Hi blog readers!
Today, I’m delighted to be able to offer you an interview with Lydia Wilkins. Aside from writing a fantastic blog, Mademoiselle Women (https://mademoisellewomen.com/), she is currently a student at the Brighton Journalist Works, doing a part-time NCTJ journalism qualification. My interview with her, about the course, is a fantastic read for those considering getting a journalism qualification under their belts!
Why did you want to pursue a career in journalism?
It was an accumulation of things. As a child, I had always been curious, such as in asking the “wrong” questions when I shouldn’t have been. I was also, as soon as I learnt to read and write, pretty much in love with words, reading books like The Diary Of Anne Frank or listening to “old” songs. I can’t remember who was the first person to suggest being a journalist as a career, if I’m honest. But by the age of twelve/thirteen I was regularly getting interviews and other pieces published – such as on my blog – so I went from there.
Prior to beginning your NCTJ course, what work experience did you undertake to help you gain experience of the journalism industry?
I have interned at NME and The Daily Mail. I also started my blog and wrote for local newspapers and magazines. I’m also an online teen Columnist for the Mid Sussex Times.
You’re studying part-time at the Brighton Journalist Works. Why did you choose this course over doing university degrees (either an undergraduate in journalism or an undergraduate in a different subject and then a postgraduate qualification/further training) and why did you choose a part-time course?
Many reasons! When I went on a taster day to see what the course was about, I was really impressed how the lecturers – journalists themselves – infused the environment with stories. “I broke the story of the Berlin Wall falling” was the typical thing you’d hear. I also liked how they took me seriously – I have Asperger’s Syndrome – instead suggesting that I was no different to any other student (now why wouldn’t I wish to study with them?). Various editors, journalists and contacts had also said to do an NCTJ diploma – as well as the journalist who took me on at the Mid Sussex Times.
In comparison to a degree, the qualification I’m doing is also less academic – we don’t turn in essays or a dissertation (I’m not very academically-inclined). The universities I visited in deciding if I should do the degree or NCTJ also lacked… something. To this day, I’m not sure what that is. They also didn’t teach all the skills I think a journalist needs -shorthand, among other things.
Why did you choose the Brighton Journalist Works?
The environment is story-infused to the highest level, and virtually every contact I have in the industry said to do the course. Brighton Journalist Works is the closest centre to where I live.
How long does your course take to complete and when do you do the different exams?
I’m on the part-time diploma. I started in September last year and will finish in July this year. Exams are at different times throughout the course – usually when you complete a topic.
Would you recommend your course to others and why?
Of course! You’re writing for publication from day one, and you gain useful skills like shorthand. It’s also a qualification that’s industry-recognised.
What are/have been your favourite bits of the course?
I haven’t finished it yet, but my favourite subject would have to be law. This is because, amongst the theory we need to learn, there’s always a good amount of laughter, as well as some useful bits of information thrown in. Prior to this, I knew nothing about Harry Evans (investigative journalist, who, whilst editing The Sunday Times, exposed [the thalidomide scandal]). He’s also the subject of a brilliant Netflix documentary, Attacking The Devil) or Untold (such a brilliant podcast. It’s more addictive than a Netflix box set, I think).
What are the toughest bits of the course and how are you overcoming them?
Shorthand. That’s the hardest, and probably the toughest, part so far. It took some time learning all the bits of theory – and the R principle is still the bane of my life. I’m practicing daily, such as with speed-development passages, and writing notes or poetry in it.
What fun things have you been able to do within the course (e.g. story-wise or event-wise)?
In terms of stories, I loved contacting a burger shack owner nearby where the course is held. He was crowdfunding to feed homeless people on Christmas Day (homelessness is one of the biggest problems in Brighton – and I think a lot more needs to be done to help [homeless people]). That was incredibly cool, as well as generous. He managed to crowdfund past his target – I think it was something like 150%? That is one of the kindest things you can do.
There are some events coming up, but sadly I can’t talk about them just yet. But I’m really excited about them and have been researching the background of these events – enough so I can (hopefully) ask questions.
Shorthand is often seen as the hardest part of a journalism course – do you have any advice for those in the process of learning it?
First: you will get frustrated. At home I have flung my pen down in despair numerous times. But that’s okay (what you then need to do is not to be too disheartened and try again).
It’s also a skill that takes time to master. You can’t just think that you will pick it up in a day or two.
And: practice makes perfect (although I think a bar of chocolate acts as a good incentive!).
What sort of journalism role would you like in the future?
This is something that I have been asking myself recently. You see, I really like the idea of investigative journalism – like The Sunday Times (disclaimer: Harry Evans is my journo hero). I also really like what Byline is doing. But I also like the idea of being a columnist, akin to Caitlin Moran. So I’m a bit undecided so far.
What are your top tips for those doing an NCTJ course?
Hmmm… first: timing is everything. If you fall behind, it’s hard to catch up again. But you also have deadlines – some of which you cannot afford to go past (have a diary where you jot everything down. It is a lifesaver, I promise).
Also: keep a rolling list of ideas for stories. Stories are your bread and butter – and you also need to be thinking: “How can I get this story out, in spite of X, Y and Z?”
Also: have fun with it. But know when you need to be serious.