This write-up primarily relates to the UK, but anyone interested in journalism education may be interested in reading it.

If you can't be arsed reading the whole 8000-word thing, and only want the gist of things; This is the most important paragraph in the whole dissertation, taken from the conclusion:

Ultimately, based on the research in this dissertation, the best suggestion that can be made, is to study a non-journalism topic in depth, or perhaps even a series of topics in which the prospective journalist is interested. Many of the skills that make good journalism are learned in the 'school of life', and the only way to enrol is to live to gain real-life experience and people skills. At some point, when the journalist-to-come decides the time is right, a one-year journalism course can offer the necessary core skills needed to land that first job.

Dissertation, part of my Journalism BA Honours degree
at Liverpool John Moores University in Liverpool, United Kingdom
Completed and © 2004 Haje Jan Kamps


To what degree does journalism education benefit a career print journalism looks at the way journalists are trained and how the various training schemes can help a journalist's career.

After a brief summary of previous literature on the subject, the dissertation outlines and discusses the various journalism education structures available to an aspiring journalist. The thesis further discusses whether or not journalism education is necessary at all, what skills a journalist needs, and how it is possible to go about gaining these skills.

The original research for this body of work comes in the form of a series of interviews: Throughout the dissertation, the opinions from more than 50 trainers, trainees and journalism professionals are reflected and weighed against each other.

The dissertation reaches the conclusion that journalism training – when properly structured and focused on the right things – can offer fledgling journalists invaluable tools to use in their careers. The ultimate conclusion, however, is that a non-journalistic degree with an additional post-graduate qualification or masters degree in journalism is the wisest investment for someone who wants to pursue a successful print journalism career.


Our society is saturated by The Media. Radio, the small and big screen, magazines and newspapers are like an inescapable web of knowledge, information, entertainment, advertisement, news, commentary and political spin. With topics as varied as gardens, cars, movies, home-improvement, antique dolls, education, chemistry and fly-fishing, the only thing all of these very diverse things have in common is the people that provide the content: Journalists.

There are literally hundreds of professions within the field of journalism. To begin with, we have the various forms of media output: national newspapers, local newspapers, news agencies, freelance, magazines, books, PR, radio, television, Internet news etc. (NUJ 2003a). In addition to this, there are all the different functions within the different media, that may all contribute to journalistic output, if only peripherally. These other roles and may or may not benefit from a journalism education: Reporters, sub-editors, editors, translators, proofreaders, producers, directors, cartoonists, illustrators and technical staff such as photographers, camera-crews, communication link operators etc.

This study will examine the different routes leading to a successful print journalism career. In particular, the dissertation will unveil to what degree it is beneficial to have a journalism qualification, what options are available and what the differences are between the alternatives. In the name of brevity, it will focus on journalism careers in the field of print journalism only: The education en route to a career as a journalist or reporter in local and national newspapers or magazines.

According to the NUJ, there may be as many as 80.000 journalists in the UK. Of these, roughly 60.000 work in print journalism. (NUJ 2003a) Consequently, we can assume there are 60.000 different stories as to how these journalists got to where they are today.

So what is journalism education, really? What is its purpose? After all, journalism theory can be summarized into a set of simple concepts, the essence of which you could write on the back of a business card: Get Who, What, Where and When, and get Why if you can. Spell names correctly. Check everything one more time. Do not convict a suspect. Bring an extra pen. Do not accept gifts from sources. Be accurate. Be creative.

Nevertheless, to teach these concepts there are a plethora of possible training and education selections. The options range from short "fast-track" courses to masters degrees or even doctorates.

It is a paradox: while journalism education has never been at a intellectual level, parts of the press – in particular the provincial press – are degenerating into rewriting press releases, as a cost-cutting option (Røkke Johansen 2004). Simultaneously, and in stark contrast with the previous observation, the average level of education within the population in general is rising. This has caused an increase in interest for in-depth, high-level information and analysis of the world around us, which manifests itself in the form of higher demands on publications and the people who produce them (Bierhoff et al 2000).

In order to initiate and uphold a meaningful journalism career, many media professionals feel "formal training is a pre-requisite for nearly all entrants – except the phenomenally talented, lucky, or those related to someone in high places" (Rudin 2004). Consequently, the significance of the quality of this training is considerable.

All the tutors and trainers we spoke to feel that journalism education upholds a very high standard, compared with the way journalism education has been practiced in the past. In spite of this, some newspapers, such as the Liverpool Echo, still require graduates they take on to follow a 2-year training programme. As one soon-to-be Bachelor of Journalism puts it: "What is the point of a journalism degree if institutions are going to retrain you?" (Smith 2004a).

Faced with all this – how do nascent journalists commence their careers? What training programmes exist to prepare the new generation of journalists? Is there even any point in following a journalism-training course?

The mission of this dissertation is to find answers to these questions.

Literary Review

For a topic that seems keenly debated, both in professional and in academic worlds, previous research into journalism education is surprisingly meagre.

Access to the debates themselves is easy enough, as strong opinions flourish in trade publications such as the British Press Gazette, the American Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication newsletter, and on a variety of Internet forums in the form of diverse articles.

