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

What I’ve Learned from Writing Book Reviews

So it’s now September and I find myself with a backlog of over 40 book reviews. And when I haven’t written these book reviews, I’ve always been thinking about books in some way, consciously or unconsciously reviewing them in my head.

Apart from simply loving writing them, over the year I’ve realised I have learned a lot from them too. I’m no expert – quite the opposite. But this is what I have learned from the experience so far.

I Value Having a Record of Everything I’ve Read

This may sound like the obvious one – but hear me out.

When I was younger and I had all the time in the world to read, I would whizz through books at a speed so fast that if you asked me about the book the next day, I wouldn’t be able to tell you a thing about it. In other words – I would forget everything I’d read.

Writing book reviews has forced me to consolidate my thoughts on a book and has left me a neat little trail of reviews across the internet – which will be lovely to look back on in years to come. If I’m ever sat there thinking, “I wonder what I read when I was 22?” as long as the Internet is still alive, I’ll be able to know the answer.

If You Don’t Like the Book – Just Give Up

I used to be a firm believer that once you’ve started a book, you should never give up on it. Now that I (almost) read every book to write a review, there would be nothing worse than having to plough through a book I didn’t like and write a review about it after.

Life’s too short and there are so many books out there, ditch the ones you don’t like and then you can make more time for the ones you do.

And yes, it is okay to abandon the book at any time. Thirty pages from the end and you just can’t be bothered anymore? Then put it down and move onto the next.

It’s Rare to Find Someone Who Agrees With You 100%

For every book read, there’s a wealth of different opinions that come with it. Every book is going to be received and interpreted in a number of ways, and this is largely a credit to the power of literature.

We all think and feel in different ways so it’s almost impossible that we are going to have the same experience with a book. Additionally, we all like different things in books. Some of us like a fast-paced plot over an in-depth character study. It all depends on the reader.

Part of the wonder of being part of the book community is seeing everyone’s different opinions on a book – it’s one of my favourite things. But I’ve learnt more than ever is that no one is going to agree with you all the time. For instance, I felt like an anomaly when the book world was going mad for Normal People, and I had forced myself to read it for a second time but was still left wondering what all the fuss was about.

All Reviews Matter

Before I started writing reviews on my blog, I naively thought that only book reviewers that wrote for the top magazines and newspapers gained influence and mattered. It’s easy to think, right?

Sure, my reviews will have far less of an audience but they still have the potential to alter the perception or success of a book. Working with lesser-known authors that have approached me (which is still unbelievable in itself) I’ve realised the value of a well-written book review and what that can mean for an author – and it doesn’t have to be written by someone well established.

In a world where we can all be writers and reviewers on Amazon, NetGalley and Goodreads, all of our opinions and thoughts matter too. That’s the beauty of the internet.

Image: @katstokes_ via Uplash

Sometimes It Can Be Hard to Put Thoughts into Words

Some reviews have been easier to write than others. Sometimes I have felt so overwhelmed with a book that I’ve struggled to put my thoughts to paper, or haven’t even written a review for it, in fear of not being able to do it justice. Take The Goldfinch for example, probably one of the best books I have ever read, but I couldn’t write a review of it because it was almost too good – and my thoughts on it lacked a real coherency that book reviews need. So I left it, and that’s okay.

And then some books deal with difficult topics, such as Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and An American Marriage – incredibly important books, but I’ve found reviews for these hard to write in case I phrase something badly or have interpreted the message in the wrong way.

But now and always, it will be imperative that we continue to review these types of books and test ourselves. It’s better to try and get it wrong than to sit back and not try at all.


It’s been a fun nine months of writing book reviews and I’ve gained a lot from it. As someone who can easily forget books despite whilst reading them being madly in love with them, I’ve realised the value in keeping some kind of record of my thoughts to look back on. For non book bloggers, it doesn’t have to be a book review, but even making a few simple notes in a diary or journal, detailing what you thought of the book.

I’ve realised above all, that I love writing book reviews and starting conversations with readers across the world, as despite being many miles apart, we can be united by the shared experience of having read the same book. The sense of community at the heart of the online book world is invaluable and I hope I’ve managed to positively contribute in some way, despite only being here for a short while.

Here’s to more brilliant reads and writing more book reviews to come!


You can now subscribe to my newsletter to hear more from me.

Isolation: day 62

Image: Pixabay via StockSnap

It’s hard to believe the last time I wrote one of these, we were only a couple of weeks into lockdown. We are now two months in and things are very different, but also the same.

On that routine I always wanted to get into – well guess what, I never did. And I stopped beating myself up over it because the allure of productivity and the pressures to be busy all the time is so mentally draining, that whilst being swept up by it you can lose the reason why you wanted to be productive in the first place. I’m done with the concept and discourse surrounding it, especially during these times, when to just get through it should be seen as productive enough.

So what have I been doing? I’ve still been reading and writing, albeit not doing the kind of writing I want to do as I’m struggling to find the motivation to write about anything more ‘serious’ than book reviews – but that’s okay. I have been able to use this time to focus on my blog and regularly posting – I hit 60 followers yesterday which is somewhat of a milestone for me, as I started off with about twelve at the start of the year! Thank you to everyone who has followed me and given me kind words of advice and encouragement 🙂

I’ve lost the will to exercise. I seem to go through weeks where I am really motivated – for example, one week I went running twice and did other workouts too, but the past couple of weeks I haven’t been doing much apart from long walks. We are going through a hot spell in the UK and it really doesn’t make me want to go out and exercise, and it gets so stuffy in the flat that I don’t feel like doing it inside either. These may sounds like excuses (lets face it they probably are) but hopefully I’ll be able to get back into it soon.

