NCE: training the lowest common denominator?

Right, this press gazette article then.

 Editors involved in a review of the National Council for Training of Journalists’ NCE qualification for senior journalists have urged the training body to continue emphasizing traditional journalism skills over the use of new media.


…“without the solid grounding of journalism, good news writing, accuracy and sound interviewing skills to support the technical ability to write for blogs/web/social networking sites, the quality of that journalism will suffer and will become indistinguishable from citizen journalism.”


[the] “ability to spot a story, conduct a strong interview and then produce clean, legally sound, well-structured copy remains the priority”, and that “with these key skills everything else (social media, video etc) will follow”.

All makes a weird kind of logical sense doesn’t it – Get the basics right first and the rest will follow.

But there is an equally important reason for picking up the NCE

 “Editors are now able to shortlist and recruit candidates who have passed the exam,” the report said.

Of course it would. It was written by the people who set (and charge for) the exam.

So far so business as normal with the old vs. new media debate.

What industry needs right now not what’s right for industry

Frustrating as it is, I’m not surprised by the report or the reaction to it. I’ve kind of moved beyond being annoyed by the continued blurring of the lines between NCTJ marketing and the ‘views of industry’. What annoys me about this report is that it’s so output driven – it’s all about getting the paper out not about the process.

Looking at the relative importance of things just underlines how output driven it it is.

What's important?

What better way to interact with readers/viewers and listeners than social media. It isn’t the only way but it’s a good way and yet social media is down the running order.  When your editor can’t afford to let you out of the office and you have to do all your work via computer, some web skills would be important in finding news stories wouldn’t they? So why are they languishing at the bottom of the list?

Because they are seen as a way of getting content out there not getting content in or helping with the journalistic process. They will always be less important than getting the paper/programme out.

The responses also underlines a general attitude from editors that they are only interested in trainees with the skills they need to run the newsroom.  Whilst that might be a very real issue for them (and perfectly valid), for journalism in general it’s training for the lowest common denominator not for the future.

What’s important for the medium

In my digital newsroom module I’ve been using  a 2009 Journalism Skills survey from skillset that outlines the skills gaps across new and trad skills.

The new skills gap by medium

I think it’s clear that the priority of choices is completely driven by the medium. When it comes to traditional skills the basics are there but, again, I think the mediums show through.

Traditional Skills by gap

I use this stuff to show that the mediums demand a set of skills but the importance is purely down to the medium. Learn all of them and inject  appropriate amounts of digital to help you along and your better placed to exploit opportunities across all the mediums.

In that sense its a much more honest and useful report and it underlines what this NCE report is really about. It’s not really about what’s important but WHY. That’s driven by the medium and it’s demands and in that respect it has little or nothing to do with a broad concept of good journalism. It’s more about feeding the machine.

Look further

Look, I’m not saying the NCE isn’t valuable or worth doing. It is. I’m not saying that the basic skills are not important. Unlike many of the editors, I’m happy to see the importance of all the skills mentioned. * But lets’ have a little honesty in this.

The truth is that whether you think that some skills are fundamental (basic?) or not when it comes to the new stuff the following is true:

  • Social/new/multi media does not come after journalism it is part of it.
  • They are not mutually exclusive from accuracy etc.
  • Just because some editors don’t need them ,doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable.
  • If you’re not integrating appropriate digital tools in to your journalistic process your missing an opportunity.

So if you’re a journalist looking at this report I’d suggest a more open mind . See it as checklist not a hierarchy. See it for what it is and where it has come from.

Above all else, don’t let people with an agenda dictate what skills you learn. The truth is that none of this is difficult and there are some great people, editors amongst them, yes,online. They are right across this stuff (trad and new) who can help.

And whilst we are talking about it – this and this as well. Oh and while you’re at it, this and this

* I wish I didn’t have to but if I don’t say this then I’m simply a neophyte who doesn’t understand what proper journalism is all about! Maybe I don’t!




11 Replies to “NCE: training the lowest common denominator?”

    1. Thanks Adam.

      It’s a real fundamental problem with the “NCE editor attitude” that web/digital is just a place you get journalism not where you can do it. Still stuck in the linear process and thinking of the past.

  1. Hi Andy. I really enjoyed reading this blog and I think you’ve weighed things up pretty well.
    I work as a multimedia editor for the Birmingham Mail and although I’m immersed in the digital side of things it is still the ability to find stories that I think is the most crucial skill among reporters.
    And the best reporters in our newsroom are the ones who have a network of contacts that is simply unrivalled.
    Digital skills are really really important now and they should be on a par with traditional skills.
    But the one thing I worry about is that up-and-coming journalists think they can find ALL their stories via the internet.
    No matter how quicky web journalism evolves – whether that be on a newspaper website, TV website or radio station website – there is still a lot to say for getting to know your contacts face to face and in person.

    1. Thanks for popping by Paul . I agree with all of that.

      For most people digital is about fitting in with the process. As you say the best reporters have a network of people who can help them. How that network gets in touch or how they found them in the first place is just as likely to contain digital (twitter, email etc) as it is phone or meeting in person. Given the pressures on the newsroom digital, when used well, can help manage the flow.

      None of this is exclusive which some of the rhetoric seems to suggest. It’s about what works.

      Thats what I find most frustrating. Its not that any of believe that the journalism is any less important or that digital is somehow a complete replacement for journalism. Most of us know that its a mix. But the ‘representatives’ of industry keep peddling this line either explicitly or by the tone of the debate. Can’t see why.

    2. Totally agree – I think you miss out on stories by doing it “only digital” or by doing it “only in person”. One thing about digital is it widens your range of sources beyond the typical politician/businessman/lobbyist we tend to go to for quotes.

      I tell you what though, someone, somewhere, at some point must have written that the art of using the telephone was destroying the good old fashioned practice of going out to get stories…

  2. There’s much to be annoyed and saddened about with this report, so let me focus on just one thing… what on earth do people think “web skills” are?

    Is it the ability to search Twitter and other sources? (Or is that “finding news stories” in the 21st century?)

    Is it the ability to use e-mail to get information out of someone who doesn’t have the time (or is not in the timezone) to sit down with you in one sitting? (Or is that “interviewing”?)

    Is it the ability to write a pithy blog post (or is that “writing stories”?)

    Is it the sensibility to not rip a photo off Twitpic and label it “Copyright The Internet”? (Or is that “legal issues”?)

    Is it the ability to know whether it’s right or wrong to friend a recently bereaved person on Facebook to extract information and pictures? (Or is that “ethical/regulatory issues”?)

    Is it about responding to blog comments and tweets? (Or is that, as you said, “Interaction with readers/viewer/listeners”?)

    Is it about how to balance writing the follow-up story against responding to comments on the last story you wrote? (Or is that “time management”?)

    And are all those things to be put in the same category as, say, writing HTML or debugging a Python script?

    The saddens me that the creators of this survey chose to box up “web skills”, label it, and separate it. (Perhaps then to encase it in concrete and drop it over the side of a boat.) It says more about them than it does about what people working in the industry really need.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. As to the motivation for publishing the report…I genuinely can’t fathom and it’s hard not to be cynical about whose bets interest is served through stuff like this. But it’s the disappointment and resignation that you know you’ll be defending yourself against people quoting the survey at you for a good long while.

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