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January 11, 2023 (Updated )

Making a career change is common. We no longer stay at the same company for decades, on average switching things up every five years, and some even estimate we’ll have five entirely different careers during our working lives. For many, however, a career change may not be made until later in life, bringing a unique set of stresses and worries.

No matter your age or prior experiences though, a move into journalism is more than possible. We spoke to News Associates alumni Lee Davey and Soraya Aslam about how they made their career changes after studying a part-time NCTJ multimedia journalism course.

Knowing When To Make The Leap

Davey currently works as a freelance sports journalist at TalkSport, MailOnline, and Ligue 1, and is soon to be starting as an assistant producer at Sky Sports. He’s always had an interest in writing, but ended up going down the fitness and teaching route.

Before studying for his NCTJ diploma in multimedia journalism, Davey was a teacher with a degree in sport and exercise science, teaching sports and personal fitness to students aged 16 and above. “Teaching gave me a comfortable life, but something was missing,” he recalls. “As we approached a pandemic, I thought to myself, ‘I’m not going to retire doing this job. I need something more.’”

lee davey appears on a panel on sky sports
Lee Davey (middle) takes part in a live panel chat on Sky Sports. (Image Credit: Screenshot)

As for Aslam, she had worked at The Guardian for 20 years, starting in commercial and last working in an international coordinator role. In a way, it was so close, but also so far, from her dream career in journalism.

When the pandemic hit in March 2021, Aslam was one of 160 people to be made redundant by The Guardian. “It was a big shock being made redundant during a pandemic when you put your heart and soul into a job. I can’t over-emphasise how difficult it was,” she says.

After becoming unemployed, Aslam volunteered at a Covid centre, which allowed her more time to think about her next move. A large part of her career pivot was as much to do with ‘need’ as ‘want’. She says, “I started thinking about what can I do to put food on the table. It wasn’t about a desire to be a big super-duper journalist, it was about ‘I’ve got three children and I need to put food on the table.’

“No one knew what the exit strategy of the pandemic was, so I had to do something rapidly to ensure we kept a roof over our heads.”

Study Part-Time For An NCTJ Qualification With The UK’s Top Journalism School

news associatesBoth Lee Davey and Soraya Aslam studied for their NCTJ diplomas part-time with News Associates, who run the UK’s number one journalism course.

The team offer a number of options for people looking to study part-time, helping you to balance other life commitments in a way that suits you.

 Part-Time Multimedia Diploma In PersonOffered at both their Manchester and London campuses, you’ll complete the course in just 40 weeks. Depending on where you study, there are intakes in October and February. Lectures take place on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings, with all sessions taught by an experienced tutor.

• Part-Time Multimedia Diploma Remotely: For those based elsewhere, the remote course can be taken entirely from a location of your choice — although their facilities and campuses are open to you if you’d like to use them. You’ll study every Tuesday evening and every other Thursday, with the programme taking 18 months to complete. All sessions are taught live by an experienced tutor.

Finding The Right Course For You

Despite already having half her foot in the door, it wasn’t a straight line into journalism for Aslam. Using the union grant given to her from The Guardian, she started a course on the essentials of sub-editing with the NCTJ, but still found herself lacking the confidence to further her career in journalism.

She says, “I spoke to the NCTJ, and within a week of doing the sub-editing course they put me in touch with News Associates. I had never heard of News Associates before that.

“Redundancy takes away all the confidence you have. I thought there was no way I was ever going to be accepted onto the course. I couldn’t believe it when they rang me up and offered me a place.” She started her course in October 2021.

Journo Resources
“There were people already working for publications and there were people that had time on their hands — there was only one other person in there who had kids. I always felt as though I had to keep up.”
Lee Davey

“Forget everything you think you know about writing and think again. They teach you how to write and write well,” she adds.

“I always remember the first day thinking, ‘This is fantastic, this is amazing’, and I ensured I put 110 percent into everything on that course.”

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Soraya Aslam (L) and Lee Davey (R) both now work in journalism jobs.

The Realities Of A Part-Time Course

However, both Davey and Aslam are keen to stress the challenges of undertaking a part-time course, stressing that anyone thinking seriously about the move should be sure they’re committed.

“They don’t just hand out those diplomas, you have to work for it,” Davey tells Journo Resources. As well as his part-time course, he was also juggling a full-time teaching role and parenthood.

“It felt hugely intimidating coming from a teaching and fitness background. One, because I was 20 years older than everybody else; and two, because my journalist experience was minimal compared to everyone else,” he says.

“There were people already working for publications and there were people that had time on their hands — there was only one other person in there who had kids. I always felt as though I had to keep up.”

