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July 7, 2023 (Updated )

Simran Johal never really knew she wanted to be a journalist — but when she made the jump things happened very quickly. She tells Journo Resources how she ended up studying News Associates’ part-time multimedia journalism course where she gained her NCTJ diploma — and how it led to her packing up her life to start a new job at ITV just three weeks after she applied.

She talks us through the finer details of the ITV Granada graduate scheme, what actually happens on a busy day shift, and why you should put your hand up for things more often.

I Got Into Journalism Because…

I never really knew I wanted to be a journalist; it was never really on my radar. I studied languages at university and it was broad enough that I wasn’t boxed into anything, which I wanted for myself because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. During the pandemic, news became such a massive part of everyone’s lives and I found myself getting really involved.

I have always been interested in current affairs and politics [so] after the pandemic I got a job in social media, because I thought that would be the best place for me to go into journalism — but I didn’t enjoy it. I was then really lucky to get a job at Refinery29, the women’s magazine owned by VICE, and I did social media editing there, which was better because […] I was constantly working with journalists.

I started at Refinery29 in February 2021 and it was then that I decided to also do my NCTJ qualification at News Associates, and I got the funding through the Journalism Diversity Fund. I was really lucky to get the funding and get on the course.

Alongside the part-time course, I then got a new job at The New Statesman, a political magazine, and that spurred me on for my journalism career.

Journo Resources

I Got My Current Job By…

I finished my NCTJ course in July and I applied for a mentor through Creative Access at ITV. ITV wasn’t on my radar but it was a potential route that I wanted to explore. My mentor is a programme editor at ITV Wales and he didn’t have a journalism qualification when he started, and he was really helpful in sharing his journey and [how] he got to where he was.

He encouraged me to apply for the [ITV Granada graduate] scheme — he said I might not get it and I might not have enough experience, but I would get feedback on how to get that next step.

I applied for the scheme in August, found out I got the job in early September, and then started in October, so it was a really quick turnaround. I quite literally [packed] up my life and moved to Manchester in the space of about three weeks, which is pretty crazy.

My Job Involves…

This trainee scheme trains you to be a production journalist. You learn how to do a ‘Good Morning Britain’ bulletin. It’s a two-minute bulletin, and then you also do the lunchtime news bulletin, which is four minutes, and the late bulletin which is 11 minutes.

For those three bulletins, you script them for the presenter, choose the order you put things in, and cut and edit the photos for on-screen. On the digital side, you also write articles for the website, sometimes on pieces reporters have done, or writing regular news content for your area.

On top of that, as a production journalist, you will be out news gathering so maybe you’ll do an interview for a reporter or you’ll go out and do some vox pops. You really do a bit of everything and in the scheme itself, you learn how to do so many things. [Afterwards] you feel like a different person career-wise.

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

Simran Johal studied for her 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 Person: Offered 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.

My Day Starts At…

I normally wake up around 7:30am and I always put on a news podcast because that’s really good for ideas.

At 9:30am we have our morning briefing with everyone who is working that day, and that’s when the programme editor will talk through what will be in the programme. There will be an opportunity to say if you’ve seen anything in our region that they haven’t covered, or offer some ideas for case studies.

I will know what’s happening in the programme tonight, take a look at the ‘GMB’ programme, and usually pull together my lunch bulletin from those.

That bulletin goes live at 1:55pm. Until then, that’s what I’ll be working on, making sure my presenter has the script. If people are out on a story I can ask them if they can send me a ‘ulay’ — which is essentially just pictures which are cut and put over the presenter. [Ed note: Ulay stands for underlay, and at some newsrooms it’s also called an oov, which means out of vision. Now you know!]

After that, I’ll have a little break, then be on the digital shift, or I can be asked to go out and news gather.

Journo Resources
“It’s really easy to watch a programme [...] without knowing what went on behind the scenes. Sometimes it may take someone weeks or months to prepare a two-minute bulletin.”
Simran Johal, ITV trainee production journalist

If I’m on the digital shift I’ll make some content for the website and if there are any pieces going in the programme that need articles to accompany them, I will do that. Or, I might go out and help a reporter who needs it, or interview Andy Burnham to get a quick clip for someone’s piece.

