What To Do After The NCTJ’s pt 4 Availability

November 22, 2010

It seems so simple but you never know when an opportunity may crop up, but you won’t be able to capitalise on it if you aren’t available.

Some people, myself included, have to earn a living outside of journalism while they hunt for their first break. It can be difficult to try and get time off at short notice for interviews and calling in sick always causes problems, not least remembering what excuses you have used.

Try to arrange the interviews for a week in advance, if possible, and save at least five to ten days of your holiday for those occasions.

It’s not ideal but missing out on a few days holiday is definitely worthwhile if it means landing your first job.

Availability doesn’t just extend to interviews either. If your networking is paying off then, fingers crossed, you will have the opportunity to do the odd article here and there, and being able to say yes shows your commitment and your desire to work.

Advice on keeping yourself available can’t really be better put than by TV journalist Sarah Moore, guest posting on wannabehacks.co.uk:

If you don’t say yes to rushing out in the middle of the night to report on the flash floods, they won’t again. That’s just the way it goes. Say yes to everything and resign yourself to living in the newsroom.

You can read her full post here, which includes some great pointers.

Join us tomorrow for the final piece of the “What to do Next” series which handles the art of staying patient.


What To Do After The NCTJ’s pt 3 Portfolio

November 19, 2010

In the third of this week’s “what to do next” series I am going to be looking into the need of a portfolio for any recently graduated or qualified journalist.

During your journalism education you should have been provided with ample opportunity to write some stories and also to be published. During this time you would be well advised to keep these articles somewhere safe in order to create a portfolio of your work after you graduate.

During my NCTJ course I was asked to keep both my originally submitted copy and the published version so markers could see how much editing was needed for my copy. This is a great idea, though not advised for every single article you write, and really shows editors your skill in writing.

A portfolio can take many forms. Some look to blogs as a “rolling portfolio”, one that it is constantly changing with regular updates. Others choose to create websites in their own name to showcase the work they have done. Many, however just stick to the good old fashioned cutting and sticking into a ring binder or presentation book.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to make a portfolio and each one has their merits. As I mentioned in the first post of the series blogging is a great way of keeping your writing smooth and shows that you can write to a specific audience. A web based portfolio can give your work a real professional touch, if done well, and also showcases some more web based talents that could impress future employers. Finally, a paper based portfolio is always to hand and can be great to show off in an interview when a laptop or computer isn’t always available.

If you get the chance, develop all three. There can never be too many ways to put yourself in the shop window and time spent on your portfolio could be the difference in getting a job in the future.

The key to a good portfolio is presentation. This is your work, your pride and joy, so present it accordingly. There is nothing worse than a great story being viewed at a glance as a bit slap dash because the page wasn’t glued down fully, for example.

Another great tip is to include a little explanation (no more than a sentence or two) of how you came about the story. This is something else I have learnt through the NCTJ and shows people your enthusiasm for news and your ability to search out a story.

If you need any more tips on how to make a paper based portfolio you can’t far wrong with this guide on eHow.com.

Or if the online stuff suits you more check out this article on journalism.co.uk

Tune back in on Monday for the next post on making yourself available.

What To Do After The NCTJ’s pt 2 Networking

November 18, 2010

How often have you heard the phrase “it’s who you know not what you know?” If I had a pound for every time I had heard it I wouldn’t need a job at all.

It seems to be a journalist’s catchphrase and one could quite easily get a job on the back of his contacts rather than his skill or reputation. But that isn’t always so easy for someone who has been in education for three or more years without the chance to make any contacts.

However, there is always a starting point and more often than not the tutors at your University or training course are working or former journalists with bulging contact books of their own, so tap in to it.

Not recognising the importance of networking while I was at Uni is my biggest regret of the three years I spent there. I took a cynical view on one particular fellow student who had a good working relationship with one of our tutors, who worked on the Sunday Express. I preferred to keep my distance from the tutors outside of class and stuck to my work, labelling my class mate a “teacher’s pet” as she went for drinks with them. After Uni who do you think got a job blogging for the Express’ website, me or her?