A few pieces of academic work do exist, however. A major international study written by Bierhoff, Deuze and Vreese, "Media Innovation, Professional Debate", compares the professional and educational situations in five western-European countries. Their work goes into some depth, comparing and contrasting the situations in Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, and offers an invaluable insight into the way journalism training works in other countries. The study only concentrates on the systems and how they work, however, and ignores the question of this dissertation altogether.

Other academic work includes Delano's work The Formation of the British Journalist 1900-2000, which is "the first comprehensive work into the nature of the present day British journalist" (Delano 2001 p3). It provides a significant work of historical observations, which to a large extent covers the major developments in educational structures.

From the modest previous writings, it seems that this dissertation seems to a unique work in the world of journalistic academia. Hence, its findings and observations will be based predominantly on original research.


The methods used for researching this dissertation have involved primarily qualitative analysis of the status quo in the media and journalism education debate. The research ideas originated in public discussion and discourse available in Journalism publications and in articles and discussion forums on the Internet.

Based on the issues raised in these forums, it was decided that the only way to expand further on the topics would be to talk to the individuals actually involved in the journalism training industry. These people were split into four groups: Those who are about to enter the journalism profession (students or trainees of journalism), those who train journalists (journalism trainers and tutors), those who are part of the journalism community (the journalists themselves), and finally, the top of the food chain: The editors, for whom all this training is undertaken – at least indirectly.

Research interviews
Having chosen the primary targets for research, a questionnaire form was devised in cooperation with Jeanette Smith, the dissertation supervisor. The form was programmed to go on-line , and a series of desirable participants were contacted and asked to fill out one of the forms. When a participant filled out a form, the web site generated an email, which was emailed to the author of this dissertation.

For this research, 49 different journalism tutors and trainers from 29 different institutions; more than 200 journalism students from 51 learning institutions on three continents and more than 100 journalists and editors were invited to participate in the research. Of these more than 300 people, approximately 20% replied.

When the ten days set as the deadline to respond to the research were over, 72 replies were received, of which 51 were valid. 11 of the replies were from journalism professionals, 31 were from journalism students, and nine were from the journalism education community.

Based on the replies to the research questionnaire, a selection of the interviewees were contacted again, in order to further discuss matters of interest, or to harvest more information about certain themes or topics they raised.

Method Advantages
It was decided that quantitative analysis would be largely irrelevant, as the purpose of this dissertation was not to find out how many journalists feel their educations had been useful. Instead, the choice was made to focus on the arguments for and against various forms of journalism education, from the variety of relevant first-hand sources detailed earlier.

Many of the replies to the questionnaire were highly opinionated, which was not surprising, as the participation in the interview was voluntary. This means that people without a distinct opinion on journalism education and its implementations were unlikely to take time out of their busy schedules to fill in the form. A corollary of this is that a very high percentage of the received interview forms were valuable to the overall production of this thesis.

Method Disadvantages
The primary disadvantage of the method chosen was the limited availability of journalism tutors and journalists. While the answers contained a great cross-section of differing opinions, there is no way of knowing what the general consensus of journalists and / or journalism tutors is without conducting further studies.

The situation for the journalism students is somewhat better, but even though replies were received from students of many different courses, the research is distinctively biased towards University students, as they were the ones who offered the most replies, and had the strongest opinions on the pertinent matters.

Analysis of methodology
Despite the drawbacks mentioned earlier, it is probably fair to conclude that the most popular major strands of thought, opinions and ideas on the topic of journalism education have been considered during the production of this dissertation.

While it will unfortunately be impossible to estimate what prominence the various ideas have in the current discourse in journalism education theory, it is unlikely that this will make a significant impact on the outcomes of the dissertation. This is because the theories and ideas have been considered against each other based on their credibility and argumentation.

The Journalism Profession

The concept of journalism is extremely important in functioning democracies, and its role places a particularly heavy responsibility on the practitioners of the journalistic tradition: In a political landscape journalists are the filter between politicians and the people. Far more importantly, however, journalists are one of the pillars on which democracy depends. The function of journalists as whistleblowers, warning the public about problems in society and abuse or mismanagement by the government is as important now as it ever was.

With few exceptions (such as Italy), journalism "has no standards of admittance and no board of review" (Gopnik 1995), unlike other occupational groups such as physicians, nurses, engineers and solicitors. These groups of professionals cannot practice their profession without a license, and if they violate the rules of their profession, they may have their license suspended or terminated. With their license, they also lose the right to practice their profession. This is not the case within journalism. Not only do such licensing laws not exist, their implementation would be illegal in many countries. In the United States of America, for example, the First Amendment forbids the enforcement of journalistic standards: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press" (US constitution, 1st amendment, 15 December 1791).

Although some countries lack laws that defend freedom of expression, most democratic countries have officially ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 10th article of this document effectively makes it impossible for the concurrent countries to introduce licensing on the journalism profession. It states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression through any media" (O'Malley 2000).

Instead, in the UK, journalism is governed by a system of peer review, which puts heavy demands on the power structure in the news rooms, but also – ultimately – on a journalist's ability to show self-moderation.

