Learning my trade as a journalist in local news
Quick recap on my 'career timeline' so far to give you some context:
July 2019 - Graduated from my English degree, then worked and travelled for a bit
August 2020 - Completed my NCTJ diploma via distance learning, making me a trainee reporter
September 2020 - Started as a trainee reporter for JPI Media in Sussex
December 2022 - Completed my NQJ exams, making me a senior reporter
March 2023 - Got a job as a production journalist for ITV West Country
If you want to read into any of that journey in more detail, you can check those out here
Now I'll be honest, when I was preparing to start my NCTJ I did try to get onto a trainee scheme with the BBC and ITV, but they're insanely competitive and I wasn't successful. I was a bit gutted at the time that this didn't work out, especially when I started the distance learning which was pretty lonely.
Covid came along which actually helped me in the long term because it put me on furlough from a job I wasn't enjoying, which meant I got to spend more time on my exam prep and with my family - resulting in better grades and quality time with them before I properly moved away.
I managed to get a job in a town 300+ miles away that I'd never been to, for a paper I'd never heard of. There were very few trainee jobs going so I couldn't be picky with location. It was exciting at the time but also very daunting. Now that part of my life is over, I can see it was the best possible training I could have had.
(Above: Talking to people about things that matter to them is one of the things I love about being a journalist.)
When I joined there was a chief reporter on my patch that trained me. She left about seven months into my time there and then I was basically doing the job of a senior after that because I was the most experienced on my patch. It was very much sink or swim.
Thinking about this and talking about it in job interview has made me realise not being treated as a trainee is the best thing that could have happened to me. As we were a small team, there was no 'easy' jobs for trainees, everyone had to do everything - crime, politics, human interest etc. The team was small which meant I got to do it all from day one basically, and that freedom can be scary but it meant I learnt so much.
So my advice if you're currently studying journalism, or thinking about it, is to look to your local newspaper. Don't overlook them. I gathered work experience during my time at uni from a range of newsrooms which was so valuable for me getting my trainee role in the first place, and then add on my 2.5 years as a trainee - I've gained the skills needed to move to ITV.
Local journalism gives a voice to issues that regional/national news can't always cover and that's why it's so important. It's not just about holding local figures and authorities to account, but shining a light on local people doing amazing things. My favourite jobs have been getting out there meeting residents and chatting about issues that matter to them. Everyday is a school day in this job and I love it.
(Above: This really was for work, talking to a local award-winning cider maker.)
Local news is not what it was though. When I was in Sussex, I'd see old photos of the team on my patch and there was about 15 of them in the office. When I left it was just two of us regularly coming into the office. Teams are much smaller and people always seem surprised at how stretched local journalism is. The only way to tackle that is to continue supporting your local paper because without them the news landscape would look very different, and have a massive hole in it.
I'm loving my time at ITV (more on that in a future blog post) but I know everything I learnt in local news is what's got me where I am now. Local news was the best place for me to learn my trade as a journalist.
(All photos from Jon Rigby)