What my journalism course taught me about blogging

It’s been a couple of years now since I completed my NCTJ journalism course and I still get lots of emails from readers who ask me if I think it was worth it. One question I’m regularly asked is if it’s worth doing for someone who would like to become a professional blogger.

It’s hard to imagine students opting to become professional bloggers for their careers when it’s such a new industry. This wasn’t even an option just a few years ago.

It’s hard to say a clear yes when it comes to the NCTJ course or no here so I’ll begin by telling you more about the course and some things I learned during it.

Before I begin, NCTJ stands for The National Curriculum for the Training of Journalists. You don’t necessary need an NCTJ to work in journalism but it definitely helps, particularly in local journalism.

 

About my NCTJ Course

I did a part-time NCTJ course with News Associates in Wimbledon. News Associates are London’s top rated NCTJ course.

We had classes on Monday evenings and all day every Saturday.

It cost just under £4,000.

Personally, I didn’t rate the NCTJ course very highly but this is mainly my own fault. Stupidly, I thought the course was about writing and creativity and digging for news stories. It was actually the complete opposite. It was mostly about media law, shorthand and learning to write in a strict and formulaic way. There was no space for creativity here.

If you’re looking for a journalism course that has more creativity, consider Magazine Journalism which I hear is much more creative.

The whole course was focused on print journalism with little to no mention of online journalism. In my opinion, 21st century journalism courses should include lessons in SEO, social media, photography, videography and microblogging but we had none of this.

Keep in mind that you’re taught to pass an exam rather than to become a journalist so work experience is a huge and really important part of the course. If you do the course full time then you do one day a week of work experience. If you do it part time you do a 2-week placement.

I was actually lucky enough to find a paid internship for 4 days a week so I feel like I had the best of both worlds.

I lived in London and was paid minimum wage for the internship so I topped up my income with freelance copywriting.

I also did unpaid work experience prior to the course. I really hate it when people criticise unpaid work experience within journalism because it’s such a necessary part of your education. I learned so much through unpaid internships and work experience. I actually learned a hell of a lot more than I did during my university degree and NCTJ course and I left both of those with over £20,000 in debt! Yes, it was hard work because I needed to work part time alongside any work experience I did but it was well worth it in the long run.

Blogging and journalism

Was the course worth it for me?

I don’t feel like I learned a lot during the course that I couldn’t have learned for free through using a text book. So no, I don’t feel like the course was worth it.

I have been told that when I applied for my paid internship, the fact that I was studying for an NCTJ helped my application stand out but I felt like it was my blogging experience that ultimately gained me the position.

At another job I managed to negotiate a higher rate of pay and I was told it was due to my NCTJ qualification that they thought it was justified.

So in a way, maybe it was worth it?

Also, I wouldn’t have moved to London if I didn’t do the course so for that reason alone it was 100% worth it! I loved every single second I lived in London and it was all the networking events I attended that helped me to build up my blog and eventually led to a freelance career.

NCTJ journalism course

Should I do an NCTJ course if I want to be a blogger?

No, absolutely not.

If you’re a blogger it’s a really good idea to have a firm understanding of media law but you don’t need to sit an exam. You won’t need shorthand and you won’t want to have your creativity crushed with formulaic writing strategies.

There are loads of cool blogging classes you can take but blogging really comes down to practice and experience.

 

What did I learn during my NCTJ course that can be applied to blogging?

I’m going to be a bit sneaky here and save you the time, effort and hassle of the NCTJ course and just tell you what I learned and how you can apply it to blogging.

Studying journalism

#1. “Tight Writing”

This is the most important thing I learned, not just for blogging but for life. This is the art of cutting out the waffle and writing the words that matter.

In speech, we add fillers and lots of little words to, like, kind of give ourselves chance to, you know, think about it a bit more. And sometimes we add these to our writing too. We do it, you know, without even thinking and it’s pointless. (See what I did there?)