An outcome of this is that journalism education is unlike many other professional itineraries of education: Journalists are not obliged to have completed some form of journalism qualification to be allowed to fill positions within the journalistic chain of production. Limitations to what a journalist can do are practical rather than being bound by statutory restrictions. For example, a journalist who does not know how a desktop publishing software package works may find it difficult to do sub-editing work.

Instead, training and / or journalism education is aimed primarily at the more practical sides of being a part of the journalism profession: To add practical skills and a basic knowledge of the theories and laws that are applicable.

An overview of Journalism Training

Ways into the journalism Profession
The typical journalism career path has changed radically over the past three decades. In the past, aspiring journalists would carry out an apprenticeship, picking up the "tricks of the trade" on their way, before being formally accepted into the newsroom and starting the climb up the career ladder. (NUS 2001a)

Nowadays, the vast majority of those who enter the journalism profession have a university degree, and most of the new journalists have completed a journalism-specific vocational pre-entry or postgraduate training course (NUS 2001a). It is worth noting that many who enter journalism have not done degrees in journalism, but rather in a more or less unrelated subject, such as political science, diplomacy or similar. The purpose of this was appropriately described by one of our interviewees: Having a journalism degree is well and good – it means you can write. However, being able to write does not mean that someone has anything to write about. (Tibbetts 2004) In other words, a non-journalism degree may be to an aspiring journalist's advantage, as it may grant them a deeper understanding of a specialist subject, which may be a valuable commodity in an increasingly cut-throat job market.

Journalism Education Structures
Many of the journalism teaching institutions are governed by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), which was founded in 1951 to administer training for the UK newspaper industry. (NCTJ 2000a).

There are, however, many courses and programmes that have been set up independently of the NCTJ, or have decided to break away from the NCTJ. As will become evident, there are many reasons for why a course or programme may elect not to be NCTJ-accredited. For the purpose of this dissertation, there is a clear divide between accredited and non-accredited courses and programmes, as courses resulting in an accredited qualification largely cover the same syllabi. Non-accredited courses have a far wider spread in the ground covered in the duration of the programme.

The statistics on journalism education institutions referenced in this dissertation are based on the Press Gazette Education Special Edition published in 2003 (see Tomlin 2003). During the research for this dissertation, at least one additional undergraduate course was encountered, indicating that the numbers may not be 100 per cent accurate. They should, however, give a clear indication of the approximate numbers of programmes in operation:

In the UK, there are at least 21 undergraduate courses, 18 postgraduate courses, 3 colleges offering 12-week courses, 3 offering day release courses and 4 institutions offering a Two-year Higher National Diploma (HND). The London School of Journalism offers a distance learning course, there are 14 Pre-entry courses on offer and 8 colleges offer 18-21 week "fast-track" journalism training courses. In addition to these, there are specialist courses within photojournalism, magazine, online and broadcast journalism courses. Some of these have recognised accreditations, while others do not. (Tomlin 2003)

National Vocational Qualifications
One of the more obscure training programmes available is the government Department of Education-sponsored National Vocational Qualification (NVQ). These programmes are completed in the form of a work-related, competence-based training scheme, usually organised as part of a work-benefit style of training. The NVQ qualification system comes in five different levels. The journalism-flavour NVQ is most commonly rated at the second-highest level, level 4. The NVQ allows students to gain an intimate insight into a topic, without the academic rigour and thoroughness of some of the other courses on offer.

An advantage of the NVQ scheme is that there is less pressure on the student, as the course does not have a predefined time limit. This means that the NVQ programmes allows people who yearn for a journalism career of some description, but who are slow learners, or just prefer to take some more time completing a course, to have a chance.

The NVQ qualification is awarded by the Newcastle-based NCFE (NCFE used to stand for Northern College of Further Education, but its meaning is not used on their website or publications any longer, and the organisation is only known as the NCFE). The NVQ level 4 programmes offer training "which involves the application of knowledge in a broad range of complex, technical or professional work activities performed in a variety of contexts and with a substantial degree of personal responsibility and autonomy." (DFES 2002).

According to the Newspaper Society, "NVQs in newspaper journalism are equal to a British university degree pass" (Larkin n.d). Although this may well be true legally and technically, university students and tutors queried on this vehemently protested the statement.

The National Council for Teaching of Journalists qualification
There are several quality-approval bodies overseeing the training of journalists. For newspaper journalism, the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) is most prominent. However, for other branches of the media, there are other accreditations as well, such as the Periodicals Training Council (PTC) run by the Periodical Publishers Association (PPA), which administers accreditations for magazine journalism courses. There is also the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC), which oversees broadcasting education.

In order to gain an NCTJ qualification, the student has to sit a series of seven preliminary exams. These exams include writing of news stories of various lengths; a knowledge test covering local government, general reporting and law and a 100 word-per-minute shorthand exam. NCTJ accredited courses culminate in the NCTJ National Certificate Examination (NCE), which is a highly acclaimed qualification within the journalism profession. (NCTJ 2000b).

NCTJ courses can be completed in many different ways, but intensive 21-week courses, a full academic year course and a 3-year accredited bachelor degree are most common. There are also options to follow these courses on day-release, i.e. having regular days of training whilst working full time, journalism related or not.

