Journalism training body announces proposed exam changes

CHANGES to the UK’s main journalism exam are being proposed by its awarding body, which showcased the proposed amendments in Glasgow last week.

At its annual conference, attended by representatives from both education institutions and media outlets, the National Council for the Training of Journalists outlined proposed revisions to its preliminary Certificate in Newspaper Journalism, revisions which would see the qualification become the preliminary Certificate in Multimedia Journalism.

Currently, to gain the NCTJ qualification, candidates must sit six exams: in news writing, portfolio, public affairs (local government), public affairs (central government), law court reporting, law general reporting, and, finally, shorthand at 100 words per minute.

Everybody on an NCTJ newspaper journalism course has to sit these exams, unless they are doing a dedicated subbing, photography or magazine course – and most of these exams are sat by students on these courses with only a couple of sections changed.

The new proposals are seeking greater flexibility, to prepare all aspiring journalists to work across all media platforms, broadcast, print and online, and comprise reporting, essential public affairs, and essential media law. There is also regulation, ethics and code of conduct, plus multimedia portfolio and also shorthand.

Under the new proposals, alongside these core assessments there will be also be four specialist options students can take: court reporting, sub-editing, sports journalism and broadcast journalism.

In Scotland, only a handful of media courses run by colleges of further education and universities meet NCTJ standards. The ones that do are Glasgow Caledonian University, University of Strathclyde, Cardonald College in Glasgow and Robert Gordon’s University in Aberdeen.

At a session outlining the proposed changes, Donald Martin, editor-in-chief of The Herald group of newspapers, a director of the NCTJ and chair of the Journalism Qualifications Board, was joined by NCTJ chief examiners, Steve Nelson (journalism), Amanda Ball (public affairs), Mark Hanna (media law) and Marie Cartwright (shorthand).

Said Martin: “The traditional differences in how journalists work in different areas of the media are disappearing and all sectors are looking for new entrants who are comfortable working across two or three platforms in the course of a working day.

“It’s vitally important that we provide trainees with the core skills to allow them to work in whatever sector of the media.

“At the NCTJ, we are working to ensure that training meets the requirements of the industry in all media sectors.”

Later, Cartwright – a tutor at Norton College, Sheffield, and author of the new NCTJ textbook, Teeline Gold Standard for Journalists – proposed, for shorthand, the introduction of a quote, to be taken down with 100 per cent accuracy in the 90wpm and 100wpm exams to assess candidates’ listening skills.

The consultation is endeavouring to strike balances of demands; for instance, how much should a prospective sports journalist know about media law or prospective travel writers the workings of local government.

A NCTJ spokesperson told “We are asking editors and industry people who work in all sectors of the media – how much of a shorthand speed do you want your trainees to have? How much do you expect them to know about content management systems and specialist software or would you prefer to teach them that when they start work?

“At the NCTJ we are proud to be industry led – we want the qualification to be of worth and to ultimately get people jobs. And that is what this consultation is about, asking the industry – print, online and broadcast, exactly what they want their new entrants to know.”