I did it. I went to London on my own, over night and got to spend a full day at one place I never expected to go, the National Centre for the training of Journalists.
After enrolling on the distance learning NCTJ course around 6 months ago, I decided it was time to go for it and book my first exam. I have no time restrictions as in how long I have to complete the course, although the suggested time is 6 months to 2 years. Six months are just not possible for me, but I aim to be done within the two years, and with exams happening in only April/May and November/December, and with 7 modules to take, I really need to start taking them now.
Before each exam, is a refresher workshop. The idea being to fully prepare you for the exam, identify and help out with any problems or areas of concern, and hopefully help you reach your potential. I started off doing the reporting module as recommended by the NCTJ, so I hope if I take the Reporting exam now, I can put it behind me and concentrate on my next module which I’ve already started, (and it’s a tough one).
So I booked the workshop, the exam, the train tickets and the guest house, and as the day got closer, I felt slightly worried as would anyone, but also excited. I’ve never been away from my family overnight since having Emily, and I’ve never stayed or travelled anywhere on my own.
Monday morning arrived. I packed my case, and left around lunch time with a train to catch at 1.30. No matter how many times I’ve been told this is an amazing opportunity and I will get so much out of it, I admit I haven’t really listened. I like to be in my comfort zone, which is at home, this was taking me well out of it. But whilst on the train reading over my reporting book, reality kicked in and I realised this is exciting, and along with all the advice I will receive, it would also be an opportunity to make new friends and contacts. That’s the downside of distance learning. I have no one to share ideas with, ask advice from, or pool ideas together with.
I arrived at Kings Cross, took the tube to Liverpool Street, and arrived just in time for my next train, and after a total of 6.5 hours travel, arrived at my destination in Essex. I knew I didn’t have far to walk from the station to the guest house, but I still managed to get lost. Yes, I got lost finding a house which was literally a 30 second walk from the station, and had to use google maps. But it was dark, very cold, and I was tired.
I did plan to spend the night going over my reporting notes, but I had a free night with no children, a tv to watch whatever I wanted, and magazines to read, so yeah, I didn’t.
I woke up much earlier than needed, but guess my body clock is used to being up early with the girls, and I was feeling slightly nervous about the day ahead. My main concern would be that the other students would have much more experience in the journalistic field than me, or that I’ve done really badly in the practice exam I was sent to do at home in preparation for today. I’m over dramatic and like to catastrophze situations.
I arrived at the NCTJ at around 9.50, ten minutes before the workshop was due to start. Getting there wasn’t a problem as it was literally across the road. I walked into a relatively small room, with 6 laptops on each table for the 6 students who were expected to attend, and took a seat. The tutor then introduced himself, telling us his background of working in journalism for over 30 years, since begining his career with the Eastern Daily Press, to spending twenty years at the BBC as the depury editor of radio 4, Editor of 5 Live and the Cambridge News. Impressive!!
The morning began by us taking turns to introduce ourselves, and giving a little insight into why we were there. As shy as I am, I don’t really mind doing that, or any other ice breakers.
I listened as one student told us this would be her third attempt at the reporting exam, failing her last attempt by only two marks. She already works as a reporter, has passed all the other modules, but without this one can’t be promoted to senior reporter.
Two students had magazine backgrounds, another worked in insurance and one for BBC Bitesize. I just do freelance from home. I find stories, write them, send them to local papers or magazines and do theatre reviews for a website. I realised that although I’m not working for anyone, I still have some experience and skills. We gave an insight in what inspired us to do journalism, mine being something I’ve just found myself being drawn more and more into. And it all started via Facebook and my essay sized status updates, which have now became WordPress blog posts instead.
The majority of the day was spent going through our practice exam paper. Our answers were used intermittently as examples of what was a good answer, and also not so good answers. My attempt of question one which involved writing a short story from the information given, was used as an example of why you need use the maximum word count. Falling short by 40 words, meant I could have potentialy boost my marks by another few points.
I also learned that ethical dilemmas don’t come in to any question, unless it is an actual ethics question. Being given the brief of a scenario involving noisy neighbours, I chose to write the story, omitting the actual street name. The street name was the most vital piece of information to be included in the story, a very costly decision marks wise.
Overall. I scored 41%. 50 is a pass. With it being my first attempt of the exam and having two other students in the room who were retaking the exam after passing all the others, I know the reporting exam is particularly hard I was happy with a D as a first attempt. I now have 4 weeks to read the news, watch the news, practice more papers, write more storys and articles, and hopefully I can pass first time. My tutor also gave me the email address of the Editor of the Sunderland Echo, suggesting I could maybe spend a couple of days there in the Newsroom.
The workshop ended at 4.30 and I made my way back to the station with the other students, travelling back into London with two of them where we used the opportunity to find out more about each other and how we found the day. We all exchanged email addresses and today we’ve sent each other practice papers, slides and useful websites to look over in preparation for the real exam.
I arrived at Liverpool street, just in time for rush hour. Said goodbye to the two other students, and caught a jam-packed tube to Kings Cross, dismissing my original idea of spending an hour in convent garden. After waiting around Kings Cross for two hours, walking round looking for a bin to put my empty McDs packaging in (is there no bins in London? Seriously), being asked by about 50 people if I had a pound spare, I was on my way home, arriving home just before midnight.
As hesitant as I was, I’m so glad I went, and plan to return in November for the Media Law workshop, and possibly Public Affairs. I found the day very informative, very useful, but most importantly I learned that you should never say you can’t achieve or do anything. Never let anything hold you back, if you want something, believe it and you will achieve it.
So if anyone in the Newcastle area who knows of any newsworthy events coming up reads this, or anyone with a story they wish to share, please tell me and let me write it up. I need all the practice I can get and the heat is on.
I’m not so worried about the actual exam now. I know where I went wrong, I have time to improve and if I fail, I’ll just do it again.