What Studying to be Journalist from Home is *Really* Like

The highs and lows of my first week studying the NCTJ via distance learning.

I had been thinking about doing an NCTJ Diploma (National Council for the Training of Journalists) for a long time, but I think the experience of lockdown 3 finally pushed me over the edge to take the plunge and start.

Training to be a journalist is no easy feat and undertaking this whilst we’re still in a pandemic is even more problematic. But I figured doing this would definitely be a story to tell.

Like any natural journalist, I’ve decided to document the process and this stage in my life. Hopefully, it will be useful for people considering taking the first steps into the industry or considering a career change. It will also be a nice documentation for me to look back on in the future when I’ve hopefully ‘made’ it.

After ordering my materials and enrolling a few weeks ago, I thought I’d take some time to pause and reflect on my experience so far. In this post, I’ll be discussing why I opted to go down this route, what I’m currently studying and how I’ve found the process so far.

If you would prefer to watch or listen to me talk about this, I did make a video documenting my first week. But a quick disclaimer — I have no desire to be a broadcast journalist or go down the TV route — writing is very much my medium of choice. Still, I’m enjoying the process of trying something new and experimenting with editing.


What Is an Nctj and Why Did I Decide to Do it?

First of all, the NCTJ Level 5 Diploma is pretty much an industry standard, you don’t need it to become a journalist, but it’s beneficial if you’re starting from scratch like me.

It covers important topics like media law, public affairs, shorthand (optional) and the essential skills you need to become a journalist. My degree is in History, and whilst this is useful to some extent — the only experience I have in journalism is in student media. To apply to journalism jobs and enter the industry, I felt that this could potentially hold me back without having some formal qualification in the field.

Why distance learning

You can do an NCTJ qualification as part of some integrated masters or with an organisation like News Associates or the Press Association. A few years ago, after attending a talk from PA at university, I applied for one of their courses, went for interviews, got a place and was going to take it up. However, affordability was an issue for me and having to commute to London five times a week.

Essentially, doing the NCTJ via distance learning was the only financially viable option for me, as you pay per module and don’t have to pay a lump fee to secure your place. Additionally, I won’t be having to pay for the commuting into London. Also, with everything still happening with the pandemic, even if I had opted to study the NCTJ at a centre, most of my learning would be remote anyway.

It may be a slower pace than the traditional route, as it is meant to be studied alongside full or part-time work, but personally, I would rather take my time and complete it within 1 year than pack it all into a few months.

To wrap up, affordability, convenience, and practicality were reasons I decided to do the NCTJ via distance learning.


What I’m Studying — including Modules & Assessment

Image provided by the NCTJ

The NCTJ program via distance learning is compiled of mandatory skills modules which include: essential journalism, ethics and regulation, media law and the e-portfolio. When you enrol, you have the option to purchase these all in a bundle at a lower cost than paying for them individually, so that’s what I decided to start with.

As well as completing the mandatory ones, you also get to choose between a range of more specialist modules, including court reporting, data journalism and public affairs. But I haven’t got that far yet; I aim to get the core modules under my belt first.

Ethics & regulation

This module essentially consists of some of the ethical issues that arise from reporting, attaining evidence and gaining interviews and is heavily influenced by the Levenson inquiry and phone hacking scandal.

As part of the module and assessment, you have to learn the IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation) Editor’s Code of Practice, which basically sets out what a journalist can publish and how to attain that information. It’s a set of editorial standards that publications in the UK (if they chose to be part of IPSO) have to adhere to. It takes a bit of getting your head around at first, but I found most of the module’s content to be pretty straightforward.

I’ve already booked my IPSO Editor’s code exam for April, as it’s multiple choice and only takes half an hour. I’m looking forward to getting that under my belt to focus on more of the hefty modules. I managed to get through most of the content for this in a week, as it’s a relatively small module (only worth 3 credits out of 82 for the entire course) — but it is assessed throughout the other mandatory modules too.

Overall, I enjoyed studying this module as I learned about the theory, issues, and problems that can arise from reporting and put that into practice with case study examples and some more present-day ones.

Media law

I can already feel this module becoming my nemesis. It is a hefty one, which makes up 10 credits as opposed to 3. I only started it this week, so I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, but I can totally see how important it is for journalists to know about the law — as they could easily be sued for defamation or libel.

As someone coming from a non-law background with minimal knowledge about how the court systems work, it is a lot to take in at first. I feel the 2 and a half hour exam will be tough, but it’s made me realise how important it is to know about this stuff as journalists with platforms and responsibilities.


An Overview of What the First Few Weeks Were like

Before I actually opened the textbook and started studying, I did feel overwhelmed. Unlike traditional face to face (or virtual teaching), doing the course via distance learning means you don’t have anyone to structure your learning for you.

