NCTJ Annual Conference

The spectre of the Leveson Report loomed large, writes Lisa Nelson, as the NCTJ Journalism Skills Conference got underway in Nottingham on Wednesday, 28 November.

By Lisa Nelson

One of the most well-attended conferences in recent years, some delegates had to do battle with the elements to be there and could be heard swapping stories of how they beat the flood waters plaguing the north of England as they made their way to Nottingham Conference Centre.

The first session of the conference was, appropriately, about ethics. A panel of NCTJ board members introduced the new compulsory ethics module for students studying for the Diploma in Journalism. The module comprises a total of 20 hours and the change is due to take effect in 2013. In addition, it was proposed that the current essential public affairs module would be streamlined and an additional specialist module, political reporting, would be introduced. The announcement generated some debate among delegates, with concerns about adequately preparing students for a work place that has less time and resources to provide the mentoring practices that were once available to cub reporters.

In a session entitled Tools for the Data Journalist, Stephen Rosenthal, public relations and communications manager at Google UK, told delegates they should think of Google as “a tool for research and possibly as one of the most up to date surveys you can use”. He was followed by David Elks, aggregation coordinator and data journalist at Northcliffe Media, who showed those gathered how to present raw data in an accessible form in order to create a more compelling news story.

Sticking with the theme of new developments that was prevalent throughout the conference, delegates spent the final session of the day hearing about a range of initiatives that have been set up over the past year. There were changes to the diploma in journalism, with the successful piloting of a module in broadcast journalism and the development of a specialist option in business and finance journalism, as well as the introduction of a new foundation certificate in journalism to cater for citizen journalists in local communities.

An apprenticeship scheme was also announced that has already secured backing from both the Evening Standard and The Independent.

A gala dinner at Nottingham Contemporary followed, with an awards ceremony and a much anticipated after dinner speech by Sir Michael Parkinson which didn’t disappoint.

The veteran broadcaster charmed his audience with tales from his 61 years in the industry, from sporting the only trilby and trench coat ensemble in Yorkshire in homage to his idol Humphrey Bogart, to his stint as an impromptu war reporter while on holiday in Istanbul, before he landed his self-titled, award-winning chat show which ran for a total of 20 years.

Sir Michael also presented the Awards for Excellence, which were featured at the conference for the first time and were a welcome addition to the programme, showcasing the talents of current students and trainees.

Day two began with a sneak peak at the Journalists at Work survey presented by Professor Ian Hargreaves, professor of digital economy at Cardiff University, and researcher and lead author Mark Spilsbury. An update of the seminal research in 2002, the report is due to be published at the end of the year.

The final session of the day was a discussion on developments within accredited centres and the NCTJ, featuring a talk on the importance of continuing professional development within the industry and an informative presentation from tutors at Staffordshire University on their hyperlocal website, Staffs Live. At the close of the conference, delegates were treated to a sit-down lunch and a chance to ponder the live broadcast by Lord Justice Leveson.

If there was a theme for the conference, it was surely ‘embracing change’. It was a training body attempting to stay ahead of the curve and adapting to an industry in flux. With so many new initiatives and a major change to the diploma structure, it will be interesting to see the state of the industry at the conference this time next year.

Click here to see an image gallery of the event.