It is also possible to study the syllabus privately, pass all the pre-exams and the NCE in order to gain the qualification.

Undergraduate degrees
21 universities offer undergraduate courses specifically in the field of journalism – as opposed to more theoretical "media" or "communications" degrees. Some of these courses are combinations of two subject matters, with journalism and politics being a popular amalgamation.

Nine – about 43 per cent – of the universities offering undergraduate journalism education are currently NCTJ-accredited. These are Bournemouth University, Chester College of Higher Education, Cumbria Institute of the Arts, Edge Hill College of Higher Education, Staffordshire University, the University of Central Lancashire, the University of Salford and the University of Sheffield. (Tomlin 2004) Several other universities are currently considering applying for NCTJ accreditation.

The universities that are currently NCTJ accredited are content with current arrangements: A series of phone calls confirmed that none of them are in the process of dropping the NCTJ accreditation from their programme.

Competition for the spaces at undergraduate degrees can be extremely fierce, entry requirements can be high and many applicants have to submit to interviews before they are offered a place at the most popular journalism courses.

The syllabi for undergraduate courses vary wildly, as do their focus on practical and academic work. Undergraduate students from the NCTJ-accredited University of Sheffield, for example, are not required to complete a dissertation to complete their bachelor degree. John Moores University, which is not accredited, have chosen an approach that means students have a limited amount of exams, but a high degree of practical work experience and hands-on training. Other universities, such as the City University, have chosen more academic and theoretical approaches to Journalism.

Postgraduate courses
Of the 19 institutions offering post-graduate journalism education, half offer NCTJ accreditation. There are a further 10 fast track 18-21 week postgraduate NCTJ-qualification courses, and a series of courses that are not accredited.

Most postgraduate courses relate their content to the previously completed academic work of the students, whilst remaining largely practical in their approach.

The majority of postgraduate courses focus on bringing the journalism students up to speed in topics such as journalism law, local and central government, and often include an introduction to media ethics. Many have also chosen to add shorthand as one of the requirements for the qualification.

The majority of the fast-track postgraduate courses consist primarily of "tack-on" journalism knowledge and skills. These courses can result in a journalism qualification, normally an NCTJ diploma. The full-year postgraduate courses usually lead to a master's degree.

In-house training
The final major option within journalism training is the in-house training offered by media businesses. Although the number of media institutes offering training today is notably lower than only a few decades ago, there are still a number of options available.

In-house training schemes are often technical, designed to introduce new journalists to the particularities of the media institution in question, but some schemes also include full training on par with their NCTJ or NVQ equivalents. Some in-house courses conclude with an exam resulting in a recognised qualification, while others may effectively be an institution-specific diploma.

Because of the wide variety of in-house training possibilities and variations, this flavour of journalism education has been largely ignored in this dissertation.

The status quo of journalism education

The necessity of journalism training
Journalism may well be one of the most intense professions in the world, but it is also a line of work that requires a particularly diverse set of skills. For example, journalists have to be capable researchers and interviewers, in order to get all the information required for a story. Researching is a skill that can be taught, but what about interviewing? It is possible to read rules, tips and tricks, but it is only through performing interviews again and again that a journalist instinctively knows how to lead a conversation in the right direction and ask questions that cause the interviewee to relax and open up. A final skill that is absolutely vital to journalism cannot be taught, forced or replaced: Persistence. One of the journalists spoken to agreed with this, and was sceptical about journalism education because it "teaches skills that many people have as talents" (Unanue 2004)

Some scholars would go even further than this. Betty Medsger thinks that journalism education is an oxymoron, and that the very concept gets in the way of both good journalism and good education. In her research, Medsger found that 59 per cent of Pulitzer Prize winners never studied journalism in any shape or form. For broadcast, this number was even higher. Furthermore, in a study done on "new" journalists, 27 per cent had never had any journalism education. Stunningly, these 27 per cent were "in various ways doing as well or better than the new journalists who had gone to J-school: Better in job satisfaction, in income and in achieving managerial positions" (Medsger 2003).

The other side of journalism happens after the interviewing and researching is completed: The conversion of gathered material into a logical sequence, allowing readers to understand the connections and significance of certain events. This conversion, writing up the story, can be taught to a certain degree, but only up to a degree. Beyond this, creativity and a special type of empathy with the reader is what makes a good journalist great.

Several of our interviewees alluded to the idea that journalism can be learned, but not taught. They claimed that that the role of journalism training was to offer a budding journalist the right tools for the job, but that it would be a logical impossibility to actually teach the students how to use these tools. A press officer for the Ministry of Defence seems to speak for many journalists when he says that "Short vocational courses seem to be enough to give people a decent grounding in the job before they actually start out on their careers" (Stringer 2004)

If we just for a moment accept that journalism education merely offers basic tools, what are these tools? From the research gathered, most journalists seemed to agree that a knowledge of shorthand, journalism law, and the basics of local and central government were the tools of most importance (Temple 2004). Many of the interviewees highlighted one particular skill: "The most important part of journalism training is shorthand. Without a minimum of 100 words per minute you are missing one of the most important tools of the job" (Tibbetts 2004).

