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Tag Archives: Education

Top Tips to Pass the Production Exam

It may not surprise you to know that I have an exam coming up. My blog posts always seem to coincide with impending exams, as blogging is one of my favourite methods of procrastination (along with tidying my room,  plucking my eyebrows, and doing just about anything that isn’t revision), but as always I’m attempting to justify it by making my exam the subject of this blog post.

Today, I’m sitting the NCTJ production exam. It’s an optional part of the NCTJ diploma, but with newsrooms cutting down on staff and expecting reporters to write, sub and lay up their own copy while simultaneously singing and juggling knives, it’s arguably one of the most important skills a trainee journalist can learn. It’s also one of the hardest exams to prepare for and pass.

So other than developing flawless spelling, punctuation and grammar (which, with less than an hour to go, may be an unattainable goal for me), what can you do to prepare for the production exam?

  1. Use an active verb in every headline. Errors in headlines are unforgivable, that goes without saying, but writing a headline without a verb is an error that many people make without thinking. If you really can’t get an active verb to fit a passive one will do, but the verb is vital.
  2. Headline content is more important than fitting. Ideally, you’ll have a headline that both  fits and sums up the story perfectly, but if that isn’t achievable then white space will lose you less marks than a headline that doesn’t capture the essence of the story. Never split a word over two lines though.
  3. Be consistent. If you use use single quotation marks for quotes in the middle of sentences, be consistent. If you refer to the people you’re quoting as Mr/Mrs/Miss Jones on the second mention, be consistent. If your listings headlines have the age rating in brackets, be consistent. Just be consistent.
  4. Look for mistakes everywhere. This applies to the proof-reading exercise. There will be mistakes in the headline, sub-headline, body copy, panels, pull quotes and captions. If a picture doesn’t have a caption, that’s an error.
  5. Watch your time. There’s no point in doing three sections of the exam perfectly, but missing out the final two. I was told to allocate 37 minutes to Section A, 15 minutes to Section B, 30 minutes to Section C, 15 minutes to Section D and 22 minutes to Section E, but you can make your own decisions based on how difficult you find each part.

 

Five Tips for Securing Work Experience

As I mentioned in this post, I’m on work experience at the moment. In light of this, and not wanting to write too many identical blog posts on what I’ve been doing, I’ve gone for another set of tips for today’s post – how to secure work experience. Wannabe Hacks gave some good advice here, but I wanted to add my fifty cents:

1) Be early. If you’re a student, the chances are you’ll be looking for work experience in academic holidays, and the chances are so will everyone else. Some nationals, such as the Guardian, also stress that they give priority to candidates on bursary schemes and competition winners at these times, so if you want to get in, you should get in early. Don’t send out e-mails a week before term ends and expect a response.

2) Be persistent. Editors receive hundreds of e-mails every week (sometimes hundreds every day), so unless they happen to have been looking when your message came in, it may get lost in their inbox. Phone first before sending your CV so that they’re expecting it, or try something more unusual like sending a letter so that your application stands out from the crowd. Following up when someone has said that they’ll look at your CV is also worth doing, but not so much that you cross the line into harassment.

3) Be open-minded. We all dream of working on a national newspaper or big glossy magazine, so its unsurprising that these publications get hundreds of work experience applications. It’s always worth applying to these places, but keeping an open mind and trying smaller publications can get you further. And small publications with small staff bodies will often give you more actual writing to do than nationals, where you can end up doing mostly research and fact checking.

4) Be informed. In a tidal wave of applications, the round robin will be the first to be deleted. Find out about each publication you apply to and explain why you want to work there and why they should want you to work there.A quick phone call to find out exactly who deals with work experience will also avoid your message landing in the wrong inbox.

5) Be accurate. There’s no point in writing the perfect cover letter and having it ruined by a glaring error in the first line. Check, double check, and have someone else check what you’ve checkd before you send anything. Apostrophes and the spelling of names are the most common errors.

If you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments!

Shorthand: We should not be amused

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Amidst my media law woes, I’ve found time in my busy schedule for something else: stressing about shorthand. It comes second on Independent blogger Martin King’s list of important journalistic skills, but is also one of the hardest skills to learn.

After two months of learning outlines for such bizarre words as ‘pebbly’ and ‘frolic’ (try using both of those in the same sentence) we have been deemed ready to sit our first exam. This entails taking shorthand notes on a four minute passage, read at a speed of 60 words per minute. Given that the average person speaks at two or even three times this speed, we have a long way to go before we’ll be able to take notes from actual people, but the idea of writing at 60 w.p.m. is still faintly terrifying.

Yesterday, our tri-weekly dose of shorthand was scheduled for 4pm. I had been at university since 10am, and had already endured three hours of local government and a gruelling law revision session. I was not in the mood. By the time we started dictation, I had already tried to read the word television as ‘T…V…shun’ and forgotten multiple words which I was supposed to have learnt already. Then Sue decided that as a special treat, we would do our dictation at 70 w.p.m. rather than 60. This was to be my undoing.

