After winning the ‘Reach journalism for a digital audience award’ from the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), Catriona’s career as a news reporter has gone from strength to strength
MA News Journalism graduate, Catriona Aitken, has recently been recognised for obtaining the highest marks out of around 250 students across the UK in her Digital Audiences NCTJ exam.
In addition to the win where she was awarded a £250 cash prize, she was shortlisted for NCTJ’s Student of the Year, which is judged from the entire body of student journalists in the country.
While facing challenging circumstances at the time of the exam, as well as being kicked out of it twice on the digital platform, she said she is over the moon that it has all worked out in the end.
“It was a real surprise and I’m really grateful for the money,” she exclaimed.
“I was really chuffed that I’d got a good mark in there because it was really hard in that exam.”
NCTJ’s principal examiner Amanda Ball, said the talent on this year’s list of award winners deserve extra special recognition for their exceptional performance while studying during a global pandemic.
Oxbridge of Journalism
Since completing the course at the end of August last year, Catriona has gone on to start full-time work as a reporter at the Basingstoke Gazette.
Despite describing the experience of full-time work as tiring and “very different to being a student”, she believes the vocational nature of her masters at Cardiff gave her all the necessary skills needed to tackle it face on.
“I think the course is fantastic. I mean, you’ve got a purpose-built journalism building right in the city centre which I think it makes you feel like you’re in a newsroom, and you’re working.
“On our course, they split the city up by patches, and we all had a patch to cover so it was very realistic as to how we would be working at a local paper or local news website.”
The MA journalism courses at Cardiff University (News, Broadcast and Magazine) are highly regarded and widely respected in the industry, with the schools at Cardiff and City London often being regarded as the ‘Oxbridge’ of journalism.
Catriona agreed that studying at Cardiff has been invaluable to her career progression, and with networking being a crucial way to get your foot in the door, finding friends for life on the course means she now has “19 contacts across the country”.
“I think people recognize Cardiff as somewhere that’s known for journalism so it’s definitely no bad thing to have on your CV. But I think as well as that, Cardiff has opened up a lot of opportunities to me,” she said.
“We had recruiters from nationals or agencies come and speak to us every week which was so interesting as you then get an idea of what it’d be like to work in different kinds of news environments.”
She recognises there is a real support network and sense of belonging at JOMEC (School of Journalism, Media and Culture) and even today, she still has conversations with her personal tutor.
For now, Catriona is taking it as it comes down in Basingstoke, and hopes to sit her NCTJ seniors exams in the near future.
As for her advice to other aspiring young journalists, she emphasised that work experience is key.
And once you do figure out journalism is for you, and maybe find yourself on a masters course, ask lots of questions.
“That’s the time to ask all the questions because you just don’t know how that might be useful when you’re out in the working field,” she said.
“It’s a fun job when you get to speak to loads of people and meet loads of interesting people so try, even when it feels busy, to enjoy it.”