From the core skills mentioned by our media professionals, it is possible to make an interesting observation. The tools have in common that one need not train formally in order to gain command of the skills in question. If one were to study An Introduction to Journalism and a decent book on shorthand, the core skills would be covered. At the reasonable sum of £50, one would have enough familiarity with the professional theories behind the art of journalism, and probably have enough change to celebrate the new skills at the pub afterwards. What, exactly, does journalism training offer that a pair of books and some persistence cannot teach?

It would seem that the main argument for following a journalism course, is that one has the opportunity to make mistakes that would not be tolerated in professional circumstances. Journalistic writing is not something that comes naturally to many people, although there are many examples of people 'picking it up' along the way (Smith 2004b). The prospect of developing this style in the "sealed environment" of a classroom or lecture theatre allows for a gentler learning curve: Your job is not in jeopardy if a story is written up badly.

Quite apart from the obvious advantage of the skills learnt during training, it must be considered that a diploma itself carries weight. One of the editors interviewed thought a qualification was paramount: "More and more newspapers will not even accept people without some sort of journalism qualification" (Weedy 2004). He points out, however, that if a course is to be of any use, it will have to be of a practical character, as courses focusing on history and media theory are far less useful to the industry.

Not everybody agrees. Another journalist observes that many large media organizations are still run by the "old generation" – the generation who grew up without journalism training, and arrived in the editors' offices by starting out as a paperboy, and graduating upwards through the ranks. Some argue that, because of this, large parts of the media "favour selection on the basis of talent and learning by doing" (von Matt, quoted in Bierhoff et al 2002 p36), a sentiment backed by Daily Telegraph journalist Graham Tibbetts: "People who are bright and enthusiastic enough will always find a way into the profession without studying journalism" (Tibbetts 2004).

The emergence of the fairly extensive selection of current journalism training programmes is an indirect response to many journalism institutions having cut back on their own in-house training schemes. In the past, a good degree from a decent university would be enough to get in, but as the number of applicants and amount of interest for media-related work has increased, the industry can look for graduates who arrive with a complete set of skills (Heathman 2004). The in-house training schemes that do remain are subject to fierce competition, which has resulted in GNVQs, BTECs, A-levels or even university degrees as an entry requirement (NUJ 2002 p8).

Effectively, this means that journalism institutions can demand that new entrants "come with the full range of techniques, and some experience" (Rudin 2004). The bottom line is that an aspiring journalist with the necessary skills, a wide network of contacts, some talent and plenty of determination has a distinct advantage over someone with a degree, but lacking those qualities (Smith 2004a)

Training and Experience
The expression "Learning by Doing" is as old as education itself. It comes as no surprise that actual work experience is highly valued. An interesting discovery was made when analyzing the research data, however: Many students – especially those from university programmes – feel that their education has been largely useless, and that the only saving grace for some forms of education has been the work experience carried out as part of the programme.

Many of the students interviewed, especially on university courses, showed concern when it comes to the level of preparation that the course offers. One final-year student on a bachelor degree course was troubled, saying she was not convinced that the course itself had prepared her sufficiently for a career in journalism. "I have learned more through work experience than I have in my whole 3 years of university" (Jaynes 2004)

Journalism students and media professionals unanimously praise the virtues of real-life work experience-based learning, vouching for its effectiveness both in the skills and self-confidence stakes. Someone even argued they would have preferred to study a different subject, and only complete a period of journalism work placement training in addition. This may be a good idea in theory, but may well prove difficult for a non-journalism student. None of the editors interviewed for this interview were against allowing non-journalism students in on a work placement scheme per se, but with the sheer number of journalism students looking for work experience, they described the chances of gaining a placement as being rather slim.

There is no doubt that work experience is vital, though: its importance is illustrated by a student of a degree course which has elected not to use work experience as part of the curriculum: Paul Mernock at Griffith College in Dublin says he wishes the course had work experience as part of the curriculum: "I am over 2 and a half years into the course. If I were to work for a newspaper now I would be hopeless." (Mernock 2004)

However, there are other ways of carrying out work experience whilst training at college or university. The "old-fashioned" way into journalism, which involves doing voluntary work for local publications, which may evolve into paid work, experience and accolade in local journalism communities is still a valid way into the journalism profession (Njaastad 2003). In short, "Experience is the key to journalism" (Hunt 2004a), and a student who manages to prove his or her worth during a period of work experience, is far more likely to get employment than a student with a first class degree, but limited practical skills. (Cooper 2004)

In some cases, actual training is not a prerequisite. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) suggests that freelancers often are forgiven for not having formal accreditation or qualifications – as long as the skills are there (NUJ 2002 p6).

In addition, all publications have their own distinctive style and way of doing things, which can only partially be learned through stylebooks and instruction. The deputy editor of the Jewish Telegraph, for example, says that on the job training is far more important than anything that happens before a period of employment (Cohen 2004).

On the other hand, training does have advantages over experience. For example, it is reasonable to conclude that someone who is trained within journalism is likely to have a wider variety of skills across different media: Three years in a university is likely to be more varied, and is probably a better preparation for a career in journalism than three years at a local newspaper (Fossvik 2004).

