Journalism still a great choice for inquiring young minds
A regular question from readers and acquaintances is what is the best route into journalism in Northern Ireland.
Sometimes it's from curiosity, but more often due to a personal interest: usually a child is "thinking" about or "would like to do" journalism. Very occasionally it's about a child who is "determined to be a journalist".
The latter category has by far the highest success rate, but the sometimes only-interested often become a great source of student journalists when they discover enough about the job to realise they have a love of civic society and can even make a career out of it. Anyone thinking, wanting or determined to "go into journalism" needs to take a good trainee journalism course (and not a 'media studies' one).
There are such three courses here: at Ulster University in Coleraine, the North West Regional College in Derry/Londonderry and at Belfast Metropolitan College.
Both Ulster University and North West College courses are accredited to the National Council for the Training of Journalists, a specialist charity for journalism training. Belfast Met's course is currently not accredited.
The NCTJ accreditation is the "gold standard" training - a vigorous, challenging and multi-skilled course that produces students ready to enter newsrooms. Some 73% of the UK's qualified journalists are NCTJ-trained.
Among the modules are core skills like media law, shorthand, writing and public affairs, and specialist options like video journalism, sport and court reporting.
The NCTJ certificate is considered a prerequisite qualification for a trainee job on most weekly and regional newspapers across the water. Shorthand is still insisted on, even at many TV and radio stations, despite a view in some quarters that recording devices are better (they're not) or somehow more modern (wrong again).
(Disclosure: I sit on the NCTJ's accreditation board and am a firm believer in the NCTJ's mission and ability to maintain standards across the industry.)
The Diploma in Journalism has been enhanced with two recent lower-level innovations aimed at bloggers and apprenticeships. Neither of these are offered here; we tend to be more traditional in our approach.
The University of Ulster offers an MA in Journalism which incorporates the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism. North West college offers a one-year NCTJ-approved Professional Newspaper Journalism qualification.
In the rest of the UK, trainee journalists who complete their NCTJ Diploma can, once they have at least 18 months' employment, sit the full National Qualification in Journalism (NQJ).
Oddly and worryingly, the NQJ never established itself in Northern Ireland - and no one seems to know why, nor care. I suspect the reason is a combination of scale, funding and the legacy of the Troubles which forced most newsrooms to continually react rather than to plan and improve.
Whatever you read, journalism remains one of the great careers: it's ever-changing, surprising, sometimes emotional, heart-of-your-community stuff.
Ignore hacks who grumble the profession is dying: reporters have been saying this since the quill. They're meant to be an awkward bunch. Yes, budgets are tight, but new funding models will be found. Thanks to the internet, journalism has never had a bigger audience, and there are more exciting ways to tell stories than ever before.
It's still a great choice for young people with inquiring minds.