In a few weeks, universities and colleges will be throwing their doors open to thousands of students, either heading back to complete journalism degree courses or perhaps starting off for the first time.
Meanwhile, those graduates who have obtained employment at newspaper, magazine, radio or TV companies will have their autumn training programmes planned out – often involving additional study at further or higher education institutions on a day- or block-release basis.
Many young people will have completed their three years of study at university without firm job offers or invitations to interviews.
It may be that their courses simply do not appear on editors’ radars. The university or college may not have industry accreditation. It may be that the employer prefers to recruit from favoured institutions, or rejects universities that are judged too top-heavy in media theory, at the expense of practical production skills.
In contrast with the legal profession – where the bottom line is that no graduate can gain employment unless the degree is validated by the Law Society – the equivalent ‘kitemark’for journalism is in flux.
Wannabe print, photography and online news cubs must look to the National Council for the Training of Journalists to endorse their hard-earned (and increasingly expensive) BA and/or postgraduate courses.
The magazine sector is looked after by the Periodicals Training Council, while would-be radio and television reporters and presenters rely on the Broadcast Journalism Training Council to make sure that their accredited courses are up to scratch.
It means that tutors delivering journalism units, such as law and public affairs, need to satisfy the competing needs of three different accrediting bodies and, at the same time, ensure students are up to speed and content with the subject and pace of work.
Is this position sustainable? Is three now a crowd, in a digital age where journalists are expected to turn their hand as easily to words, pictures and video reports? Would one single accrediting body provide the school-leaver, student, trainee, editor and consumer with a fairer and clearer deal?
How and when should journalism training happen – in the lecture theatre, in the workplace, or even in the home via a correspondence course? Is there a place for non-accredited media courses? This is what the people in the positions of influence have to sayâ€¦
Bob Satchwell, Society of Editors executive director and NCTJ board member
‘From the Society of Editors’ point of view, what we have always said is that the industry needs an over-arching body which sets a training kitemark.
‘It needs to set down the basic skills and requirements for working as a journalist. If someone wants to go on and be a magazine or broadcast journalist, then they take additional training.
‘I had an applicant come to me who had completed a course at university which was not accredited. She was under the impression that the degree would get her the job, but the university had not covered law or public affairs in any depth and there was no shorthand.
‘I had to tell her that she had been conned. She had spent her time and her money at university and it was worthless.
‘Clearly, the basic training needs to cover law, ethics, public affairs and shorthand. The NCTJ is becoming much more up-to-date, and we need to see that develop further. We need the broadcast and magazine people to join in that process and create a single kitemark.
‘In five or 10 years’ time, there may be many different ways of delivering training, either through correspondence courses or in-house, at college or university. But what matters is that the courses are accredited by a body that is recognised by reporters.”
Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ
‘We have contacts with the BJTC and we are working to help students develop transferable skills. We have seen a great deal of growth in the number of accredited courses in higher education and also in-house.
‘We have been through a reappraisal in terms of training, in response to the way the industry is changing. We are no longer solely concerned with newspaper journalism, because the range of skills that journalists need is expanding all the time.
‘Obviously, there are opportunities for people to study long distance, depending on their own circumstances. There are developments and opportunities with law and shorthand in that regard, where it could be feasible to study through video conferencing, but the traditional route is well-established. Learning on the job or going on a course is likely to remain the preferred method for employers.”
Jim Latham, secretary of the BJTC
‘We are talking about the possibility of cooperation between the BJTC and the NCTJ, in terms of finding a syllabus or producing guidelines that would be common to both disciplines, such as law and ethics, or public administration.
‘The logic is one of convergence, and one structure. But we do have to recognise that there are areas where we will not come together. There are issues of difference, such as income streams and the exam structures that are in place.
‘There are other developments, beyond accrediting entire courses. I am hoping that, before the end of this year, we will have individual units accredited in law and ethics.
‘It will enable students or trainees to take units, which are part of degree courses, and to convert that study into a full university qualification at some later point. The benefit to the trainee is that they would not be paying for it themselves, which they would have had to do if they were studying at university.
‘We recognise that there are concerns about the number of students enrolling on journalism courses, but the evidence we have seen is that there is a high proportion of students on undergraduate and postgraduate courses that we validate who go on to work in the business.
‘It is something like 90 per cent of postgraduate students who get work in the media. For that reason, I do not agree with restricting the number of courses that receive accreditation.
‘We have to allow the marketplace to remain open. Our job is to make sure that we are raising the standards of training on the courses we run.”