Conor Gaffey graduated with a gold standard diploma in journalism from News Associates, studying on our fast-track course in news journalism. He is now a news reporter, specialising in Africa, with Newsweek magazine.

At the NCTJ awards Conor received two prizes, for one the best performance in the news reporting examination and another for 110 words per minute shorthand. He was also shortlisted in the NCTJ Awards for Excellence in Journalism.

What I wish I’d known before starting News Associates

Almost two years ago, I signed up for News Associates’ fast-track course, bright-eyed and fancy-free. Now a battle-hardened, world-weary hack (not really), here’s what I wish I’d known in advance:

1. Shorthand is not worth stressing about

Learning shorthand is a bit like learning a new language. And as any language teacher will tell you, it’s better to start from scratch than to start with bad habits. The shorthand tutors at NA are excellent and they prefer a blank canvas to work with. So don’t practise in advance, just make sure you’ve got the textbooks, some blank notebooks and comfy pens to write with.

2. Get your placement sorted

The placement lets you put your skills into practice and can, if you’re fortunate, lead to job opportunities. It’s a good idea to sort out where you’re going before you start NA. Once the course starts, you won’t have much time to take a breath over the next 20 weeks.


3. Put yourself out there

If you’re at a loose end before starting, it’s worth sending out emails to see if you can nab some last-minute work experience. You could try your local paper or, if you know any one in the industry, ask if their publication has need of any unpaid (yep, get used to that) interns. Just like no publicity is bad publicity, no work experience is bad work experience.

4. Think about what you’re interested in

No one is expecting you to know exactly what kind of journalist you want to be the day you turn up at NA. But it’s worth having a think about where you see yourself going—do you want to do foreign or domestic news, or work in print or broadcast? But be prepared for it to change: I was sure I wanted to do religious affairs reporting, and now I cover Africa.

5. Don’t be scared, it’ll be fun

The course was a lot of fun and I met some great people who have turned into good friends. The staff are top-notch and, if I was two years younger, I’d definitely do it all again.