NCTJ and other governing bodies As discussed in chapter 6 there are several governing bodies overseeing journalism education. The most relevant of these for this dissertation is the NCTJ. Given that there is a central institution such as the NCTJ, one would be forgiven for believing that this central body controls all journalism education. This is not the case, however: While the NCTJ does accredit courses and hold its own proficiency tests leading to the NCE, quite a few teaching institutions have chosen not to be connected to the NCTJ.

Much of the core discussion around journalism education – from short, vocational courses and all the way through to full-blown degrees – is regarding the question if an NCTJ-accreditation is necessary, or even advisable. One of the journalists we spoke to said that there are many journalists out there working without any form of accreditation. On the other hand, there are many jobs – especially the attractive national-media jobs open to new journalists – that demand NCTJ qualifications (Hunt 2004a).

The NCTJ was started in the mid-50s, and has had significant influence on the way journalism is taught. Gradually, especially after the Internet revolution of the mid-90s, the NCTJ has lost a lot of its old authority, leaving many to wonder if the organisation is still stuck in the 50s. The Chief reporter of the Press Association in the North-West of England, Will Batchelor, illustrates the point: "NCTJ style of writing is outdated – if you presented an NCTJ-approved piece of copy to most news editors, it would get re-written" (Batchelor 2004). The NCTJ is currently restructuring its programmes, however, in an attempt to rejoin the journalism profession in the 21st century.

A reporter at the Burton Daily mail is in the process of completing an NCTJ-equivalent course. He believes that various courses "give you the bare bones you need, and the background on things like media law and shorthand, but the best training is always hands-on. The Editorial Centre focuses more on this, and encourages trainees to run their own newspapers and districts while on the course. The NCTJ seems to be more about writing imaginary happenings in made-up places" (Horsfall 2004).

Despite quite a few key industry players being resentful towards the NCTJ, many students are of the opinion that courses that are not NCTJ-certified are in fact penalising their students (Rowlands 2004), as editors seem to prefer trainees who have had the basic NCTJ training (Tample 2004).

As the world of journalism is changing, and more and more journalists have studied journalism on a degree level of some description, the NCTJ may find itself lagging behind. Nevertheless, to many, NCTJ-certification still contains the "gold standard", and guarantees a certain minimum level of proficiency (Rudin 2004).

At a university-level, some tutors feel that the NCTJ syllabus restricts the time available to the academic and intellectual work fundamental to what universities stand for. They claim that the NCTJ is pushing the journalism degree even further away from the academic spheres (Rudin 2004).

A majority of students claim that, when spending three years studying journalism, the degrees should be accredited, especially as the students cover most of the necessary ground outlined in the NCTJ syllabi (Hunt 2004b). Some tutors agree, pointing out that the NCTJ or BJTC are industry benchmarks, and that the journalism courses that are not accredited are in danger of becoming theoretical media studies courses, rather than vocational journalism training programmes. (Horsman 2004)

Some people argue that NTCJ accreditation is unnecessary: Clint Witchalls, for example, finds that many colleagues are "slightly miffed that I'm writing articles for the Guardian, the Independent and Daily Mirror, when I don't have any sort of journalistic qualification. The way they see it, it is analogous to me driving a car without a licence. I say it is sour grapes" (Witchalls 2003).

Many of the people interviewed for this dissertation draw attention to a difference between national and local or regional press. For the latter two, an NCE means that the applicant has certain necessary key-skills, especially a rudimentary knowledge of law, shorthand and interview technique. Going back to Witchalls; "I've often considered doing my NCE, but I've been put off by the thought of spending long hours learning shorthand and court procedure. I don't see the point… Until I open Press Gazette on Friday and see all the jobs on offer which require an NCE qualification" (Witchalls 2003).

Then again, 0n larger newspapers the situation is different: Ian Katz, features editor of the Guardian, isn't looking for qualifications: "What I am looking for is writing or commissioning talent. If people have qualifications on top of that, all the better, but it's by no means a pre-requisite" (quoted in Witchalls 2003).

Due to the belief that the ways of the NCTJ may be antiquated, several key media education institutions have elected not to inconvenience themselves with this governing body. As Rod Allen, head of journalism at City University, puts it: "Broadly, we feel that the NCTJ curriculum does not meet today's needs" (quoted in Witchalls 2003).

Getting a degree
As mentioned earlier, being a good journalistic writer is futile if there is nothing to write about. With the market being practically saturated with all-round journalists without particular fields of expertise, "Most journalists would be well-advised to secure a university degree before entering the profession" (Johnson 2004).

In fact, people who have studied subjects other than journalism would often make better journalists than students of journalism: "After all, journalism itself is the study and synthesis of everything else, of all disciplines" (Medsger 2003)

There are many examples of this theory in practice, especially in the specialist press: Acme mechanics write for Top Gear magazine. Skilled programmers write for PC World. People with a long career in the music industry behind them write for some of the best music magazines.

Languages, linguistics, social and human sciences are especially popular as pre-journalism-career degrees, but it appears that degrees covering more exotic topics can be equally useful, as this significantly increases a future journalist's employability in the potentially lucrative genres of the specialist press.