I had to spend quite a lot of time figuring out the modules, how the course worked and what to start with. I’m also lucky enough to be part of a distance learning group chat, so I turned to them for advice. But it was hard to have no guidance on this — especially when it’s something you are so used to having in formal education. However, after a bit of work, the course did start to make sense, and I don’t feel confused anymore — which was good.

I’m very glad I started with ethics and regulation as that eased me in, it’s not an overly complicated module, and the assessment is pretty lenient too, so I would suggest (if you are looking to do this course and are feeling lost) to start with that. Media law is another topic altogether, and I will have more thoughts on it as the weeks progress.

In terms of support — we get one hour of tutor time for every module, but they are incredibly responsive to emails and have been super helpful. I had some problems with the links in my documents and got a rapid response after contacting someone about it. Although obviously, it’s hard not to have that constant support, tutors are always there when you need them — and so is the group chat!

Last week wasn’t a great week to be a trainee journalist

But it isn’t all blue skies. I started my course amidst Piers Morgan’s coverage of the interview between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (which was diabolical). Seeing certain people online agree with the broadcaster was infuriating. It corresponded with the very week I was studying the ethics of journalism, and it angered me that so many people couldn’t see how his dismissal of Meghan’s suicidal feelings wasn’t damaging and sets a dangerous precedent for how we think about mental health.

And that week also corresponded with Sarah Everard’s kidnapping from London and the outpouring of women’s experience of sexual assault, rape, and mistreatment all over social media. It was a heavy news week and being inclined to read the news and engage with it as I am, I spent so much time on Twitter and felt compelled to keep up.

It made me question whether I could cope with the news cycle’s heaviness and the constant pressures to stay online and up to date. But then I realised that all journalists are human and take time off (without feeling guilty) all the time.


All in all, I’ve had a very positive experience of my first few weeks studying the NCTJ from home. It is far harder than opting to study it at a centre, as there’s no constant guidance to get you started — but once you’ve taken time to get to grips with the course, it’s fine.

I plan to get as many of the theory modules under my belt as possible, so I can then focus on doing the e-portfolio and getting placements — which will be the most difficult part, considering we’re still in a pandemic. But I’m hoping as the months go on that restrictions will ease and things will get easier to organise.

Next week might be a slightly different story as I progress with media law and the complexity and heaviness that it brings, but I’ll make sure to keep it real and keep you up to date with my progress.


This was originally published on March 18, 2021 at Medium.com

Podcasts getting me through lockdown

Since lockdown started nearly three months ago, I’ve been really into podcasts. I’ve been having more baths so that means more podcasts and I have now gotten into the habit of listening to them whilst running – which has changed my life! But I’ll leave discussing that for another day…

I actually find it quite hard to find podcasts I like and want to stick to. What I listen to largely depends on my mood. Sometimes I like to listen to historical/political podcasts which are more educational and then other times (like this week) I just want to chill out and listen to something lighthearted and entertaining.

I’ve compiled a list of the ones I’ve been listening to and thought I would share them with you. If you have any you’ve been enjoying please comment them down below! I’m always in the mood for listening to more podcasts.

1619

In an attempt to educate myself and understand the Black Lives Matter movement and the ongoing, systemic racial inequality in America and all over the world, I have been listening to 1619. It is a podcast by the New York Times, hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones. Each episode takes a thematic approach, for example, looking at democracy, the economy or music, but places these within the historical framework, starting from 1619. 1619 was the year in which the first African slaves were brought to North America on an English ship into Virginia.

I have listened to two episodes so far and have found them to be so informative – but not too heavy. Each includes individual experiences and voices alongside the history, in an attempt to place the origins of racial injustice in its modern day context. Nikole Hannah-Jones, the host, also has a very nice voice to listen to, so that’s a plus!

Each episode looks primarily at the history of slavery, the black struggle and tries to answer how this has shaped modern America. It is eye opening and incredibly informative. I would highly recommend this!

Football, Feminism & Everything in Between

This re-ignited my podcast obsession and I have not been able to stop listening! Hosted by Grace Campbell, comedian and feminist activist and her Dad, Alastair Campbell, journalist and former advisor to Tony Blair, each episode (bar the lockdown ones) features a special guest and an informal, comedic chat.

Each interviews combine, you guessed it, a bit of football, feminism and everything in between. The ‘everything in between’ part usually centers on politics but it is usually influenced by the type of guest they have on the show or the events going on in the world at the time. Guests range from Julia Gillard, Kay Burley, Sean Dyche to Ed Miliband. There’s been a few people they had on that I didn’t even know but still enjoyed, which just shows you what a good repertoire the two have to keep me engaged!

