NCTJ: The important element to your journalism career

NCTJ: The important element to your journalism career

Recent graduate Elliot Brennan studied a journalism degree. The degree wasn’t accredited by the NCTJ meaning his job prospects after graduation were limited without this ‘centrepiece’. 

The pandemic meant that my graduation looked different to the years that preceded it. The once joyous affair was forced onto Zoom. Our course leaders and a selection of famous sports figures, like Gianfranco Zola, offered their congratulations in pre-recorded videos. Sitting from my dining room table, you could tell it was an attempt to soften the blow. However, you could not eliminate the fact that it was a far cry from the grandiose event you would usually associate with a graduation. 

For the occasion, my university was placed in an impossible position that day. They worked hard to get those sports figures involved, and to ensure our marathon was as much of a celebration as possible, even if the cheers were monotonous. 

Overall, however, the day was anti-climactic in more than one way. It backdated to when I made my first decision as a trainee journalist: how and where I want to begin. Many would anticipate a degree to be the magic wand to entering the journalism industry. I have come to learn that this is a myth.

The truth lies with the level 5 diploma set up by the National Council for the Training of Journalists. This qualification, known as an NCTJ, is the rubber stamp qualification for a journalist. It means you are truly qualified.

Where other industries will happily accept a degree by itself, a piece of paper with the word degree on it holds limited weight in the journalism industry. Nearly every job you apply for will demand an NCTJ qualification. Employers strive to spot it on your CV. Without it, you often find yourself in no man’s land in the job hunting arena.

News Associates editorial development manager Lucy Dyer offers a persecuting view of the topic. She said, “My one rule is: please don’t do an unaccredited journalism degree, I interview so many people for our postgrad NCTJ courses who have spent three years (and a lot of money) doing a journalism degree and then can’t get a job because they don’t have an NCTJ.”

As a result, my first choice as a trainee journalist was flawed from the very start. I did not have this information when I was an accepting 17-year-old. Instead, my decision sprang from a cocktail of naivety, a lack of understanding for the industry and the lure my university gifted me. While I knew of NCTJ, I did not understand how crucial it was. 

An NCTJ qualification is typically the centrepiece to becoming a journalist. Ensuring you know this is even more important with the state the world is in right now. Going to university is costly, a factor not aided by the pandemic’s effects. Hopeful trainee journalists must understand the options that are open to them.

There are numerous NCTJ courses an ambitious student can involve themselves in. NCTJ’s course finder is a vital device for beginning your journey. It details every type of NCTJ-qualified programme and where it is based. Each one is adapted by length and condensation. Whether you want to choose an undergraduate degree, a fast-track solution or facing the challenge independently, the choice is yours. Use this tool to its capacity, it will make your search for the right course for you easier.

Additionally, NCTJ offers a distant learning course which you should complete within two years. Even though you have tutors, it is essentially an independent avenue. It can be overwhelming at first, but my experience has shown this sensation mediates itself with every step you take.

The flexible NCTJ allows you to think clearly for the road you would like to go down. You should not feel rushed or obliged to jump directly into it. If you are interested in another subject, then there is no reason why you cannot dive into that subject at university. Or, if you do not want to go to university at all, then you have that option as well. You will learn the same skills and knowledge no matter the route you take. 

A journalist will often make numerous tough decisions in their career. Dilemmas come with the job we do. The first one will always be how you want to start it all off. The choice is the pacesetter. A degree is typically a marathon, a long challenging journey with barriers on the way. The reward at the end makes it worthwhile. 

In journalism, the marathon does not have the same reward if it is without a key ingredient: the NCTJ diploma. It is the conduit to the industry. You must place it as a priority when you are making your first crucial decision in your aspiring journalism career.