In some journalism education structures the desire of encouraging a wider general knowledge is being taken more seriously than in others. Students at the University of Queensland in Australia, for example, have to choose five subjects that are non-media related, in order to broaden their knowledge and horizons. Apparently the university actively promotes their diplomacy, international affairs and global economics courses for this purpose (Strøm-Nilsen 2004).

Today, about 80% of new journalists have one form of degree or another (NUJ 2002). It seems that generic media degrees, while popular among university students, appear to be frowned upon by the journalism industry. In fact, the NUJ advises against embarking on a media degree or masters, if the student's aim is to become a journalist. The reasoning behind this is that a media degree is too general and – more importantly – too academic and theoretical to be of much use. As the NUJ puts it: "If you want to be a journalist, do a journalism course" (NUJ 2002 p10)

Training vs. education: Journalism degrees
The core discussion surrounding journalism degrees is currently a seemingly unsolvable gridlock between several parties – all of which have equally strong opinions. There are academics that believe journalism education is too vocational and non-intellectual for its own good. Additionally, the question is often raised as to whether journalism education as it is currently taught in universities is academic enough to be called a university course.

On the other side of the argument are the journalism and media institutions. These parties are annoyed with the fact that newly trained journalists may have been qualified in academic rigour, but fail to tick all the boxes of what they believe a good journalist should be.

Journalism departments in universities all over the world try to strike a balance between being academic and vocational – a balance that really boils down to a simple question: What is the purpose of journalism education at university level? Seemingly, there are two options. Either the purpose is to train journalists, so the media institutions do not have to undertake training themselves. As most journalism degrees are three years long, it would be fair to demand journalism graduates to be of a heavier calibre than their single-year or fast-track educated counterparts. The other option is that universities have to focus on research and the more analytical and theoretical aspects of journalism and the related subjects.

Quite a few scholars seem to believe that academically, journalism is not nearly where it needs to be: "If college students can read Nabokov in a literature class and Nietzsche in a philosophy class, they can – and should be – stretched in a Journalism class as well" (Stephens 2002), a notion that was echoed by many of the students interviewed for this research paper.

With the academics being concerned about journalism degrees being too professional, and the journalists complaining that they are too academic and filled with "useless theory", what is the way forward for aspiring journalists?

The problem in many journalism departments is not the will to turn towards academic work, but the fact that research and intellectual development in journalism theory is not actively encouraged, and in many cases, that competence for academic training may not be present. Some courses may offer background knowledge and theory, and many of the tutors will try their best to teach what they know (Fossvik 2004), but this may just not be enough for the academic aspects of journalism, especially as many tutors have had long journalistic, rather than academic, careers (Teering 2004).

While Kunkel and other academics are despairing to see the journalism education spiralling towards a more and more practical-vocational approach, the journalism industry itself is despairing that degree-level journalism is not practical enough. "It is good to see that a purely academic study of 'journalism' is on the wane", says Chris Johnson (2004) of the Mercury Press Agency, and would like to see the courses become even more practical, although he feels much work is to be done, as "lecturers are mainly former journalists who themselves require more refreshment of their skills" (Johnson 2004).

Some of the students interviewed also questioned the necessity of dissertations and other academic work, in a purely "employability" context. They underscore what seems to be a sense of confusion in journalism departments, about what the purpose of a journalism degree really is: Are the students there to become great journalists, or great academics? (Fossvik 2004)

Richard Rudin, a journalism tutor at John Moores University thinks that the confusion originates in people's expectation, and explains that there is a difference between education and training. "An honours degree must contain a high level of academic content, be intellectually stimulating and develop critical awareness of the subject" (Rudin 2004). In contrast, Rudin argues, training requires none of these things.

Graham Tibbetts, a Daily Telegraph journalist believes an in-depth study of the field of journalism is a waste of time:

I do not believe that an honours degree in the theory of journalism is a particularly worthwhile use of three years of study. It merely tries to turn a vocational subject into an academic one, padding out the subject over an unnecessarily long period of time (Tibbetts 2004).

Journalism tutors violently disagree with Tibbetts' view, and subscribe to the view that there are many good reasons for studying journalism in depth, including the idea that studying various facets of journalism over time instates a more nuanced view of journalism, and introduces academic thoroughness into the future generation of journalists (Temple 2004).

Despite these conflicting views it can be argued that all varieties of journalism degrees – including purely academic, purely vocational, and everything in between – are important. Because the print media itself is a continuum of variety, there is a need for all types of journalists. "We need the diversity, otherwise our media is going to be ... remarkably dull and one-dimensional" (Duckett 2001


This dissertation has shown how there is a large variety of possible ways into journalism, through work practice, theoretical education, training, or – most likely – a combination of these.

The abundance of choice in journalism education means that if someone is interested in the field, there will be a course to suit his or her needs and wishes. The challenge is to inform potential journalism students of the different options available, what they offer, how they relate to each other, and how the completion of a course impacts someone's fighting chances in the job market. Unfortunately, education has become a brutally competitive industry in itself, and in a society where application numbers has a direct impact on an educational institution's financial situation, not many institutions are prepared to advise students against choosing their college or university, on the grounds that a competing institution may be better suited to a particular student's needs or career path.

