• IndiaLily

I started my role as a trainee reporter for the Eastbourne Herald in September 2020. I have two years with them as a trainee before I can take my professional exams to become a fully-fledged senior reporter.

Here are links to some of my pieces at the Herald:

  • IndiaLily

Moving away from home has never been something I’ve particularly worried about. I love my family and we’re very close, but I never really get homesick. When I went to uni I was a three-hour drive away, so I’d visit every seven weeks and that was fine.

When the time came to apply for jobs following graduation and my journalism exams (read more about that here if you want) the topic of location wasn’t something I thought about.

I already feel incredibly lucky to have got a job through a pandemic, so I wasn’t going to limit my chances by being picky with location. You have to go where the work is – and that’s exactly what I’ve done.

Rewind back to August, I get the call that I’ve been offered a job in Eastbourne – that’s a five-and-a-half-hour drive away, or four hours on the train. It didn’t bother me though, I was just over the moon to have got a job as a reporter, it didn’t matter where it was.

I handed in my notice at the restaurant, and so began the four weeks of prep.

The preparation

Now I love a list, so of course the first thing I did was make a list of everything I needed to do before the big move.

Luckily, I managed to move a couple of things around and get two days to go house viewing. Naively, at first I thought I could get a house sorted all online, but I soon realised (and through my parents telling me) that for a house that I’m spending hundreds on per month, I need to see it in person and get it right. Plus, it was also a good opportunity to see Eastbourne.

I used SpareRoom to find somewhere – showing me a mix of private landlords and agencies.

My priorities for the house were:

  • Budget of £550 per month, with all bills included

  • Location – Central to town, a nice street

  • Bathrooms – I’ve never been someone that demands an en suite, but I didn’t want to end up in a house of six people with just one bathroom, so it just needed enough bathrooms/toilets for people never to be clashing

  • Housemates – Similar age to me, mix of boys and girls, all working

  • Parking

What I learnt from the searching and viewing process was that if you can - go with a private landlord. This isn’t to slate agencies, but my personal experience wasn’t good.

At the end of the day, the private landlord cares more because it is their property. Plus, you have a point of contact should you ever need help with anything – much easier than dealing with a business.

I ended up in a house of six, and within that there’s a group of four of us that are all a similar age. The house is well kept, and I couldn’t ask for better landlords.

The standout for this house was that it had a living room. So rather than it being converted to another bedroom (which a lot of houses were) I can eat my meals and relax in a room other than my bedroom. When you’re working from home sometimes too – having a change of scenery is a big luxury.

That was obviously the biggest preparation sorted. But here was the rest of my list, covering lots of little tasks that you can forget/avoid.

  • Update driving license address

  • Car insurance change of address (it is illegal if you don’t change this)

  • Doctors/Dentist

  • Sort through my stuff – What I did and didn't need so that I was only taking what I actually wanted.

  • Shopping for work clothes – I have been overdressed before for various placements. I got a clear idea from meeting my boss what I could wear and therefore what I needed.

  • Research the area and be ready for the job

  • Gym + Dance classes – Get signed up

  • Pack

The move

Then came to actual moving process - what I realised from this was that I hate packing.

I had a big panic of whether I needed a man with a van too. When I laid everything out all packed up and ready to go, it did not look like it would fit in my tiny car. With the determination of my mum though, and the loss of my rear-view mirror – it all fitted!

If I were to do it again, I would invest in some good vacuum packing bags. My issue was that I have a lot of jumpers and coats, so they took up SO MUCH SPACE.

The drive was fine, only one situation of being in the wrong lane and being beeped at. I arrived about 4pm, met with my landlady to sign final bits of paperwork, and then began the mammoth task of moving it all into my room.

Fast-forward to the next evening. Everything was in its place, I’d done a supermarket shop, and run along the seafront – how scenic!

The next challenge to come was the job itself, and actually setting up a life here – but I’ll save all that for another post.

  • IndiaLily

I’ll start by summarising. I recently finished my journalism trainee level qualifications known as the NCTJ diploma, and now I’m working as a trainee reporter on the south coast.

I’ve written about my experience of taking the diploma via distance learning, but a lot of people have messaged me with more questions - so I thought it would be useful to put all those questions in one place!

Before I start, here are the pieces I’ve done so far that are journalism related:


Work experience

Different routes into journalism

There will be a piece coming out in December about my first three months as a trainee reporter, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

Right, let’s get into the questions!

1. What resources do you get as a distance learner?

Some modules include a textbook, and they all come with material on a memory stick too. This includes a PDF of the content, and then some past papers sometimes too, depending on the module.

When you enrol you also get access to a student zone of the NCTJ website where you have access to extra resources. This includes more past papers, and is the place where you upload your portfolio.

2. How do the modules work?

There are four core modules that everyone does and then you have to choose a number of electives to make sure you reach 82 credits.

I did the following:

Essential journalism (core) – 22 credits

Ethics (core) – 3 credits

Media law (core) – 10 credits

Portfolio (core) – 12 credits

Public affairs (elective) – 7 credits

Video journalism (elective) – 7 credits

Shorthand (elective) – 14 credits

Production journalism (elective) – 7 credits

If you want to do more modules than 82 credits-worth, that's fine. I was just being mindful of money, so took the most important ones for me and that took me to 82 credits.

