers, where I became chief reporter. Then I moved down to Brighton and became a local news reporter for BBC Radio. From there, I began work on the BBC nine o’clock news as an editorial assistant, then ITN/ITV News as a news editor which progressed to becoming a science producer, before I started teaching journalism at Journalist Works.
It sounds like you’ve had a wide variety of roles, despite your career advisors’ comments that competition was really fierce in the industry. From your experience, would you say you had any particular difficulty?
The first bit is always tricky, like it is with every profession getting your first job. You may well hear “it’s really hard to be a journalist” like I did, and though it’s true, it’s quite difficult to get a job in anything these days. But once you have your first job, you can go to newspapers, radio, TV… All sorts of places still want journalists. So, actually, why not go for something you really want to do?
What would you recommend to anyone wanting to start in journalism?
One of the best things you can do is expose yourself to news via as much media as possible. Newspapers, TV, even online. Most journalists will listen to Radio 4 during the day and engage in the debates via social media – Twitter in particular is great for this. Really, there’s no excuse now – everyone should also have a blog. It’s easy to set up in WordPress, and not difficult to post little and often – bloggers who do this are often more popular. Just write whatever at first – just start – and you might develop a kind of a theme. Soon, it will “mushroom”, and if you then apply for jobs in that industry, employers will see that you’ve got an interest in the subject, and why wouldn’t they employ you? Try to get some work experience while you’re at Uni – engage with student media.
Is this enough though? Exactly how imperative is it for journalists to have an NCTJ qualification?
80% of journalists today have the NCTJ, so they want up-and-coming journalists to have it too. Because the training teaches students the essential skills to be a successful journalist, editors really rate it and want people to have it.
What are these “essential skills” that people gain from the NCTJ qualification?
We have modules in reporting, portfolio building, media law, public affairs and shorthand (up to 100 words per minute) along with optional modules in production and court reporting. We also teach skills with blogging and engaging with readers through social media, offer hands-on training in a busy newsroom – as Journalist Works shares a building with The Argus – and three weeks’ work experience.
The work experience that you offer, what can this entail? Is it restricted to contacts from Journalist Works?
A range of places [are available], including Press Gazette, the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine, Women’s Fitness, Esquire… PR attachments with the Chamber of Commerce… Lots of weekly local newspapers such as the Worthing Herald… Loads of different places. Of course, if students have their own contacts, they can choose to use those.
What kind of careers can graduates from Brighton Journalist Works expect to go into with an NCTJ qualification?
They can go into a variety of roles within the media: radio, TV or print journalism (this can cover a range of subjects from business to finance to film), digital, production or multimedia journalism, sub-editing, PR, communications management… Press Offices all over the country largely take trained journalists.
How many centres teach the NCTJ?
There are 71 NCTJ Diploma courses across the country, but the one at Brighton Journalist Works is obviously wonderful and brilliant, as we’re based at The Argus and students can get their own page on The Argus website from day one.
How long does the NCTJ Diploma take to complete?
We run the courses a couple of times a year – one in September, one in February. They are “fast-track” courses – 9-5, Monday to Friday, over 14 weeks – very intensive, not at all for the faint-hearted! We also run these courses part-time, and also an MA in conjunction with the University of Sussex.
Thanks for the great talk, Paula, it was lovely to have met you.
All NCTJ Diplomas at Brighton Journalist Works cost £4,000, where students will be taught all the journalism essentials in a hands-on environment. For more information, visit http://www.journalistworks.co.uk/
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Interview by Nammie Matthews