Photo by Elina Sazonova on Pexels.com

I’ve been trying to be more mindful of what I am eating – I was previously just eating the amount I would usually eat, but then I realised I wasn’t nearly doing the amount of daily exercise I used to. As a Barista I tend to spend eight hours of the day on my feet but now I tend to spend them on the sofa… I’ve been doing intermittent fasting a couple of times a week just to become more conscious about what I’m eating and I think it has helped. I don’t weigh myself or anything because I find that mentally exhausting. But I’ve come to be more accepting that gaining weight over this period is completely normal and I’m not going to beat myself up over it (and neither should you!)

The government guidelines have gotten even more confusing. We have now been advised to, “stay alert” rather than, “stay at home” however, I am finding myself staying at home more than ever because there are so many people out that still don’t take social distancing seriously. I get anxious even at the thought of going to my local park so that’s a write off. As we are now allowed to drive out of where we live to exercise, we have been going on long walks in the countryside – which I have loved as there’s very little people and when we do bump into them, they are kind and move out of the way.

There’s still no real clarity about when retail and hospitality will go back to “normal” – the government have proposed June or July as a guideline but that’s subject to changes in the data. As I use public transport for work I’m pretty sure I’ll be one of the last people to go back but who knows what will happen.

I still find it crazy how we are seeing 300-500 deaths a day, nearly two months on and people are still not taking the virus seriously. I get that we have to learn to live with the virus but at the same time, it’s so easy to just be respectful of others and simply step out of the way when you’re out and about – it seems to have become a thing of the past where I live.

I’ve been thinking more about what I want to do with my life, I haven’t had any “revelations” as such but I think more than ever I do want to pursue my MA in Journalism. I’ve been listening to podcasts about freelancing and writing in general and it has made me realise just how many aspects of journalism there are out there. I’ve deferred my place for a year, partly because I don’t know what’s going to happen with the course this year – as so many UK university’s have decided to teach online until 2021 already. I’ve decided to use this year to try and get as much writing experience as I can and read about the industry more generally.

I guess that’s my little update on still being in isolation in the UK. Expect some more reviews soon, I now have a speedy new laptop so it doesn’t take half the time to do something on my blog now!

Anyway, if you’re reading this I hope this chatty post finds you safe and well, wherever you are, Violet xxx

I now have a new Buy me a Coffee page – if you like my content and wish to donate you can now do so!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Isolation: Day 6

The sun is setting on another beautiful day here in the UK. Ever since Boris Johnson announced a full lockdown there has been nothing but clear blue skies and endless sunshine. Is nature trying to tempt us?

So I have spent the past 48 hours inside, the longest consecutive time that I have spent inside for a very long time. Even at University, I always made time to be outside, whether that was walking to the library or taking time outside for lunch.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the virus. It’s strange that something utterly invisible is the biggest threat to the world right now. It’s strange how it is impacting every part of our lives, even if we personally aren’t affected by it. It’s there but it isn’t. It’s in the air that we could possibly breathe and on the surfaces we touch unconsciously.

I’m not finding the isolation too tough but it is only the sixth day. Luckily I am not alone and live with my partner, although we have our tiffs through being together 24/7, if I was on my own I think I would find this a lot harder. I would be completely trapped with my own thoughts, with little in the way of distraction.

I think a lot about the people who are on their own and who don’t have people to talk to. I hope they are okay and not suffering. When this is all over, I think we will have other epidemics to deal with, not a disease, but loneliness, anxiety, depression, OCD and the rest. I worry that this virus will shatter our NHS even more, so that when the time comes when it is all over, we won’t have anything left to treat other problems.

On the other hand – I think this experience will give room to fixing a lot of pre existing failures in our social and welfare system here in the UK. Those in higher powers will hopefully realise that sick pay should be on the agenda for everyone regardless of employment type, that our health service is not fit for purpose and needs massive reinvestment, but that access to healthcare is a universal right that should not be disputed. We should not have to pay for our own suffering.

As we spend more time inside, the environment is exposed to less pollutants. There have been many reports across the UK of clearer skies at night, due to less noise pollution. Nature is having a break from being constantly suffocated. In the coming weeks I think we’ll see even more results. This is something that needs to be taken seriously once this is all over. Do we really need to use our cars for journeys which are perfectly walk-able?

So what have I been doing for the past six days?

Not a lot actually. I have found it hard to get myself to do things due to lack of routine. I am enjoying the lazy mornings and slow starts but have found these are inhibiting my productivity. I don’t often get round to doing anything until after lunch and then I have little motivation. But, I have been reading a lot and writing in my journal. If there is ever a time to keep a diary, surely it’s now? I have been out for a few walks in the sun (my daily exercise allowance) and me and my partner have even managed to do a few home workouts together – my legs are still recovering! Next week I hope to kick myself into gear a bit more and make the most of the free time.

Hoping that everyone around the world is okay and those who have taken the time to read this post are well. Look after yourselves. 🙂

Violet.