National Council for the Training of Journalists
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The National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) was founded in 1951 as organisation to oversee the training of journalists for the newspaper industry in the United Kingdom and is now playing a role in the wider media. It is a self-appointed body and does not hold any statutory powers from central government, meaning students and those seeking to enter the media industry do not have to legally hold one of its qualifications to obtain work as a journalist.
The NCTJ offers accreditation, recognised throughout the industry, for aspiring and junior journalists. The accreditation consists of preliminary exams ('prelims'), which are undertaken either before the candidate begins work as a reporter or shortly afterwards, and the NCE, which is usually taken between 18 months and two years after beginning work on a newspaper. On completion of the NCE, the candidate is regarded as a fully qualified senior reporter by the newspaper industry. However, these courses also provide transferable skills for other industries, such as public relations, publishing, the film and television industries (especially for researchers), marketing, among others or even further study elsewhere. The NCTJ is a level three award.
The NCTJ is a charity for all media with a professional awarding body recognised by Ofqual, an accreditation board, Student Council, focus groups and forums, and the annual Journalism Skills Conference.
As well as being the examining body, the NCTJ offers short training courses to refresh candidates' knowledge prior to them sitting NCTJ prelims or the NCE, and also for professionals looking for related training.
Training for the prelims usually takes the form of a 22-week intensive course before employment starts, though there are various other options. These include one-year courses, undergraduate degrees, postgraduate courses and distance learning or 'block release' for candidates who already have a reporting job and have been given paid leave by their employers to undertake the course.
The NCTJ also runs a course for press photographers and photojournalists.
The preliminary certificate is being phased out in favour of the new diploma, which the NCTJ considers reflects a multimedia society.
The Diploma in Journalism is being piloted in the 2010-2011 academic year and will replace the preliminary certificate from September 2011.
The diploma is made up of five mandatory subjects - Reporting, Essential Public Affairs, Shorthand, Essential Media Law and a Portfolio - and two specialist modules selected from Sports Journalism, Media Law Court Reporting, Production Journalism, Business of Magazines, Broadcast Journalism (in 2011) and Videojournalism for Online.
To meet the gold standard, candidates have to achieve grades A-C in all subjects plus 100wpm shorthand.
Training for the National Certificate Exam usually takes the form of a series of workshops to prepare candidates for the exams, though some employers will not pay for these and send candidates into the exam without any preparation. The pass rate is around 60% each year.
The Oxdown Gazette
The Oxdown Gazette was a fictional newspaper used by the NCTJ as a setting for its journalism exam papers. Since the 1970s, trainee journalists would have to write reports on fires, floods, rail crashes and fatal accidents in the imaginary town of Oxdown. The idea was to replicate, as far as possible, the sense of local knowledge trainees would have if working for a real paper.
In 2006, the NCTJ decided that it would no longer use Oxdown — instead, a variety of locations and publications would feature on its exam papers. This did not go down well with some journalists and journalism lecturers, who had a sentimental attachment to the fictional town and launched a campaign to save it.
However, Oxdown lives on in a number of journalism training centres, sparing these institutions the chore of creating new fictional places every time they want to set a mock exam - students training with Newsquest, for example, will find themselves back in the imaginary world of Robert's Park, Eastport and Midhampton when sitting refreshers for their NCTJ final exams.
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- "Farewell then, Oxdown". Press Gazette. 2006-08-11.
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- "NCTJ's Oxdown faces final disaster". Press Gazette. 2006-06-23.