Sometimes all you need is a foot in the door to get you started and for those of us who are new to the industry that foot isn’t always going to be yours. Don’t be afraid to take help from others and use their contacts as a bridge to get you to where you want to be.

Interacting in the right circles and getting to know like-minded people is of huge importance to an amateur journalist.  But for some people it can be difficult. Striking up a conversation in a crowded room of people you don’t know can be daunting, it definitely is for me.

Luckily enough, however, networking extends to the comfort of your computer as well and an online presence is just as necessary. Where else but Twitter can you converse directly with editors of national newspapers? By contributing regularly to media circles online, whether through twitter or commenting on blogs, you are able to promote yourself and put your name out there.

It’s easier to be yourself in the comfort of your own home and for shy retiring types like me and Joseph Stashko it can be just as rewarding.

Make sure you contribute regularly to the areas that interest you, don’t just sit there plugging your own blog (something even I can be guilty of at times). Comment on others works and interact in a friendly way and who knows what can come from it.

Finally take a look at these networking tips for some further pointers on the art of networking. Tune in tomorrow for more What To Do Next Tips as we look the need for a portfolio.

What To Do After The NCTJ’s pt 1 Blogging

November 17, 2010

If you only do one thing after finishing your Uni course or pass your NCTJ pre-entries then make sure it is to start and maintain a blog.

Quite simply it can be the reason you get a job. In fact, blogging is becoming such a popular way into the journalism world that the reputable City University held a talk for its students on how a blog could get them a job. Take a look at this and this to see two students accounts of the event and look up Dave Lee, Josh Halliday and Conrad Quilty-Harper who were the speakers (all of whom are under 25 and have jobs at national news outlets on the back of their blogs).

A blog for an unemployed, aspiring journalist is a necessary tool. It showcases your talent not only for writing but for attracting  an audience and keeping them there. Finding a niche subject matter you are passionate about and posting regular, useful updates highlights to editors your ability to understand your readers needs. This is a skill that all editors are looking for and showing it in your blog will do you no harm in interviews.

It couldn’t really be easier to start a blog. There are many free hosting sites to get you started. A blog doesn’t have to be a chore either. If all you have time for is a weekly update that is your prerogative, just make sure your posts are meaningful and useful, nobody wants to read a weekly rant about the queue at the cinema.

A blog doesn’t just keep you writing either, it also helps you to learn new skills. HTML knowledge and multimedia management are just additional skills you can boast after a few months of blogging if you are willing to learn them.

So, a well maintained blog can act as a rolling CV, showcasing your talent and letting potential employers know that you are out there, however to get a blog noticed you have to move in the right circles and tomorrows post on networking will help to put that into place.

But for now, why not take a look at the below links to further whet your blogging appetite and help you set up.

Firstly, Adam Westbrook’s superb blogging series: “Why journalists must blog and how”. The first post of the series can be found here, but navigate around the site to find the others. They are a must read.

Wannabe Hacks are another example of how to be successful if you blog well. Two of their contributors had a very decent debate on the need to blog which can be found here.

And finally this post at Publishing 2.0 while posted in 2007 still rings true today.

Stop by tomorrow as we take a look at the merits of networking, both in person and online.

Blog Series: What To Do After The NCTJ’s

November 16, 2010

It is a great relief to be back here typing, instead pouring over Law or Public Affairs books. I am pleased to say that I have completed my pre-entry NCTJ exams and just have to wait on my results to see if I am a qualified journalist.

Now the course is over and I feel reasonably confident I have done well, my attentions turn to finding a job. But, as we all know, the journalism industry is an extremely competitive one and I am sure there are hundreds of people across the country in the same position as me. But do all of them have a plan?

Looking for a job can be an extremely daunting experience, especially if you have no income to fall back on in the mean time. It is well-known that a potential journalist, just like any future employee, needs to stand out from the crowd. This can be increasingly difficult given the number of people applying for positions these days.

