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Tag Archives: journalism MA

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.

 

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Leveson and the Internet

Photo by Julian Simmonds / Rex Features

Photo by Julian Simmonds / Rex Features

Last Thursday, my fellow journalism students and I gathered around our computers to watch Lord Justice Leveson announce the results of his inquiry into the press. OK, we were actually in a lecture and had been told that we had to watch the announcement, but we were still interested.

I’m waiting to see what actually comes out of the report before I pass judgement on the majority of it (as what Leveson wants and what Cameron is prepared to give seem to be two very different things). But, as George Berridge wrote for Wannabe Hacks, the section on the internet is shocking in its brevity.

The total length of the Leveson report: 1000 pages. The proportion of that devoted to the internet: one page. Given that recently the internet community in general has been as badly behaved as the press, this seems nonsensical.

Ethics in newsrooms often leave much to be desired, that much is true. But were the Twitter users who wrongly named Lord McAlpine recently acting any more ethically? And should they be allowed to continue in the same vein while the mainstream press is regulated?

As a blogger, perhaps I should be pleased that my domain is being left well alone. But as a journalist-in-training, I’m not happy. Giving the internet free rein while constricting press freedom will only contribute to the decline of the print media. I’m not convinced that most of Leveson’s proposals should be implemented, but if they are they should apply to all, not just the newspapers.

Mitigating Circumstances

I’ve been incognito on the blogging front for the past week, having been laid low by a horrible virus. On the surface, this didn’t seem so bad, giving me a bona fide excuse to stay in bed all day watching Grey’s Anatomy re-runs with my cat (this is my life, please don’t judge). However, illness struck the night before my law exam, meaning that I’ve had to do something which I’ve managed to avoid in the past four years of university: claiming mitigating circumstances.

This was a venture into the unknown for me because I’ve always been, for want of a better word, a goody two-shoes. I was the child who cried at school because I’d forgotten to bring in my homework (not even forgotten to do it, but just forgotten to bring it with me to class) and who once sat an exam having almost passed out ten minutes beforehand. But last Wednesday I had to face facts: there was no way I was staying upright long enough to sit my law exam.

I’m now having to wade through the swamp of bureaucracy that comes with missing an exam. It’s not enough that the invigilators saw me looking like I was at death’s door, I need a doctor’s note to back up my claim. And, of course, I have to pay for the note. Plus, I haven’t yet been able to work out whether I need to fill in a mitigating circumstances form or whether the NCTJ just want my doctor’s note. So I delegated: I handed it over to the admin office and now I’m just hoping that they have more of a clue than I do. It wouldn’t be difficult…

Media Law

Good old McNae’s…

For the past week, my life has been consumed by one thing and one thing only: media law. And with an exam in the subject fast approaching, that doesn’t look likely to change any time soon!

Law is taught in a two hour lecture every Monday afternoon, followed by a seminar in which we have the dubious pleasure of being able to apply our new knowledge to exam questions. The aim is simple, to learn how not to get sued in the workplace. As it turns out there are many, many things for which a journalist can be sued. We’ve covered an awful lot of them since the beginning of term: defamation, contempt of court, sexual offences, breach of confidence, copyright. Just thinking about it all makes me want to lie down in a darkened room, not sit an exam paper on my knowledge.

Undeniably useful though it may be, law is by no means my favourite module. It can be boring at times, but the theory is livened up by examples, often featuring our Hands-On tutor as a fictional murderess (sorry, alleged murderess). Our lecturer also enjoys telling us about his own run-ins with the law, including massive payouts, injunctions, and the time that he was followed home by a threatening black car after refusing to retract an article. And his job is to teach us how not to get sued!

The main problem is that it’s so specific. My exam answers will have to be precisely-worded to pick up the top marks, with four marks sometimes being awarded for remembering one four word phrase. Memorising these phrases means spending a lot of quality time with my textbook, McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists. When I develop a hunchback from the weight of my bag, I shall blame this law exam for forcing me to drag that book back and forth to university every day (because everyone knows that train time is reading time). But hopefully, this way I can avoid failing and having to fork out fifty pounds for a resit. And with that said, I must get back to learning the exact wording of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. Wish me luck!