Training to Be a Journalist from Home — over One Month In

Has media law killed me yet?

It’s been over a month since I started my NCTJ, and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. There are days when I love what I’m learning about and days where it all seems to feel a bit much. But I guess it’s all part of the journey. Ahead of my first exam (in just under two weeks), I thought I would write another update and let you know how I’m getting on.

I don’t know if these posts are useful or not — but they may be nice for me to look back on in the years to come when I am hopefully — a qualified journalist.

I did make another weekly vlog in March, but it’s taken me so long to edit and get up. I don’t know if the filming thing is really for me. Doing it over the course of a week is quite draining (time and energy-wise), so if I do make any more videos, I think I’ll probably do more day style or sit down videos. But if you would like to watch, I’ll put my second vlog here.

So, how have I found it, over one month on?


Exam nerves are creeping in

It’s been two whole years since I last sat an exam whilst I was at university, so it feels strange to be returning to the repetitiveness of a revision cycle. I have my newspaper and magazine test, which is part of the ethics and regulation module, on 26th April, and of course, it’s online.

I am feeling worried about the exam because I have never taken one online, and there are all sorts of protocols in place that I’m not used to. I’m probably more worried about the technical side of it all rather than doing the exam. But I’m hoping it will become more understandable as I do it. You have to be invigilated by online software because no exams are being taken in person at the moment.

The exam itself is multiple choice — which has its positives and benefits. I feel like answering the questions is a bit binary, and you don’t get to explain yourself. But on the other hand, you don’t have to remember as much stuff. The revision has been okay, apart from the lack of resources.

As a distance learner, you get far fewer practice papers and revision material

In total, we are provided with one practice exam we can sit using the software we will be using on the day, but that’s not really enough to get used to the exam style. In the past, when I’ve been revising, doing past papers has been essential for me, so I’ve found revising for this quite difficult.

I sent an email out to two NCTJ tutors asking if it was possible to be sent some extra past papers, but one reiterated how we had access to the one practice exam, and the other said they would look into it never got back to me. It’s a bit frustrating when you think distance learners get the same qualification as anyone else taking it at a centre, but yet we have access to far fewer resources.

So, of course, I took to Twitter. And luckily, I had a kind follower email me some resources, which have been a godsend. But it shouldn’t have to happen. Just because we aren’t at a centre doesn’t mean we shouldn’t access the same resources. I wouldn’t even mind paying for them — but we aren’t even given an option.


Media law is as difficult as ever

I am about two-thirds of the way through media law, and although it’s becoming a bit more digestible, there is still so much content, and it’s hard to know how much of it we will be expected to learn and be tested on. In the beginning, I was making notes on my laptop, but I switched to taking notes by hand because I realised I was typing out word for word of the textbook, which wasn’t helpful.

This was an essential switch because I now think about what I’m reading, what’s important and then re-write it in my own words. It probably sounds basic, but I’ve been out of practice for such a long time. Also, I figured it was better to get some handwritten practice in preparation for shorthand (which I think I’ve decided I will take after some deliberation.)

I’m pretty much certain I will opt to take the exam in July, but I have no idea whether I’ll pass the first time. It would be nice to get a hefty module under my belt to focus more on the e-portfolio and start to choose my other modules.

Some parts of media law have been enjoyable

It hasn’t all been bad. Some topics are dense and complicated, but others have been interesting and enlightening. I can see why it’s all useful to know as a journalist, but there is just so much of it. I’m sure journalists in their day to day lives can’t recite the entire McNae’s textbook off by heart, but maybe they can…

A lot of it is common sense, and I’m sure it will become second nature as I learn it. But it’s definitely hard to sink your teeth into at first.


Group support is essential

The wonders of the internet mean that you can still feel supported by your peers as a distance learner. Being part of a group chat of people doing the same course and taking the same exams has been essential. You need to learn a lot on your own, and the course can be hard to figure out at first.

It has been so useful to share my worries and questions with others, as it would be hard to get the answers myself. Many of the group chat students have also done the exam I have in April, so it’s been so useful to learn about their experience and any tips they have.

In the beginning, I wasn’t really sure being part of a group chat would help me that much as I’ve always been a solid, independent learner. But when you have minimal tuition and have to do everything on your own, it really is an essential support network.

All in all, there’s been inevitable ups and downs. I’ve found that it has sucked away at my time, but that was always bound to happen. The course will probably take me more than a year to complete as there are so many components, but that’s okay because you can take up to two years in total.

Of course, I’m yet to go back to work, so it might be an entirely different story in May when I have to balance this with my day job. Until then, I’m going to try and make the most of the time I do have.

Please note, this was initially published on Medium.com (April 15, 2021)


Read more about my journalism journey

What Studying to be Journalist from Home is Really Like

I’m Having Doubts About Going into Journalism, Writers Blokke, Medium

How I Was Able to Benefit from Self-Doubt, The Ascent, Medium

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