Could I pass the test to be a senior journalist today?

Coventry City won the FA Cup, Margaret Thatcher won a third successive general election victory, and Rick Astley’s Never Going To Give You Up was the biggest-selling single.

The year was 1987 – the last time I sat an exam.

I’ve been catapulted back 27 years to the days of the old NCTJ Proficiency Test as I go through some past papers to help reporters about to take that organisation’s latest exams.

The exam for the ‘gold standard’ qualification of the NQJ looms large in just under a month’s time, followed by a battery of diploma papers in subjects from sports journalism to court reporting.

Looking through past papers is a sobering process.

The diploma questions are reasonably straightforward, but the NQJ ones are – as you’d expect – rather more testing.

I was talking to a very experienced advertising manager the other day as she mooted the idea of asking her team leaders to go back to basics to ensure they can do everything they ask of their reps on the ground.

That got us on to the subject of resitting our driving tests, and she revealed that from time to time she drove as if there was a clipboard-wielding examiner in the passenger seat.

So could I – with nearly 30 years of experience in journalism – pass the NQJ today?

I’d like to think so, in the same way as I imagine driving instructors hope they would pass a retest themselves, although I’d have to have a very intensive – and painful – shorthand refresher.

More importantly, perhaps, is the question of whether that exam – and the diploma regime leading to it – is still relevant in a fast-changing world of multimedia journalism and an industry still recovering from economic crisis.

The NCTJ has its detractors, but I think it has generally kept pace with the demands of the sector it serves.

The exams take digital journalism seriously and rightly pay far more attention than ever before to the ethics and moral dilemmas of 21st century coverage.

What I would like to see is more testing of reporters’ ability to manage their time and prioritise tasks, and of their adaptability to the need for new thinking on web-only content, showing they can constantly find new ways of telling stories.

But ultimately journalism remains all about finding compelling stories and telling them well.

And all in all, I think the NCTJ’s top exam is as much of a gold standard now as it was in the days when I had hair.


One thought on “Could I pass the test to be a senior journalist today?

  1. I would love to see senior staff (news editors, editors – but also top brass management) try being reporters for a week.

    I pray for the day Undercover Boss sends our top brass in wearing bad wigs and pretending they’re making a documentary about people coming back to work or something.

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