Whether you are about to embark on a fast track course, are looking forward to a longer course beginning in the autumn, or are still considering what course to take, there are five key questions you should ask any tutor.
What have you had published this week?
Or, more broadly, what journalism are you doing right now?
Never mind what they did a few years ago, or even last year. What are they doing this week? Things move so fast now that anyone teaching should also be practising journalism currently.
If they aren’t, then question their ability to teach you what you need to know.
Ok, so -- for example -- a features writer’s skills haven’t changed that much over the years, but markets have. I’d expect my features tutor to be writing and getting published right now. If not, how can you be sure they know the market?
Do you work on the web?
If your tutor has worked on the web, great, but how long ago was that? When I began in online in 1997, things were radically different to now. A tutor who used to work on the web is no use to you.
They need to be up to speed with all current practices, and to have a clear insight into what comes next. What can they tell you about Web 3.0, for example? What views do they have on the replacement for Twitter?
Do you blog, tweet and use RSS?
If they don’t, they aren’t part of the conversation. And a journalist who is not a part of the conversation is failing at their job. So will make a lousy tutor.
What jobs did the last cohort get?
And jobs means full time, paid jobs, not unpaid work experience or the occasional freelance shift or commission. Even in these hard times, there are jobs and they are being filled – with graduates from the most successful courses. Successful courses will make sure you meet past students who are in work. If they don't, ask also if you can contact them for a chat.
Are you getting paid on time?
While the cheaper public sector is still solvent, some private sector courses are struggling to attract the students they need to remain solvent.
Private sector courses are some of the most commercially attuned, and successful at placing graduates in jobs, but more than one has hit hard times. So are they up to date with payments to tutors? If they aren’t, you need to know. Because an unpaid tutor is an unhappy tutor, and no good to you.