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.
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.
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.
#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.
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.