Tag Archives: shorthand teacher

Too old to become a journalist: UK journalism courses uncovered

This blog has, so far, concentrated on the Lambeth College, National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) course. There are a multitude of other courses out there, many of which offer online teaching and IT skills, which, in the current climate especially, are essential.

Below are the experiences of three other journalists who recently undertook training courses at Sportsbeat/News Associates, Cardiff University and noSWeat.

Sportsbeat/News Associates
Vivienne Raper, 29, is a freelance writer and journalist and has just finished her
NCTJ course at Sportsbeat/News Associates.

Prior to this she worked full-time as a writer for a healthcare and life science PR agency. Other highlights of her career so far include an internship at a think tank, a PhD in climate change monitoring, serving on the national executive of the Liberal Democrats’ youth wing, and a spell as a receptionist in a prison.

Yet surprisingly, she maintains that journalism is the most interesting thing she’s ever done. She particularly enjoys breaking off-diary news stories.

“The NCTJ accredited Sportsbeat/News Associates course is run by a sports news agency in Wimbledon, London. I did the course part-time over 10 months but they also offer a full-time, fast track option. It cost £3,500.

“Unlike most NCTJ courses, students don’t need to have a degree to be accepted onto the Sportsbeat course. You must sit an entrance examination and interview, conducted by the course director or one of the heads of journalism training and a senior editor.

“Most of the students on my course were career changers in their late 20s or recent school leavers who had jobs and didn’t plan to go to university.

“The part-time course was brilliant for getting through the NCTJ exams without giving up the day job. I have no complaints – it did exactly what it said on the tin. I’d heartily recommend it even though I’m not remotely interested in sports reporting.

“If you are, you can take a module in sports reporting and help out in the newsroom after class on Saturday evenings.

“That being said the course suffers from the inherent problems with taking the NCTJ part-time i.e. everything is geared to passing the exams and leaves little time for anything else. If you have more money and want to learn about feature writing, podcasting or the history of journalism, I’d recommend a one-year diploma.

“The tutors are very professional, extremely supportive, know exactly what the NCTJ requires and will help after the course has finished by checking CVs, offering additional shorthand classes and forwarding on job or story (usually sports) opportunities.

“Time pressure meant we couldn’t do much outside preparing for the NCTJ. However, we did a couple of projects to teach journalism, learn QuarkXPress and collect clips for our NCTJ portfolio. We were split into groups and given an area of London to cover. Each group had to find stories and design a fake front page with headlines.

“Like all NCTJ courses, it’s hard work. It’s a real challenge to combine NCTJ study with a full-time job and it’s particularly difficult to get through shorthand studying part-time. You need to be committed to journalism to get through a part-time NCTJ – amazingly, no one dropped out. Media law and public affairs are tedious and it was hard to stay awake at 9:30pm on a Monday evening or on a Saturday afternoon. This is a problem with the NCTJ exams and not the tuition.”

Cardiff University
Amy Davies, 22, is currently studying for her postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism at Cardiff’s Journalism School. She also did a journalism undergraduate degree at Cardiff – she must love it there – but is originally from the Midlands. She sees herself working for a variety of different magazines, even freelancing so as not to feel tied to one style. Eventually she wants to be an editor, but thinks this may be a long way off.

“The course at Cardiff is accredited by the PTC (Periodicals Training Council) and has quite a high reputation. It runs for one academic year, from September to June, and costs around £5,500.

“A degree in any discipline is needed to get onto the course. After applying candidates are called for a day-long interview and will sit a news knowledge and writing test. They will also have a formal interview with one of the tutors and must submit two feature ideas. Previous publishing experience is useful, but not essential.

“The course is fairly well run in most areas and certainly provides many interesting lectures and modules. However, sometimes marking can be slow and so I do feel that progress can be hard to judge.

“The diploma offers a choice of newspaper, broadcast or magazine options. All paths share some modules including media law (taught separately), public administration, reporters and the reported (a series of ethics lectures), online and mobile media and shorthand (although this is optional for the magazine and broadcast path).

“Before we started the course in September, our shorthand teacher sent us worksheets and tapes instructing us to get up to 30WPM.

“Shorthand classes were then Monday-Friday mornings from 9-11am and by December, a number of students (about half the class) were able to take and pass the 100wpm NCTJ paper.

“In addition to the core subjects, students on the magazine course are taught news writing, magazine craft (how to use programmes including InDesign and Photoshop) and feature writing.

“We also have the opportunity to create and publish our own complete magazine and website.

“The course benefits from a high number of guest lecturers, hailing from various newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and online publications, who come and talk on various changes in the media.

“Magazine students must also complete a minimum of two weeks of work experience at a magazine(s) of their choice.”

Tara Kelly, 27, is a freelance journalist and has just finished her
NCTJ-accredited course at noSWeat Journalism Training in Clerkenwell, London.  Originally from New York, Tara has worked in corporate responsibility and the IT industry in Brussels and London. She holds an MA in International Conflict Analysis with a specialty in Conflict Diamonds. The fulfilment that comes with pitching and chasing up a story led Tara to journalism.

