Media recruiting tips: post-grad courses for journalists

This article first appeared in Press Gazette

Last month, in a somewhat garbled column (blame the theft of my laptop), I looked at journalism degree courses. This month, I want to talk about further media recruiting tips, in fact the first stage of this process – post-grad courses for journalists, and emphasise how important they can be for entry into the industry.

To a large extent, the days of wandering into a newspaper job direct from school are long gone. Many editors regard NCTJ-accredited training as a minimum requirement for new journalists. This is not surprising: the NCTJ is described by its CEO Joanne Butcher as an “industry charity” with a mission to ensure that training reflects the “industry’s gold standard”. Each NCTJ-accredited course should teach the media basics, such as media law, public affairs, ethics, and shorthand. For Butcher, shorthand is a benchmark. “If you’re starting out in the business, get shorthand. It will open a lot of doors.” She recognises that “not every journalist will need it, but it says a lot about someone’s commitment to journalism.”

Butcher notes that there are a growing number of post-graduate courses; it is worth looking at the NCTJ’s website to see which are accredited. She welcomes the addition of new private training providers such as noSWeat, News Associates, or Up To Speed, and cited the Press Association’s courses as being particularly interesting, due to their “proximity to the industry”.

However, traditional academic outlets continue to offer excellent post-graduate courses. The London College of Communications (formerly London College of Printing) and Cardiff are probably two of the best known names: but competition for places is fierce. David English, Deputy Director of the Centre for Journalism at Cardiff, reckons that the school receives 1,400 applications for its 90 places each year. Obviously, they prefer candidates who have good first degrees, although “the right character” is important. But they won’t even look at candidates who haven’t done “at least” two weeks’ work experience. “It shows they have a genuine interest in the industry,” he says.

Of course, a growing output of NCTJ-trained journalists is great for the industry; but it also means that qualified entrants will have to fight ever harder for jobs. As I write this, one publishing house is advertising for six months’ unpaid “work experience” on their leading contract title. Their timing is immaculate: the 2010 courses have ended, and there will be plenty of well-trained and eager post-grads willing to go deeper into debt to find that crucial first step on the ladder. I wish them all luck.