How to choose a journalism course – BJTC/NCTJ/PPA

I get asked for advice on journalism courses, so I thought it easiest to post it here. There are three journalism accreditation bodies in the UK (alphabetically):

All three now validate and accredit courses that are multimedia to some extent.

Some local newspaper editors still insist on NCTJ so if you absolutely want to work in that (lowest paid) sector of journalism, you must do the NCTJ certificate. It involves a lot of exams. However, the NCTJ qualification will not restrict you to that sector and is widely recognised across the media. The NCTJ does a broadcast course but it is not to the same standard as the BJTC.

The NCTJ requires shorthand. Shorthand is a good thing, if you can learn it (some people with disabilities cannot). The BJTC and PPA do not require shorthand but some courses accredited by them do teach it.

Some courses are accredited by more than one body. Some courses are accredited by none. There are also short courses that are not accredited. Some courses not accredited are good at what they do. Some courses get given longer accreditation periods with fewer caveats than other courses.

For all these reasons, I suggest you decide what journalism you want to do and ask questions of your own. Here are some possible questions for journalism courses:

  1. How much does the course cost and are any bursaries or grants available?
  2. What’s the class size and how many contact hours are there? How much out-of-hours help is there?
  3. Is the course accredited by an industry body and, if so, which one? If not, why not? Ask to see the most recent report and see how different reports compare.
  4. What qualification, if any, is attached to the course?
  5. How much of the course (including visiting lecturers) is taught by practising journalists or experienced former journalists? When did they last report or work in a newsroom?
  6. Does the course include work experience and, if so, where and for how long? How much help is given in arranging this? Where have previous students done their work experience?
  7. Does the curriculum cover the practical skills and context you will need for a job that interests you (for example, subs will l need to learn copy editing, page make-up, use of Adobe InDesign, journalism law and ethics)?
  8. What equipment is used on this course (PCs, Macs, phones, cameras, editing suites and so on)? How much is available, how old is it, and how many students share it?
  9. What proportion of recent graduates are working as journalists, where and how much are they earning?

Good luck