The duo have also done a series of lockdown podcasts where they both reflect on the political goings on in number 10 and what they’ve each been doing to fill the days. Every podcast has me at least laughing and rolling my eyes and all most all of them get me thinking. I think the fact these two are Father and Daughter really makes the podcast. They have a very natural relationship which shows in each podcast.

It combines a bit of everything that I like – politics, dislike for the Tories, feminism, mental health, books and journalism so in my opinion, it could never go wrong!

About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge

Image: Spotify

I have really enjoyed this one too. Hosted by the bestselling author and journalist, Reni Eddo-Lodge (Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race), this podcast looks at the history of race in Britain and ties it into contemporary politics. Unlike 1619, each episode is shorter, and hence why I have gotten through them a bit more.

Episodes often feature outspoken political activists, like Owen Jones and Billy Bragg, and center around a specific issue. Like the rise of far right politics in the UK and the lead up to the EU referendum. Reni Eddo-Lodge methodically picks apart each issue and places them in context to fully explain the ongoing racial inequalities in British society today. The BLM movement has evidently been huge in America, but it is important to be aware that it has so much significance in Britain, as we are still far from perfect.

The episodes also have great music with them – which makes the listening experience even better. I have found the analysis of the history of racial inequality, alongside the explanation of the rise of far right politics in he UK incredibly insightful and interesting. These feel very light and easy to listen to, despite dealing with heavy topics.

I have been learning a lot from this podcast and think it is very well put together.

My Favourite Murder with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

Image: Exactly Right

I recently discovered this one when having a bad week and I just wanted to listen to something lighthearted, without having to think too much about what I was listening to. At first (I admit) I did have to get over the overwhelming American ascents, but after that I was fine.

Each episode (and there are so many!) looks at a variety of different things; from historical crimes, more recent crimes, to weird stories and personal experiences sent in by listeners. Each episode is introduced by a long, informal and funny chat by the two women, which almost always has me grinning. They are two very down to earth and funny people which are great to listen to when you are feeling a bit down. I’ve also learnt a lot about some horrific crimes in America. Like the Kent state massacre in 1970, and the Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771, which crashed along the West coast in 1987, as a result of an airliner pilot being shot by a passenger.

I just love these podcasts because I can just have them on in the background whilst I’m cooking or washing up, as I’m getting ready in the morning or just chilling in the evening before I get into bed. They are funny, chatty, and entertaining – with a dash of education. Love them!

If you have any recommendations, don’t forget to pop them down below.

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Black Lives Matter

I am writing this from the perspective of a white woman, who in recent days has become even more aware of this privilege, due to the horrific death of George Floyd – a black man who was murdered by a white police officer. Although this incident is far from an isolated one, but part of a sad, ongoing injustice that has been rife in America since their history began, the graphic footage of police brutality has caused many more people to speak up.

Granted, we should have all been speaking up and being proactively anti-racist all along, and it shouldn’t have taken the death of another black man for us to do so. Evidently, this is wrong, but it would be worse to dwell on this and not do anything. It is easy to have an excuse for not speaking out – I have had many over the years. Partly, I have been silent because I have felt I didn’t have the correct language to speak about these issues, that I don’t know enough, but also because I’m white and have previously felt that I don’t have a right to speak about racial issues. These are all ones that come from self ignorance, I can now admit. But I am trying to be better and that’s what counts. Recognizing your ignorance (and excuses) is the first step forward.

Image: LA Times

Over the past few days, I have been reflecting on everything to do with race; how I understand it, how I act upon it and how I can become better at being actively anti-racist. I’m not writing this post and claiming I am perfect (I’m far from it) but I am working on it in the best way that I can. I accept that it isn’t just these few weeks that matter, but it is a lifelong effort that everyone, but particularly white people must take.

I don’t have a huge platform, but I do have one and this is enough. Something you share or post could influence just one person to think differently – but that is enough. Thus, I feel it is necessary to write this post. I deplore everybody to do everything in their capacity to be actively anti-racist; in their communities, online, in work places and in every day life. Being against racism is simply not enough – we have to do more.

Image: Gal-dem

Britain is far from perfect. Our Prime Minister has been silent on events in Minneapolis and refuses to condemn the actions taken that ended George Floyd’s life. It was only when he was criticised by the leader of the opposition, more than a week on, that he bumbled his way through addressing it. During his previous career as a journalist, he blatantly used racist, inflammatory language. This is just one example, “It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.” And lest not forget our monarchy has been built on systematic exploitation of other races, and the current Duke of Edinburgh (Price Philip, the Queen’s husband) has been outwardly racist his whole life.