Surprisingly, the problem was not actually the speed. With shorthand passages, the word ‘a’ counts for one of your 60 but so does the word ‘supervise’. Therefore a 70 w.p.m. passage can actually be easier to write than a 60 w.p.m., which seemed to be the case here. Then came the fatal sentence ‘Mr Brown had returned from walking his dog to find that his pet parrot, Jack…’ Don’t ask me why I found it hilarious that a man would name a parrot Jack, but I did. So did several other members of the class. And the teacher. The passage had to be paused and restarted, but once I’ve found something funny, I can’t stop laughing. I tried to muffle my laughter enough that I didn’t disturb anyone else in the class, but unsurprisingly my own transcript had several large gaps. These gaps seemed to coincide with the mentioning of a certain name.

So my advice to anyone who is learning shorthand is this: do not find anything funny in the exam! Unfortunately, I have no tips as to how to help with this problem, and if anyone has managed to combat it then I would appreciate their help. In searching for solution though, I have discovered this useful article from Wannabe Hacks on passing 100 w.p.m. shorthand. There may be hope for me yet, providing that no other unusually-named birds show up, of course!

If you want to share your own shorthand-learning stories or tips for passing the exams, then please leave a comment below.

The Two Week Mark

It’s been three weeks since I started at Kingston, but two weeks of normal lectures, so I feel that an update is in order. I have classes Monday-Thursday, and with travelling time included I generally spend about ten hours every day out of the house. It’s a bit of a change from my lazy undergraduate life, that’s for sure!

This semester, I have six modules. After Journalism Practices, which I’ve already written about, there’s:

Law

This is a three hour block on Monday afternoon, in which we learn how not to get sued, what to do if we do get sued, and how many times our lecturer has been sued. There’s a lot of precise language, and it’s important that we get the definitions just right, so we have a lot to learn before our first exam in November.

Hands On Journalism

The most practical of the six modules, this takes place on Tuesday afternoons, and also in every moment of our free time as we have to run a hyper local website, the Kingston Courier. This semester I’m the Business Editor, so I’m spending a lot of time looking for local businesses stories, whilst also trying to write the court and council stories which the NCTJ wants in our portfolios.

Journalists and Government

Another module with lots of information and definitions to learn, although the scary thing about this is that my father, a local government accountant, now wants to talk to me about his job. We’re starting on local government, which is pretty dry (although exactly what we need to understand those aforementioned court and council stories), but things should get a little more exciting when we move onto central government next semester.

Multimedia News Writing

This another practical module, in which we learn to write.  So far, this has involved being handed a press release or some fake sources and then being told to turn them into a story. This has taught me that many of the writing habits I’ve picked up over the years are wrong, particularly some of the words I like to use (whilst is out for one). I’m enjoying it a lot though, because it’s a chance to write, but without the pressure that there is on the Kingston Courier.

Shorthand

My favourite module, because although a lot of people complain about it, I’m still finding it easy at this point. This is mostly because I spent a month before starting university learning it in preparation, but I like to think that all that time spent getting to grips with the Russian alphabet has helped too. Shorthand means a new alphabet, new words, and a new way of writing altogether. It’s still fun at the moment, but we haven’t properly started speed building at the moment, so we shall see what happens.

Journalism Practices (or how to do a module in a week)

Last week, I wrote about being thrown in at the deep end. The reason for this was Journalism Practices, a module which I’d finished after only four days at Kingston. Finished in terms of teaching anyway, I still have a case study to write and some on-line discussion to engage in before I can be properly assessed, but in terms of contact time, those four days were all we got.

It felt more like an induction week than a module too, consisting as they did of a series of taster sessions for the different modules which we will study for the rest of the year as well as giving us a brief introduction to the media industry and the problems which will face us when we come to enter it. We also spent a couple of hours each day preparing a presentation and seminar on a journalism-related topic, which we all delivered on Thursday. My group chose the Leveson Inquiry and its potential impact on regulation, and despite a minor technological hiccup (thank you YouTube, it’s not like we really wanted that video to load anyway) I think that it went well. The well-deserved class binding session in the pub afterwards certainly went well, somehow beer tastes better after a hard working week. And so the alcohol dependency begins…

One thing that did strike me about this module was how little reading I had to do for it. Having always measured my academic effort in the number of books and journalism articles which I managed to read, this was slightly disconcerting. This is a professional practices course though, and many of the assignments reflect that – though reading is definitely still required, as my unopened copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists would no doubt like to remind me.

If we did all of our modules like this, our lecturer told us, our course would last only seven weeks. Wouldn’t that be an interesting experiment, she asked. But given that Journalism Practices is specifically designed to fit within a week, as well as the fact that we’ve already been told that this course will move at the speed of light and take over our entire lives, I fear that it would be an experiment doomed to failure.