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Reporter's return for skills chief

Following 30 years in the media, new chief executive of the LSC gives current journalism training course a good press. Joe Clancy reports

Thirty years ago Mark Haysom, the new chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council, was a student at Richmond college, Sheffield, learning the basics of newspaper journalism.

On a recent visit to the City of Wolverhampton college, he discovered that very little has changed since then in the way journalists are trained.

While a junior reporter on the Grimsby News, he studied shorthand, newspaper law, public affairs, and practical newspaper writing in an eight-week block-release course.

Three decades later, the same modules were being taken by a group of weekly newspaper reporters on a day-release course whom Mr Haysom met in Wolverhampton in November.

Wolverhampton, in partnership with neighbouring Sandwell college, has recently obtained full status as a Centre of Vocational Excellence in media, journalism and film production.

It is one of just three colleges with CoVE status for training journalists, along with Darlington and Liverpool community college. It provides a mixture of day-release, block-release and full-time courses for those wishing to follow in the LSC chief's footsteps.

Mr Haysom spent 30 years in the media industry, becoming managing director of the Trinity Mirror group running the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, before taking up his LSC post in October.

At Wolverhampton, Mr Haysom found a CoVE that has links with more than 30 local and regional newspapers, providing a variety of training courses for their young journalists.

As well as providing training for reporters and sub-editors already in jobs, Wolverhampton is the only college offering a full-time journalism course to students who have just finished A- levels and who are not in work.

Pete Whitehouse, media CoVE co-ordinator, said: "Students do a one-year course with us on a full-time basis during which they study here for three days a week and we provide them with work placements on the other two days.

"We have 12 students on that course. Everybody who did it last year we placed in jobs and they are all in employment in the newspaper industry or in public relations now."

The course provides an alternative route into journalism that has increasingly become a graduate-entry occupation. Currently 60 per cent of recruits are university graduates.

The college stumbled into providing media courses by accident about 18 years ago. A photographic technician was showing a class of women how to take pictures of their flower arrangements, and as a result a GCSE course in photography was set up.

Things snowballed and other media-related courses were gradually added, including video production and radio journalism.

Then in 1996 the college successfully applied to the National Council for the Training of Journalists to supply NCTJ courses, aiming to serve the training needs of the weekly newspaper market in the West Midlands.

There are now more than 100 journalism students on a range full or part-time courses up to degree level. In all courses that make up the media CoVE, which also includes sound engineering, music technology, and video, radio and TV production, there are in excess of 1,000 students.

Mr Whitehouse said the college became the first in the country to obtain a radio licence to broadcast on the AM frequency. Four years ago a campus radio station - WCR - was set up, broadcasting a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week programme, of music, news, and information from a mast sited in the car park.

Extra funding from CoVE status has enabled the college to put the station on the internet so it can now be accessed anywhere in the world.

This funding has also led to improved production facilities across the CoVE, particularly in video production, digital photography, and in computerised music technology. At Sandwell, there are two music studios containing state-of-the-art facilities.

Manufacturers have supported the college by providing equipment to enable students to keep up to date with the latest technological advances within the industry.

The video production unit has formed links with BBC Pebble Mill studios.

Mark Haysom said of the college: "The buzz of the place was tremendous and it was fantastic to meet the students. I am very impressed with the facilities here and pleased to see the excellent links the college has with the employers in the media."

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