So over the next week I intend to share with you what I think are the best ways to keep yourself active in the media market in the hope of securing that coveted first job. And as an amateur journalist myself it is definitely the path I will be taking to try to secure myself a position in the media.

Over the next five days I will look at the below points in more depth but for now let me introduce them as a brief top 5 list.


Its free, its easy and it can be whatever you want it to be. Its also probably the easiest way to get yourself noticed.


Once you graduate or qualify, tell people. Stay in contact with people from your courses as well as you never know what they could do for you down the line.

Keep a Portfolio

Having something to show for your time in education, although unlikely to be vast experience, is very useful in interviews and meetings. Keep anything you write that gets published and present it well.

Make Yourself Available

If, like me, you are earning a living outside of journalism and are trying to break in, make sure you are available for any work experience, interviews or jobs that are offered to you. Missing out on something because you have no holidays left and can’t pull a sickie will only hurt you.

Be Patient

Remember the current state of the job market. Something may not come your way immediately but if you are good enough to pass the NCTJ’s or to get a degree then someone will recognise your talent eventually.

Well those points complete the mantra I will be living to from now on and I hope you all feel the same, if I have missed anything please feel free to leave your comments. It really is great to be back blogging and I look forward to writing more for this series.

See you tomorrow!

A Brief Pause

October 16, 2010

Due to the impending final exams of my NCTJ course there will be limited posts at NCTJ and Beyond untill after 6th November as I will be studying Law and PA, beavering away at Shorthand and finishing my Portfolio.

Thanks for all the support in the blog so far and please keep reading. There will be more to come from me once the exams are over.

What’s Changed With The NCTJ

October 8, 2010

As I mentioned a week or so ago the shorthand section of the NCTJ course has experienced some changes recently. But it isn’t just the teeline test that’s changing, the entire syllabus will change from September 2011. Seeing as some centres are delivering the changed syllabus now I thought it was about time to highlight some of the differences.

Firstly, and possibly most importantly, news writing doesn’t exist anymore. Nope, it’s now known as reporting and teaches multi-platform reporting and news writing for online, magazines and TV/Radio as well as print. The discipline also looks at basic editing skills, finding and telling stories and accuracy and use of English.

The move can certainly be seen as a step in the right direction and will answer the NCTJ critics that recently questioned its street cred. However, the current NCTJ pre-entry exams provide a very good grounding for a trainee newspaper journalist on a local level. A balance will need to be struck and the NCTJ will have to be wary of following journalism degrees that try to cram in too many aspects into their courses and leave students without a real speciality.

The portfolio also changes and is now called the multimedia portfolio which allows students to submit stories on any format in another move to try to produce a more rounded journalist.

Both public affairs and media law have been rebranded as essential media law and essential public affairs, while the shorthand changes can be found by following the link at the top of the page to my NCTJ Shorthand – The Future post.

Anyone concerned that the new curriculum may be leading students down a path of uncertainty in the job market, with too many skills and not enough specific knowledge can breathe a sigh of relief.  Students will not be able to gain a diploma in journalism unless they pass all the required elements above AND two specialist subjects.

The subjects include court reporting, online video journalism, sub-editing, sports journalism, business of magazines and broadcast journalism. Again, this is a change for the better and it allows more variety to be offered and will help to produce a well-rounded journalist with a refined specialist field with which to work in.

Upon launching the changes Donald Martin, chairman of the NCTJ Journalism Qualifications Board, said:

 “We all now operate in a multimedia world. The boundaries between journalism sectors are no longer distinct. Employers like me are demanding multi-skilled journalists. And students, who are full of enthusiasm for this new world, want multimedia training and multimedia NCTJ qualifications.”

So there you have it, the qualification which best suits trainee journalists has expanded and should be able to help place young journalists in jobs across all forms of media and not just the local press. A change for the better, I’d say.
If you are taking or going to be taking this new form of NCTJ courses or are already taking them please get in touch. We would love to hear your thoughts.
You can also read the full aticle of Donald Martins launch of the Diploma in Journalism here
Pic Credit – Arvind Balaraman

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