“NoSWeat Journalism was founded by a former journalist who noticed there were no part-time, London-based NCTJ courses on offer. The success rate of its graduates and its central London location are what attracted me to apply and enrol in the course. You don’t need a university degree to get in, but you do have to sit a written exam and have an interview with the school director. The tuition is £3,500, but you get a slight discount if you pay early.

“Media Law and shorthand were the most useful classes I took. We had the luxury of being taught by a practicing solicitor who is a renowned media law guru. The tutors held extra study sessions prior to exams, but have little patience for those who don’t attend class and make a sincere effort.

“Journalism classes entailed learning QuarkXPress, practicing sub-editing, attending mock press conferences and going out into town in search of a local story. Much of what they teach you is centred on passing the exams, so the outlook is rather local and regional given the nature of the NCTJ.

“The advantage of being a part-timer is that the course lasts 12 months allowing you more time to plan for work experience and complete your portfolio. On the other hand, part-timers working full-time may find it difficult to take advantage of the guest speaker lectures at lunch or the specially arranged day trips to the Old Bailey or House of Commons.

“Like the field of journalism, don’t expect to be spoonfed at noSWeat. Students must approach editors and secure work experience themselves. NCTJ is definitely the magic word for gaining work experience opportunities though. Some of the national newspapers that our class completed placements on included the Financial Times, the Guardian, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, The Times and The Sunday Times.

“Studying part-time, freelancing and managing to do a full-time job was extremely challenging in the final few months of the course, especially with exams and the portfolio hanging over your head. But if your devotion to journalism is unquestionable, it is well worth your Saturdays and Wednesday evenings.”

Too old to become a journalist: Shorthand – a new hope

The National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) requires you to have shorthand at 100wpm in order to pass the course. When I first started my course 17 weeks ago I wasn’t very hopeful of reaching that speed.

Now 100wpm is doable – as long as you don’t get an exam about time capsules being buried with silver trowels, as I did last week, and can control your nerves. More on this later.

After reading a post on the Journalism.co.uk forum from a student, who was worried that they will not be able to get to 100wpm, I wanted to offer some hope.

Here’s my hope in a post:

In my first post on this blog I made a reference to my shorthand teacher insisting we did two hours a day shorthand practice.

It may seem obvious but practice is everything. I have been doing an hour of practicing special forms (see below) and an hour of dictations most days. If you don’t have time you have to make time. Partners, friends, dogs and life in general have to take a back seat.

That said, if you really can’t do two hours a day, doing some every day and keeping it consistent is better than nothing.

Special Forms and Common Words

My teacher advised us to create a special forms notebook out of an address book. This has become such a useful thing to have.

I, and a lot of people in my class, have written out all the special forms and common words onto an Excel sheet. I have a master sheet with all the outlines written in and a blank sheet so I can fill in the outlines. You can do this on the tube, at the doctors, in the lunch queue – anywhere where you have a spare moment. The Teeline Gold Word List is also a useful dictionary to have kicking about. You can always sell it to a student after you finish.

Actual dictations at various speeds are really helpful for practicing. Hopefully your tutor will have some to give you. If not, or if you are doing a distance course, you can also order them from the NCTJ website or there are some great free ones on We Love Shorthand that go from 50–120 wpm.

The trick is to do a speed that is faster than where you are. So if you think you’re just about at 60wpm do the 80s. You won’t be able to get it all down at first, but you will eventually and it will make the 60 sound painfully slow and easy.

The same goes for the 100: do the 110s and 120s. It will blow your mind and you’ll get cramp, but it makes the 100 sound slow.

We Love Shorthand also has a rather strange music section called ‘And now for something completely different’. One would imagine that it is there to bring you back from the brink of doing 120wpm…

Pens and Paper
If you’re reading this and have only just started, bear with me. The right pen and even the right kind of paper can make all the difference. My group at college has whole conversations about the virtues of a certain type of pen – granted we need to get out more.

Try out loads of pens to see which one suits you best. I started with a biro but found it ran out or was patchy at a crucial moment meaning I missed whole sentences. I have settled on a Pilot V Ball 0.5, but other people in my class are using cheaper pens from Muji and swear by them.

The kind of paper and the way you fold it can also make a difference. I use A4 lined paper and fold it in half because it takes ages to bring you hand back across a sheet of unfolded A4 meaning you could miss words.

I have also been using narrow ruled paper. This was good for making my outlines smaller (supposedly the smaller your outlines the faster you are) but a word of warning here: I used narrow ruled in my exam and found it very hard to read back my nervous scrawl. Again it’s just about practice and what works for you.


The 100wpm exam is not as hard as you think it’s going to be and if you’ve been practicing with 120wpm then it will seem slow.

These exams are like taking your driving test. You can be excellent and at 100wpm but still fail because you’re nervous or get a hard dictation (silver trowel? Do me a favour).

Go in thinking you can do it and RELAX. This is hard and nerves have got the better of me two times now. Try Rescue Remedy or anything that you know calms you down. My Mum suggested I had a gin and tonic before going in but I’m not going to suggest that as an option (hic).

Do not be downhearted if you fail.
You can do it again.
Never give up.
Good luck.