3. How did you work through the modules?

I didcore modules first – essential journalism, ethics, and media law.

Then when I was through most of the ‘learning’ for them I started the electives, splitting the days into morning and afternoon sections so I’d do one module in the morning, then another in the afternoon.

I’d say I was learning/note taking for about five months, and then revising for the last two months before exams.

4. How did it work in terms of day-to-day studying?

I started in November and took my last exams mid-July.

I studied about 6-7 hours a day, Mon-Fri (and was then working nights/weekends at a restaurant - a flexible advantage to doing it this way - I could keep earning).

I’d say I was learning/note taking etc until April, and then revising/doing past papers etc until the exams which ran June-July.

I did the core modules first, and then tackled the electives. They say the cores takes about 140 hours each, and the electives are 70 hours each (shorthand is 140 hours though).

One thing I would say – start shorthand asap! Theory took me one month, but then speed development takes a while, so get that into your daily routine as soon as you can so it is less of a chore, and more of a natural thing to do!

My advice: Be strict with yourself – work out what you want to get done each week and stick to it. The quicker you give yourself a routine (like if you were at uni doing it) the better.

5. How does the portfolio work?

Mine was disrupted due to Covid. They changed the criteria a bit so we were able to complete it despite lockdown rules. You submit ten stories all together. I had to do a major story, video story, and statistics/research story, as well as the remaining seven stories being my choice.

I wrote for various platforms (local paper, a national magazine, a couple of business websites etc). This being said, the only real difference tat Covid caused was that we didn’t have to do a mobile story because we couldn’t really get out and about.

If you have good story ideas you’ll be fine, and if you can get them published – even better!

I did my portfolio once I’d done all my learning and I was just into the revision stage of everything.

At first it seems really daunting, but as long as you have good story ideas, it doesn’t take too long at all.

6. How does it work with tutors when you’re distance learning?

They assign you three hours of tutor time per core module, and for the electives you have one hour per module.

I chose to use my tutors for the odd email here and there, and for marking past papers. This was really useful for papers where it aren't yes/no answers, so for essential journalism you really need a tutor to mark it, whereas with media law you can mark that yourself because it is all about theory.

7. How easy was it to get a job after?

Not easy. More because there aren't many out there! The BBC/ITV/Telegraph do trainee schemes, but as you can imagine, thousands apply, and two of these were cancelled this year too.

When the trainee schemes fell through in March/April, I was in the later stages of one of them, so that definitely ruined my plans a lot.

I have experience from interning as a copywriter for two summers, so was applying to a lot of marketing/copywriting jobs simply because there were more of them available than any trainee reporter roles. I worked out that I’d applied for about 25 jobs, and only 2-3 of those were journalism roles.

I feel insanely lucky to have got a job at all, never mind an actual trainee reporter job! They said themselves they had around 100 applicants. There were two rounds of interviews after the written application. What made me get the job over others was work experience I think.

(I am currently writing a piece about te process of recruitment, making your CV stand out, and interviewing an employer to get behind the velvet curtain, so look out for that.)

8. What happens when you're done?

Once you've done all your exams and got your results, you order your certificate as proof of what you've achieved. Exams are graded with letters, so you're aiming for all results to be a C or above for your qualification to be classed as the 'gold standard' that employers are looking for.

Then, *finger crossed* you get a trainee job. Once you're into that, 18 months/two years later (depending on where you're working) you have to do your final exams - NQJ. Again, this is with the NCTJ, and they basically mean you become a fully-fledged senior reporter.

There aren't many exams for this, just another media law/ethics one, and then a big news story one that tests how you would handle a breaking news scenario. As well as this you have to submit a log book, essentially another porfolio.

9. Any other tips?

  • Start shorthand straightaway. I know it is classed as an elective, and you may think it is old-fashioned, but you NEED it.

  • If you don’t have work experience – try and get some when things start to get back to normal. This is a good way of doing your portfolio pieces too.

  • Broadcast journalism isn’t available for distance learners, but I took the broadcast regulation exam (it didn’t count towards my final credit count) because it shows I know the Ofcom code too.

  • It is hard. You’re on your own and doing a lot of isolated learning, but if you’re sure this is what you want to do, then it should just increase your determination to succeed. Plus, employers have been impressed with me doing it this way – so you do stand out by distance learning!

If you have any questions that I haven’t covered, check out the NCTJ FAQs section here

Or if that doesn't cover it, please just ask:

Instagram - @indialily_blogs

LinkedIn - www.linkedin.com/in/india-wentworth

Email - indiawentworth@gmail.com


Hi, I'm India.

I'm a UK-based trainee journalist and blogger. I cover everything from current events and cultural issues, to studying, lifestyle and opinions. 

Please do read, comment, and share! 

Instagram - indialily_blogs

LinkedIn - linkedin.com/in/india-wentworth

Twitter - @indialily97 

Email - indiawentworth@gmail.com 

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