One thing we regularly did during the course was to go back through out writing and halve the amount of words we’d used. It takes time but eventually you stop using unnecessary words and get straight to the point.

 

#2. Writing quickly

There’s no denying that bloggers are busy people and, ironically, we often don’t have time to actually blog. The second most important thing I learned was to write quickly.

We’d be given a writing task and a set amount of time to do it. If you didn’t complete it, you failed. Simple as.

I know it’s important not to rush but if you can write the same quality articles in half the amount of time, you’re twice as productive.

 

#3. Interviewing people

We actually didn’t spend much time on interviewing people and it only happened 2-3 times but this was so valuable. Interviewing people can be awkward if you aren’t prepared and feeling confident.

Many bloggers don’t interview anyone and their blog is all about them. This is fine but sometimes it’s good to get a different perspective and doing it face-to-face is always more beneficial.

I learned you have to be prepared when interviewing people and know as much about them as you possibly can. Don’t presume you already know their answers and always listen to what they’re saying. Treat it more like a chat than an interview or you can end up asking questions that don’t connect to their last answer.

 

#4. Sometimes you do need to write for free

Bloggers often get on their high horse when it comes to writing for free and refuse to do it. If you’re a fantastic writer with lots of experience then I would never suggest writing for free. But if you’ve got no experience, you don’t know how to pitch and you’re unsure about writing in different styles then you might have to.

You’d never pay a builder to build a house if he’d never done it before. So why would you pay a writer to write you an article if they had no experience or proof they could do it?

You could pay to do an expensive writing course that will teach you everything, or you could just do it for free in return for detailed feedback from the editor.

Like I said above, the unpaid journalism internships I did before my course were absolutely invaluable.

 

#5. Accuracy and fact-checking

If you spell something wrong or get a fact wrong, it is an instant fail in an NCTJ exam. Fact checking is drummed into you over and over again for the entire year and I can’t stand it when people make basic mistakes (or call me Monica Scott). I’m not saying I never make mistakes (far from it!) but I always double check the spellings of people’s names and do my very best to get facts right.

 

#6. Shorthand

Realistically, I will never need to know shorthand but I use it every now and again just to show off. I also use it if I’m in a situation where I don’t want anyone else to copy my notes. This doesn’t happen very often and I’m not a 10 year old doing my weekly spelling test but, you know, it’s kinda cool to have.

 

If you have any more questions about the NCTJ course, please do let me know in the comments below. I haven’t painted it in a very positive light but I wanted to emphasise that if you want to be a blogger or work in online media than the NCTJ course probably won’t be your best option.

TheTravelHack

Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a professional blogger and has travelled around the world in search of stylish adventure travel. Monica has recently had her second baby and is determined to prove that travelling with a baby is possible!

SHOWHIDE Comments (17)
  1. Really interesting post! The ‘being trained’ to pass an exam is so common in academia – its really frustrating! Still sounds like you made the most of it and took some good lessons. I always find writing my blog posts at speed better, even if i have to go back and muddle the paragraphs so it reads well – it definitely helps me be more creative to ‘blurt’ onto a page at first!

    http://www.beaucience.co.uk

  2. This is probably the most insightful post I’ve read about starting a blogging/writing career. For what it’s worth, I hope in the future there will be more relevant courses in-line with the career of a blogger.

    I’m also planning to become a full-time blogger someday (as long as my time/finances agree with me!), and your teachings will definitely help a lot.

    All the best! x

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. I am a Journalism graduate from Manila and is currently blogging about film and travel on the sideline of my day job as a publishing specialist. This particular post of yours has helped me immensely. Will be reading more. Cheers!

