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

On the Simplicity of Just Being

As an overthinker, it can be easy to get distracted from the present moment. Too often I find myself paralysed with fear about the next few years, or even weeks, which detracts me from just being. It’s hard to overcome, but of late I’ve been more successful.

Tuning in with myself every morning by writing a few pages in my journal has allowed the worries I may feel to slip to one side. It doesn’t cure them, nor eradicate them, but it means that I can have a day where all my energy isn’t solely dissipated on that.

But it is in these very moments of stillness – that have become even more abundant in the second lockdown we are now living through – that I have experienced joy, a sense of peace and calamity. I’ve never been one for mass excitement, big gatherings or celebrations, as I’d much rather be with just a few people or even curled up by myself with a good book. However, during this pandemic, I have gained so much from just being.

Whether that be sitting still and listening to the sounds around me – the cry of the birds, the hum of gentle traffic – or slowly making my way through a book at my own pace. Or even, sitting in silence in the same room as my partner as we both do our own thing. Just being in the moment, recognising it and making peace with it without worrying about the future, has been, and continues to be, a great comfort for me.

Maybe I sound like an old lady way beyond my time. But maybe I don’t. During an age of mass excess, at least, the pandemic appears to have made our lives simpler. The allocation of more time spent at home has allowed some of us to spend more time with ourselves, figure out what we love and strip things back down to the basics. And isn’t this what life is really about? If we don’t know what the simple things we love in life are, then what are we striving for? In the same vein – overcomplication can often lead to apprehension and depreciation.

Taking time to be at peace and appreciate the moment instead of worrying about the future, is something I’ve learnt to recognise and started to practice this year. It’s helped me to become more present, mindful and at peace with myself.

I’m still not sure what my future holds, or where I’ll end up, but for once, I’m okay with that. I’m not having sleepless nights panicking about what kind of grand career I haven’t planned out for myself, but am, for now, content with the beauty of being. And just surviving in this thing called life. This doesn’t mean I’ve stagnated – in fact, I have a myriad of ideas. Ideas I would never have dreamed up if it wasn’t for lockdown.

I’m not sure what this post was meant to be, or quite where I was going with it. I just came on here to say hello and that I’m still here on this blog, from time to time. But I knew that I wanted to write about what I felt in this moment – which was a deep sense of inner peace, from just being.

If you’re reading this, I hope you take a moment to just be. Soak it all in, and try not to worry about tomorrow or the next day. As now is all we have.

Sending love and best wishes to everyone.

Check out my latest posts on Medium here.


“Whatever happens tomorrow, we had today. I’ll always remember it.”

Emma Morley, One Day (David Nicholls)

Sunday Post #4

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted at @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news ~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.


Another week, another Sunday. I’m writing this feeling a little sleep deprived as I haven’t slept much this weekend – but not by choice. I’m having another insomnia flare-up, which I haven’t had for a while. They tend to come and go in spouts. I think it’s because I’ve been feeling more anxious than usual, and I’ve neglected writing in my journal and the importance of gradually winding down in the evenings – which always helps.

It’s been a strange week – again, I haven’t published too much but I have still been writing every day, although the word count is down on last week. I averaged around 1000 words a day this week, compared to my usual 2000. I don’t stick religiously to a word count, but I think it’s good to have an idea of how much you are writing to help you stay on track.

I’ve been doing my first bit of copywriting for a small company based in London and I’ve been enjoying it so far. It’s freelance and technically my first paid writing job which is exciting and a step forward. I get to learn about completely random things like antique carpets and cloud software but it’s strangely satisfying!

I’ve had some more success on Medium – I’ve now been named as a top writer in their reading and books categories, which is exciting and completely unexpected. Having only been on the platform for a month I didn’t think I would get this much recognition so quickly. I have been loving writing over there and it’s really improved my confidence.

It was my 23rd birthday last Wednesday, which passed in a haze. It was a strange lockdown birthday but still a nice day. We got a takeaway and I did lots of reading, it was nice. I saw my family from a distance yesterday and was able to celebrate with a cake (but I didn’t blow the candles out in the usual way!) and nice food. It’s the little things these days.