Growing up in an almost exclusively white town

I went to schools that barely had any black, or people of colour in the classrooms – students were almost completely white as well as my teachers. During my whole compulsory education, from the age of 5-18, I was never taught about black history and the realities of British led imperialism and slavery, it was never on the curriculum. It was only when I went to university and studied history that I began to understand it. It shouldn’t have taken until this age for me to wake up to the white bias of our classroom curriculum’s, and society’s ongoing, sheer denial of British imperialism. But I fear if I hadn’t have gone to university to study history specifically, I would be far more naive. In part, there is a degree of personal responsibility here, but also, a fundamental national one.

Black history and the horror of British imperialism should be at the forefront of the history we are taught from a young age. Most fundamentally, because black history is British history. We are taught the unblemished version of events, and grow up believing it until we are challenged by it, or realise we need to challenge it ourselves. For some, this process never comes to light. Instead of memorializing the great British war efforts, achievements and sense of national pride that history curriculum’s celebrate – we should be taught the realities of Britain’s past and role in harboring racial inequality.

At university, I studied the history of America, the origins of racial discrimination, the growth of white supremacy, and how inequalities still plague the country of “freedom”. In my final year, my special subject was in “Development” which focused on how Western powers – particularly America and Britain, had exploited African countries from the nineteenth century all the way up to present day. In a way, since being at university I am far more knowledgeable from a historical point of view – however, regrettably I have failed to speak out about it. But I am recognising that. I want to be better and to educate myself even further, and I encourage everybody to do the same, if you are not already doing so.

Social media and #blm

Although I think the blackout trend on social media had good intentions, I believe it ended up silencing black voices and the important educational content that had been circulating. I noticed it was primarily being used by white people, who had not spoken out before. I feared it was being used as some form of social media bandwagon that white people could jump on to claim they had done something and been anti-racist. When many of them had perhaps not done the bare minimum which has a greater impact – like signing the George Floyd petition and donating to good causes.

Image: Variety

Social media is a good tool to spread educational content and have your voice heard – but the simple posting of a black square is not enough nor effective in my opinion. I didn’t engage in this – but instead, shared important educational resources and the links to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.

Changing reading habits to elevate black voices, authors and POC

As someone who reads a lot and whose online presence is geared towards writing book reviews, I am going to make a real effort to diversify what I review.

I naturally float more towards fiction and in the past have read The Colour Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Help and The Underground Railroad. But I admit this isn’t enough and is not good enough. I want to read more non-fiction about race, including Reni Eddo-Lodge’s, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Layla F Saad’s Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor. I acknowledge these are mere starting points and won’t be enough to simply diversify my reading habits, as this is a lifelong process – and one that I am going to be getting on board with starting. If anyone has any specific recommendations for books I should read, please let me know!

I have also made an effort to educate myself more with podcasts. I would recommend 1619, The New York Times podcast hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones and About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge. I have also donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund and signed the George Floyd petition – but I acknowledge that these actions are not a quick fix, the struggle is life long and I will always be doing what I can to speak out and educate myself. I haven’t documented this here to gloat about what I’ve done, but to encourage my readers to do the same and point them in the right direction.

Below I’m going to post a list of resources I have found helpful over the past weeks.

Useful resources

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ELEVATING BLACK VOICES✊🏻✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿 I have been following the situation in the US following the tragic murder of George Floyd. It disgusts me how someone can go to the shop to pick up a few things and never return home because of prejudiced actions against the colour of their skin. I don’t want to live in a world where people lose basic empathy based on physical difference. This is a crucial time to elevate black voices speaking out about their plight. As white allies we need to LISTEN and TAKE ACTION where we can and use our privilege to shield those who aren’t as privileged. That includes donating to charities and signing petitions like the ones I’ve shown here. ➖ Another thing that we should always be doing is reading the stories of black people that come from black authors. One of my university modules was African Literature and it showed me so many amazing novels that have had a profound impact on my reading. ➖ By casually incorporating black written novels, tv shows and films into our daily media consumption we become more empathetic and create space for more people to share their stories. We should support those who already have! This also goes for movies and tv shows which I have recommended too. ➖ I also wanted to include some stories that aren’t related to black struggles by black authors because there are so many that don’t get the same attention on here. ➖ We need to read up on the injustices created by white supremacy while they are so fresh on the news, and let black people know that their lives matter to us and we won’t idly stand by while they are killed by the people who are paid to defend them . #blacklivesmatter

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I am by no means perfect. Feel free to call me out if I’ve said anything wrong, or could have phrased things differently. I am very much still learning, but as always, I am open to starting conversations and helping each other. If you have any other good resources please comment them below!

I hope this honest insight from me may have helped at least one person re-assess their actions and words. Together we must always be fighting for black voices to be given the respect they deserve. This fight is ongoing and long term, and it goes beyond the realm of posting on social media. Education is lifelong but I’m sure you’ll all be joining me in this process. Thank you for reading.

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

Angela Davis, author of Women, Race, and Class.