    Shayne
    http://www.lemisstache.com

  4. Hey Monica, loved this read – chuckled when you said the bit about ‘stupidly thought this course was about writing creatively and digging for stories, when it was about media law’ – because I could see myself doing a whole course thinking the same and being disappointed. Thanks for sharing nuggets of your successes though.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing your insights, Monica. A lot of the aspiring writers I teach and speak to think they absolutely must go onto an NCTJ course after they’ve graduated from uni, but I always make the point that they should have a clear picture of what kind of work they want to do before investing more money in more education. There are so many different ways to work with words now, and the skills taught by an NCTJ course are incredibly limited if you want to forge a digital or non-traditional route into journalism or blogging.

  6. Hi Monica, I’m in my final year of my journalism degree at the moment and so it was really interesting to read this and hear your experience. It’s also made me a lot more grateful about my degree, which I think it set out a a bit differently to your course as there seems to be a lot more support towards blogging and online platforms. I totally understand the frustration of working to strict formulas and learning about media law, it’s torturous at times. Luckily it seems like journo schools are understanding that the future is online as well. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that in my course we are required to keep a regular blog and even had to write a multimedia assignment, we also have classes about utilising social media while at the same time learning shorthand so it’s a really interesting but beneficial mix. Hopefully NCTJ get the memo soon and start to jazz things up a bit! By the way, absolutely love your blog!

    1. Hi Anya, that’s great to hear, it sounds like you’re on a great course. It was a few years ago when i did mine now so maybe my course was just a little slow to pick up on the importance of online.
      Good luck with your final year and thanks for your message!

  7. As I am looking for the journalism course to be a part of online news and I love the passion of reporters. Your blog clears my many confusions… Thank you so much…!!!

  8. Reading this was so helpful and a part of me wishes that I read this before I started my part time news associates course back in February of this year.

    My reasons for picking this course varied and it was a mix of wanting this qualification as a personal merit, re-invigorating my CV (which was already packed with stuff but I felt it needed a renewal boost somehow) and I also told myself that to be a better blogger that I needed good journalistic skills. I also needed some re-direction in my life for all sorts of reasons, personally and professionally. I looked at a few of the modules and thought “Hmm this could be useful!”. I also knew about the course from years ago and had done some journalism/article writing here and there (plus blogging in an internship ) in the past so after some thinking…I looked a three courses at Lambeth, The Press Association and News Associates, applied on all 3, got on all 3 and then after the toughest decision ever…I picked News Associates. What also helped this decision massively was that my course was entirely covered by a bursary plus I got some separately for living costs.

    Whilst I think the course is useful and I am glad I have a goal again…reading this blog reconfirmed and has slightly added to some thoughts deep down. And being surrounded by journalists who really love this way of writing confirmed for me that at best….magazine writing or being an in house writer is way more my thing (should I do this instead of my more preferred goal of being a creative writer or copy writer).

    Sorry for the long comment but reading this has helped and sparked off some feeling in me to reignite my active blog more to get that creative going again. I won’t quit the course but I will organise my schedule so that I’m giving myself the space and chance.

    Thank you 🙂

    1. I’m so pleased this post has helped. I didn’t feel like the course really helped me professionally but, like you say, it gave me a goal, it kept me focused, it kept me in London and it surrounded me with people who wanted to be journalists and shared a common passion. Sometimes it’s more about the people you meet than what you’re learning on the course.

      Good with the rest of it and I hope you have fun reigniting your blog!

      1. Thanks so much for your response! Definitely who surrounds you whilst on a course working towards a goal plays a massive part, as well as focus and shared passion but with a different branch. Thanks for your well wishes about my blog, I certainly will! 🙂

  9. I read your experiences and tips for climbing mount kinabalu and I really appreciate all the infos. My coarse in university require the students to climb mount kinabalu. well, my geologist team gonna rock it next year. Thanks!

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The Travel Hack

The Travel Hack is a blog about stylish adventure travel and affordable luxury.

We believe luxurious travel can be affordable and isn't just for the rich. Follow along with our worldwide adventures as we share our trips and tips for incredible travel experiences on a modest budget.