Living up to Press Gang’s Lynda Day – why I love being a journalist
SINCE launching Express North magazine, I’ve enjoyed asking women about their career paths as the routes are often fascinating. So when the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) asked if I would write a blog post for its alumni page about my own job, I was thrilled.
I am now in its hall of fame alongside media legends including Sky’s Alex Crawford and Kay Burley, ITN’s Mark Austin, BBC’s John Pienaar and even Piers Morgan.
I’ve reproduced it below or you can just click on the link. And I still have nightmares about those shorthand exams…IT took me longer to end up on an NCTJ course than most. I had this image of journalism students being loud and intimidating, all shouting “hold the front page!” and that totally put me off.
I’ve always found comfort in the written word as I’ve stammered for as long as I can remember. I would disappear into books and express my thoughts and personality by scribbling endless stories and, combined with a love of early nineties series Press Gang, I dreamt of growing up to being an enigmatic editor like Lynda Day.
I thought I wanted to go into fashion journalism so after my textiles and marketing degree I moved to London and freelanced on trade magazine, Drapers Record, and did lots of work experience at Vogue House.
But I realised quite soon that I was more interested in people than peplums and it was difficult to get a job without a qualification.
At 25 I went on an intensive speech therapy programme to help control my stammer and a year later moved back home to the North-East to start a nine-month NCTJ course at Darlington College.
The programme and the people on it were great fun – nothing like the arrogant rookie reporters I’d feared. I enjoyed the practical assignments more than the theory and achieving 100wpm shorthand is still up there with pushing out two babies and finding a good man on my list of life’s greatest achievements.
The lessons I learned are ingrained and, almost 15 years later, I still ensure all my work is accurate, detailed, balanced and legal.
I also discovered that journalism isn’t glamorous – for every interview with a Hollywood heartthrob or government minister there are a thousand council meetings and magistrate court adjournments – but that’s what makes the job so varied and the highs so memorable.
We were told that it was our duty to hold authorities to account and it was drummed into us that we were the eyes and ears of the people – whether at the sentencing of a murder case or a general election result we are amongst the privileged few who get a ringside seat when history is made. It doesn’t get much better than that.
With the stratospheric increase in blogging and social media, some might think the NCTJ qualification unnecessary today but, personally, I think it’s more important than ever.
While many people think they can write, the NCTJ ensures what is said is factually correct and not going to get you sued. I’ve seen many bloggers – oblivious to the law – unwittingly libel others by tweeting or retweeting defamatory statements.
And while smartphones are fab and can record interviews at the touch of a button or voice command, it’s always reassuring to know that all I need is a notebook and a pen and I’m good to go.
While some reporters live for breaking news, I’ve always been more interested in the human side of the story so I decided to launch a women’s online magazine, Express North, recently.
To keep up with sweeping changes to the media industry I’m editing an interactive website filled with videos, guest bloggers and editorial content I’ve always wanted to produce.
But whilst NCTJ courses are ensuring its students are equipped with the technological know-how in this brave new world, it’s been a daunting challenge for an ‘old school’ reporter like me. If I’ve hit any problems I always think: “What would Lynda Day do?”