It’s meant to heat up again next week just when we thought Summer was over. I hope it doesn’t get too hot, I’m ready for winter now.


This Week on the Blog

Surviving Another Year Around the Sun

Book Review: Alone Together

Book Review: Salvation Station

This Week – Elsewhere

10 Books to Read in 2020, Books Are Our Superpower, Medium

Reviewing my First Month on Medium

Currently Reading

Quiet, Susan Cain

I’ve always known I was an introvert, so I thought I better read this book. I fancied reading some more non-fiction so I decided to pick this up.

I’ve only read about 50 pages so far, but have already learnt some pretty interesting things. Van Gogh was an introvert, as is Bill Gates! It starts with a discussion about how American culture and society grew to prioritise extroversion, and how this is gradually changing as we alter our misconceptions about introversion and shyness.

I think I’ll learn a lot about myself with this one.

Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid

When the Booker Prize nominees were announced a while ago, this was the only book I thought I would like the sound of, so I decided to read it.

The story begins with Emira, a young, African-American babysitter, who gets accosted at her local supermarket for looking after a white child. The security guard in a racially motivated attack accuses her of kidnapping the child and she is forced to call the father.

It follows the perspective of Emira, and her employer, a famous blogger called Alix Chamberlain.

I’m really enjoying it so far and it hooked me straight away!


I really haven’t been reading that many articles this week, so I will leave out my favourite articles for the week – hopefully there will be some to include next time.

Please note – this post does contain Amazon affiliate links and if you choose to use them, I will earn a small fee but this doesn’t impact my review in anyway.

Surviving Another Year Around the Sun

I’m never one for making a big deal out of birthdays. The more I have of them, the more I want to ignore them. I know I’m only young, but I’ve always feared getting old.

23 feels like the beginning of getting older, or of life getting more serious. I thought I’d write a sort of self reflection post, but I don’t really know where I’m going with it. This might be one that ends up being deleted.

I was thinking the other day that I haven’t done much in a year. Sure, I finished university and graduated but since last September I haven’t really achieved much. I started a job I loved, finished that one, started another job and then furlough happened and I’m back to square one.

I haven’t got that ‘proper’ job that everyone speaks of and I still don’t know when I will. I guess my younger self always thought I would have it together by this age and be a proper adult. But what does a proper adult even mean?

Time is a strange thing and it means different things to everyone. Some people want to get married in their twenties and have children straight away, whereas others want to wait. I’m not in a rush, but I do wish my life had a bit more momentum and I was somewhat closer to being where I want to.

But I can’t blame myself for that, Covid happened out of the blue and was never something I could control. And I have been making steps and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and that’s what matters, right?

The next few years are going to be a hard one to try and start a career in and it feels like our generation has faced obstacle after obstacle (nearly two global recessions now, come on) so this year I’m not going to be too hard on myself and I’m going to celebrate every small achievement.

I may be 23, but that doesn’t mean I have to have my whole life together – it just feels that way due to societal pressures and expectations.

Bu I do have things to be proud of.

I’ve been brave enough to put myself all over the internet in the form of blog posts, articles and writing on Medium. First year university me would never have been this bold, maybe not even third year university me. I’ve gained a certain amount of confidence with my writing but I’m nowhere near there yet – but it’s a journey, right?

I feel like I am managing my anxiety better than I used to. At university I used to let it just take hold of me. But now I make the effort and I’m learning about what’s best for me. Having a slower pace to life since the pandemic has definitely helped, and so has rediscovering journaling.

I think in a way I have channeled myself more this year, as I’ve been able to do things I lost track of at university. Like reading, writing and just being. I haven’t found myself fully yet, but apparently that happens more as you go into your 20s…

I’m by no means perfect or where I want to be yet – but that’s okay. I survived another year – and that’s enough to celebrate in itself.

It’s also Hugh Grant’s birthday today, so happy birthday to him (he’s 60!)

