I became a journalism graduate almost three years ago and in about a month’s time I will (fingers crossed) have passed my NCTJ preliminary exams. But with figures showing that the intake of new journalism students is at its highest ever there may be a few lost souls out there wondering what’s better, NCTJ or a journalism degree?
As a disciple of both schools I think I am in a good position to break down the pros and cons of the two.
So, first up is the degree and one look at the module list of my old Uni course at Kingston tells you there isn’t much you won’t be covering in your three years of study. Everything from photo journalism to sports journalism to war reporting will be looked at here and for those who need more than cheap booze and a lie-in ‘til midday it’s certainly appealing.
To quote the blurb from the same website, the undergrad journalism course aims to:
“develop your writing skills and a nose for news, and provide a forum for analysis and debate. The course will enable you to become an effective journalist across a broad range of media.”
Now, parts of this are certainly true. I can honestly say I knew how to write a news story after the course had finished but my striking feeling on things, looking back, is that it didn’t leave me ready to burst onto the journalism scene all guns blazing. Please get in touch if you feel differently but for my money, there is a greater emphasis on analysis and debate with a Uni course than there is on practical skills.
For example, I was taught shorthand to 50 words a minute at Uni (it has since been increased to 60 wpm) but any trainee reporter role advertised after my graduation told me not to bother unless I had 100 wpm. At my very first work placement the editor I reported to nearly fell off his chair laughing when I told him what speed I was taught to. “You won’t find many jobs with that,” were along the lines of his response.
Yet more time was spent discussing the ethics of this article and the meaning of that. I remember having a two and a half hour lecture on the media coverage of the Stephen Lawrence case. Now that’s all well and good but your knowledge of it won’t wow a prospective employer more concerned with a proven ability to write to deadline.
To go back to the blurb above, the University professes to leave you as an “effective journalist across a broad range of media.” Again I agree, but what role are you going to be offered as a trainee fresh out of Uni with a CV that boasts three years spent becoming a jack of all trades and master of none?
By the end of my degree I could write a news story, sub a page, write a feature, make a video news report, take down a slow conversation in shorthand and talk at great length about the ethics of Jeremy Clarkson’s latest xenophobic column, but none to an intensive level.
The degree program just isn’t specific enough for you to pass and get a job straightaway, unless you seek further education through a Masters degree or have a vast amount of experience already.
On the other hand the NCTJ exams are just that, specific. They are all about training would-be local reporters with good news writing skills, 100wpm shorthand and a good grasp of media law and public affairs. Everything an editor could want.
If you want to be a reporter then this is the course for you. Magazine hacks and broadcast lovers need not apply. This course gives you every tool you could need to confidently apply for a trainee reporter’s role and stand a chance of getting it.
There are sub sections, such as sub-editing and sports reporting, along the way in which you can narrow your field even further.
However, the work is intense and it isn’t cheap at well over £2k for entry. I have studied part time while working a 9-5 job and in the back of my mind there is a nagging doubt that it will be a lot of money badly spent if it doesn’t come off.
Nonetheless, I really feel ready to tackle the world of journalism head on, much more so than my Uni course did. So for what it’s worth, I think the NCTJ course is a better way to gain some education in journalism but it’s each to their own in this field so please feel free to comment to keep the debate alive, I only hope my Uni’s debating skills don’t fail me know.