It depends on the news day; some days it will be really slow and you won’t be doing much at all, but other days it might be really busy like, for example, Eurovision. The day before the final we did our whole programme live from the Liver Building and then for the lunchtime news we also did that live as well.

After we watch the programme go out we have a massive debrief where everybody shares what they thought and what could have been done better, or what they really liked, and also thank the people that might have helped them in their piece.

The Thing That Surprises Me Most About My Job Is…

How much time it takes to do everything! It’s really easy to watch a programme and think, “Wow, that looked really good,” without knowing what went on behind the scenes. Sometimes it may take someone weeks or months to prepare a two-minute bulletin.

Also how all the different shifts work; we do so many different shifts to make sure people have access to our news all the time, and how much time and effort goes into making sure we get it right. We make sure the news we make matters to people.

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

How many computer monitors does one journalist need? The answer: a lot.

My Favourite Part Of My Job…

One of my favourite things I have done so far was getting to go out and speak to people, [especially] for Eurovision. I was out all day news gathering — I got to interview kids about a song they wrote, I got to do vox pops at the Eurovision village, and speak to people who were super excited. It was a lot of fun.

The traineeship is really great in the fact there are about 10 of us who are in the same boat and we are all learning new things, and having that community has been crucial in this journey.

A Highlight Of My Job So Far…

I’m hopefully doing my first piece next month which — will be my first news package — so that will definitely be a highlight if it all goes to plan. It’s been months of research, calling people, making relationships in hopes they will speak to me because the piece I’m working on is of a sensitive topic, so I want to make sure I earn [their] trust.

If that goes through and I get it out next month I think that will be miles above anything else because everything I’ve been learning over the past few months will come together — I’ll be scripting it, voicing it, doing a piece-to-camera, interviewing people in a way that is really careful.

If I do that piece right it will make me feel like, “Do you know what? Maybe you are a journalist!”

If People Wanted To Follow In Your Footsteps…

Show you have a commitment to be a part of the industry, whether that’s completing an NCTJ course alongside working full-time, or doing student media at university. The thing about newsrooms is that they always need an extra pair of hands, help is always appreciated, so make sure to always show enthusiasm.

For this scheme, I needed to show I was committed to journalism and not that I had tons of experience, which completing my NCTJ at News Associates part-time [conveyed] as it takes up a lot of time. So if you can show you are committed, it show you care and that’s what employers look for.

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Simran Johal has been getting hands-on with everything from piece-to-camera work and filming behind the camera herself.

If I Was Starting Again…

I would put my hand up for more things. That’s something you have to do on this traineeship — be willing to do things. I would have more confidence to put myself forward for more things.

The Thing I’d Most Like To Change About The Industry Is…

Diversity. I think it’s ridiculous that most senior people went to Oxford or Cambridge, didn’t go to state school, and are predominantly white. I look at my newsroom and we’re in a region that is really diverse and I rarely see any South Asian journalists. I know NCTJ statistics show it’s getting better but it’s not enough.

At ‘Good Morning Britain’ it’s a very diverse newsroom, but it’s clear there are not many diverse backgrounds and without getting those voices in the newsroom, we aren’t going to reflect what really matters to people and what people in Britain are actually like.

We need to tell the stories that people aren’t able to tell and aren’t able to hear.

Try A Free Workshop With News Associates
free journalism workshops

Think 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

I’d Be Wary Of…

If you’re going to a broadcast journalism newsroom, remember the technical staff are just as important as the editorial staff!

Ultimately, without any of the technical staff — the directors or the PAs, the audio or the sound — the programme would be rubbish. You wouldn’t [even] have a programme.

After Work…

I get home at 7:30pm and I make myself some dinner, watch an episode of trash TV, and then I’ll read a bit and go to sleep.

If it’s a Thursday or I’m on the late shift the next day, I will go for a pint with friends.

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 options.

Find out more about their courses here.

Header image courtesy of Simran Johal via LinkedIn