Ben Woods is the business editor for the Eastern Daily Press (EDP). After gaining his NCTJ qualifications at Press Association Training in Newcastle, the 28-year-old joined the EDP as a junior reporter in 2011. He was named the Regional Press Awards business and finance journalist of the year 2013.
“By the time I was accepted onto an NCTJ course, I was desperate to become a journalist. Up until that point I felt like I had exhausted every avenue trying to get into the profession.
“My first break came when I landed two days a week of work experience at the Dereham Times, a weekly newspaper linked to the EDP. The rest of the time I worked as a waiter.
“I was lucky that the then-editor of the Dereham Times, Ian Clarke, was happy to give me stories in exchange for being a general dogsbody. On my first day I wrote a piece on a local DJ for the paper’s events section. It got completely re-written and busted down to four paragraphs, but it was great to see it in print.
“Like many other reporters in the profession, I had my fair share of knock-backs. I applied to pretty much every journalism graduate scheme going, but even those that were acknowledged came back rejected.
“It was the work experience – a year’s worth under my belt at this point – which eventually got me on the right path.
“The journalists I met at the EDP had got their NCTJ qualifications at the Press Association training school in Newcastle. I put the money I saved from working part-time towards paying my way on the course.
“The time that followed in Newcastle turned into some of the toughest and most rewarding experiences I have had.
“There were plenty of late nights pouring through local government and media law textbooks. Shorthand seemed impossible, and was made all the more worse when other trainees seemed to pick it up like a forgotten language.
“What made the course so enjoyable was the fact that you were treated like a professional journalist from the start. You were expected to work a news patch, build contacts, and, if you were lucky, you would be rewarded by seeing your stories appear in the daily newspapers linked to the college, the Newcastle Chronicle and The Journal. It certainly stoked up plenty of competition among the trainees.
“You were also regaled with stories of ex-pupils who went on to become big-hitters on national newspapers - some of which came back to talk to us while we were studying. There was a real sense that you were not only entering a great profession, but following in the footsteps of your heroes.
“Even in the short time since I qualified and got my first job at the EDP, times have changed for reporters.
“Social media is paramount and the rise of online has certainly created more opportunities for those looking to enter the profession.
“What I find worrying are the roles that don’t look for NCTJ qualifications. I don’t see how anyone can be considered a professional journalist without passing their NCTJ exams. I still use my shorthand every day, not to mention the training in carrying out interviews, working a news patch and using knowledge of media law to tell stories safely.
“Journalism is a profession which asks a lot of you. It can be physically and emotionally exhausting. But in return you get an insight into people’s lives – their joy and their pain – which is unique privilege.
“And of course, nothing beats that feeling when all the hard graft pays off and you land that exclusive story.”