10 things that make me happy

I’ve had a bit of a down few weeks, so I thought I would share with you a list of ten things that make me happy, or help to improve my mood. Maybe these will also help you too! If you have other things that make you happy, please comment them below!

1. Spending time outdoors

Throughout lockdown I have gone through ebbs and flows of spending time outdoors and then locking myself away – this happened at the earlier stage of the pandemic, and I am a lot more comfortable being outside now. But living in a flat with no garden has made me realise how important it is that I spend some time outdoors every day, regardless of how long I am out there for. This morning I took myself for a walk first thing and it really helped to improve my mood.

2. Morning coffee

For me, a morning is not complete without a coffee. After waking up, I make sure to drink a glass of water first but then head straight to make myself a coffee. I like to drink this slowly whilst reading the news or my book, and then I will have breakfast after this. I drink my coffee strong and with oat milk – if you’re interested!

Image: Violet Daniels

3. Podcasts and listening to the radio

I often do either of these things when I’m doing something mindless – like brushing my teeth, doing my skincare or washing up. I’ll often stick a podcast on or listen to BBC Radio 4. Sometimes I also listen to something before I go to bed, as I find it quite calming. I did a whole post about podcasts a while ago, but I have also been enjoying Michelle Obama’s podcast more recently and a podcast called Writer’s Routine.

4. Journalling

I do bouts of different kinds of journaling depending on what I feel like. Sometimes I spend more time doing long form, stream of consciousness writing, butother times I just simply write my thoughts and what’s happening in the world. I find putting pen to paper as a physical act very cathartic and it makes me happy to see I have nearly filled an entire Moleskine just throughout lockdown!

5. Some form of routine

I don’t have a strict routine I make stick to everyday or a particular routine I have at night or in the mornings, but I do make myself a to-do list each day, just so I have something to stick to. I might write small things down like ‘wash my hair’ but also things like what writing I want to work on that day, or more mundane tasks. I don’t always stick to it, but having some kind of routine, and idea of what to be doing makes it easier to fill the days.

Image: Violet Daniels

6. Writing

A very obvious one, but nonetheless one of the main things that makes me happy. Writing this blog and other articles has kept me sane for the past hundred days or so of lockdown. Having been off work for nearly five months, I had to start writing so that I had something to do with my days and something to wake up for. More than anything, I think this period has made me realise how much I love it and that seeing my work online gives me such a sense of achievement and happiness.

7. Reading (shock, horror!)

This is in the same vein but very much the source of most of my happiness. For as long as I can remember I have preferred to escape into other worlds and other people’s minds, rather than delve into my own, and this has been confirmed again during lockdown. There’s nothing more comforting than curling up with a book. Reading regularly is now one of my firm priorities and I never feel guilty about it.

8. Baths

Recently I have been indulging in long, leisurely soaks in the bath whilst I have more time on my hands. It has been so therapeutic during the long evenings and especially after a run as it can help to ease the soreness of my muscles. I use this time to listen to podcasts and read, but also to take care of myself. I have realised as well that taking the time out for me is never something I should feel guilty about it.

9. Going offline

Like many people, I have become even more addicted to my phone than ever before in recent months. However, I have been trying to schedule in afternoons, evenings or even days where I don’t go on social media or spend time on my phone, unless I have to reply to a message. As someone who is naturally quite insecure and can feel quite negative about themselves after spending time on Instagram or even Twitter, it has been really important for me to take time off.

Image: Violet Daniels

10. Taking care of myself

This may seem a bit strange but I do find it easy to forget to take care of myself. By this I mean forgetting to wash my face and take care of my skin, treat my hair to a mask, or do a face mask. I haven’t worn make up in months but instead of spending time doing that, I’m actually taking the time to moisturize my body and stick to a regular skin care routine. Although my skin is still problematic and I haven’t gotten to the route of the problem – forming the habit of taking care of myself makes me happy.

This was a bit different to my usual posts, but I hope this may have been beneficial and that you enjoyed reading it! The book reviews will be returning soon.

Hope you are all keeping safe and well,

Violet xxx