Journo Resources
“Just start. If you start and you don’t like it, you can pull out but just go for it. Don’t waste time.”
Soraya Aslam

Similarly, Aslam is open about the fact that she found certain elements challenging. She struggled with shorthand and initially failed every exam — though happily, she later passed them all upon resitting.

Speaking about his struggles to set aside time for study, Davey reveals he incorporated study into other parts of his existing routine.

“I would go to the gym and go on the cross trainer with my law notes and I would do my gym sessions while learning media law, or I would listen to a podcast on the IPSO code,” he says.

“I had to do so many things in an unconventional way, which is why I was so proud of getting the NCTJ Diploma, because of the upheaval and difficulty that came with it. It was a real accomplishment.”

Try A Free Workshop With News Associates

free journalism workshopsThink you might be interested in taking the plunge but want to try it out first? The team at News Associates offer a range of remote and in-person journalism workshops to give you a taste of their teaching and lecturers.

News journalism workshops will see you tackle a breaking news story and receive individual feedback on your work, while sports journalism workshops are delivered alongside Sportsbeat, the UK’s leading sports news agency.

The team also run occasional panels, discussions, and Q&As about your route into the journalism industry.

Sign Up For Free Journalism Workshops Here

Combining Your New Skills & Life Experience

While on her course, Aslam did a work placement with South West Londoner, a professional publication run by the team at News Associates that all trainees can contribute to.

As well as completing the course, she suggests other students to make sure they spend time building up a portfolio. After all, her work on South West Londoner has directly led her to freelance shifts at The Sun. “Work for local papers, you get fantastic stories there,” she declares.

“I initially had no confidence to write at all, but when The Sun hired me I thought ‘I mustn’t be that rubbish after all!’”

A story on the SWLondoner website, written by Soraya with a headline 'Local stores hope the Christmas trade will help boost sales'
One of Soraya’s stories on the South West Londoner website (Image credit: South West Londoner)

She believes getting her current job as an assistant news editor at ITV wouldn’t have been possible without her experience at The Sun and her NCTJ training with News Associates. Aslam reiterates, “It was about using the skills I had built up over the past 20 years in conjunction with my NCTJ to get a job.”

Journo Resources
“I am so happy where my life is going, so excited with what’s ahead of me and if you can make it work, whatever it takes, then absolutely do it.”
Lee Davey

However, even with qualifications and prior experience, Davey warns job seekers not to be downhearted at the process. After gaining his diploma he had relentlessly submitted huge amounts of job applications. “I applied and applied and it was frustrating at first. I even messaged News Associates to ask where I was going wrong, then all of a sudden, things started to open up and one opportunity led to another,” he explains.

“It was a case of ‘get your qualifications, wait for your opportunity’, and if your opportunity comes, take it with both hands, and when you do, doors will open.”

Things have really bloomed for Davey in the past year. “The beauty of this job is that I don’t know what’s around the corner. It could be something incredible,” he enthuses.

He’s optimistic this year will bring even bigger and better opportunities — and has even set his sights on the next World Cup. “I will be at the next World Cup. That’s my goal. I want to be reporting at the next World Cup in four years’ time,” he decides.

Final Tips From Alumni

At 42, Davey reflects he would have loved to have started his journalism career much earlier. However, he does express that starting his journalism career later in life has enabled him to work harder. “Life took me on a different path and that’s ok and that’s my story and it’s where I am today,” he shares.

“I did think that age might go against me because you’ve got these young guys publications can invest in for years to come, but what I’ve found is completely the opposite. People are giving me a shot and they’re not looking at my age — they’re looking at what I can offer them and what I can do.”

Aslam also had doubts about the change, but urged people to go for it, saying, “I think it’s hard for women when you have children to make a career change. I would have moved around a lot more had I not had children. But, I wouldn’t change anything and I wouldn’t swap them.

“Just start. If you start and you don’t like it, you can pull out but just go for it. Don’t waste time,” she concludes.

Davey also believes that if he, a father of four, can do it in a pandemic, anyone can. “I am so happy where my life is going, so excited with what’s ahead of me and if you can make it work, whatever it takes, then absolutely do it,” he finishes.

“I would say to anyone: ‘Go out there and grab your dreams.’”

News Associates
News Associates

News Associates are proud to be the UK’s number one NCTJ journalism course — and they do things differently. You’ll be treated like a journalist from day one, with an innovative and experienced approach to teaching.

They offer a range of part-time and full-time courses, with locations in London, Manchester, and remote learning.

Find out more about their courses here.