Based on this, perhaps there should be some sort of advisory body, allowing prospective students to get straight answers about journalism education. In the current situation, a prospective students' first port of call would logically be the NCTJ, but they have their own interests, and can not be expected to give unbiased advice, such as recommending a non-NCTJ course, if that would be the best route for a particular student's needs.

What it all boils down to is that it does not matter how much or little education prospective journalists have, as long as they manage to get a foot in the journalism door: If a non-educated journalist consistently comes up with and writes better stories than a first class masters-degree journalist, the former is going to be the one climbing the career ladder fastest, and hence have a "more successful" career.

A good grade or a qualification may help in getting the job, but it will not make up for what it is all about: persistency, personality and a nose for a good news story. To have a successful career in journalism, which is the topic of this dissertation, a person cannot see journalism as a job to go to in the morning and leave behind in the afternoon; truly great journalists have journalism as a state of mind. Always on the lookout for a new story: Always analysing their surroundings. Always considering a new angle to a story. ?

Being able to put in the amount of time and energy in order to become a good journalist takes a tremendous amount of dedication and a sharp awareness of the role of journalism in society, all of which a journalism education cannot teach. But for many, it may be an invaluable step in the right direction, and some form of education will for many be a good starting point.

Ultimately, based on the research in this dissertation, the best suggestion that can be made, is to study a non-journalism topic in depth, or perhaps even a series of topics in which the prospective journalist is interested. Many of the skills that make good journalism are learned in the 'school of life', and the only way to enrol is to live to gain real-life experience and people skills. At some point, when the journalist-to-come decides the time is right, a one-year journalism course can offer the necessary core skills needed to land that first job.

From there on, anything can happen. With solid grounding, the required skills, persistence and a healthy sense of curiosity, a full and meaningful journalism career is perfectly achievable.


Works consulted and cited

Bierhoff, J; Deuze, M; de Vreese, C (2000)
Media Innovation, professional debate and media training: a European Analysis.
Maastricht: European Journalism Centre

Castagnetto, J (1999)
Professional PHP Programming.
Indianapolis: Wrox Press

Delano, A (2001)
The Formation of the British Journalist 1900-2000.
London: University of Westminster

Department for Education and Skills, DFES (2002)
What are NVQs?
Accessed 12 March 2004

Duckett, L (2001)
Journalism Education. Radio programme transmitted on ABC 7 June 2001 at 8:30
Accessed 28 October 2003

Gopnik, A (12 Dec 1994)
Journalism Education. Article.
New York: New Yorker

Kunkel, T (2003)
What is Journalism Education? Issue 1 2003
Maryland: American Journalism Review

Larkin, P (n.d)
NVQs: The Proven Route to a Newspaper Journalism Qualification.
Accessed February 12, 2004

O'Malley, T and Soley, S (2000)
Regulating the Press.
London: Pluto

Medsger, B (2003)
Getting Journalism Education Out of the Way.
New York: New York University:
Accessed 28 October 2003

NCTJ (2000a)
About us.

NCTJ (2000b)
Preliminary Exams.

Njaastad, O (7 February 2003)
Journalistikk – et fattig fag (Journalism – an impoverished profession). Article.
Oslo: Morgenbladet

NUJ (2002)
NUJ Training: Advice.
NUJ: Web publication.

NUJ (2003a)
Careers in Journalism.
NUJ: Web publication

Patching, R (2003)
Journalism Education in Australia.
Accessed 19 January 2004

Stephens, M (2002)
A J-School Manifesto.
New York: New York University:
Accessed 28 October 2003

Tomlin, J (ed) (2003)
Press Gazette: Journalism Training special edition.
Surrey: Quantum Business Media

Witchalls, C (2003)
Do I need a certificate?
Article on page 12 in Journalism Training Special Edition.
Surrey: Quantum Business Media

Part 2 – Original research (cited only)

Media Professionals

Cohen, M (2004)
Batchelor, W (2004)
Heathman, K (2004)
Horsfall, J (2004)
Hunt, M (2004a)
Johnson, C (2004)
Mahler, C (2004)
Stringer, G (2004)
Tibbetts, G (2004)
Unanue, P (2004)
Weedy, S (2004)

Journalism trainees and students

O'Connell (2004)
Cooper, J (2004)
Donevan, E (2004)
Fossvik, I. S. (2004)
Fuhr, C (2004)
Gardner, A (2004)
Hatch, D (2004)
Haug, C (2004)
Hunt, L (2004b)
Jaynes, N (2004)
Kilstad, P (2004)
Kovala, R (2004)
Larsen, R (2004)
Mernock, P (2004)
N'Zelomona, G (2004)
Rowlands, N (2004)
Røkke Johansen, R (2004)
Smith, C (2004a)
Strøm Nilsen, M (2004)
Taylor, E (2004)
Teering, T (2004)

Journalism trainers and tutors

Duncan, S (2004)
Harcup, T (2004)
Horsman, R (2004)
Hughes, GM (2004)
Rudin, R (2004)
Smith, J (2004b)
Temple, M (2004)

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