Now there’s no excuse.
You can’t say training for journalists is too expensive. Programs such as NewsTrain, which teaches management and editing skills to frontline editors, cost participants about the price of a nice meal; many other training resources for journalists are free.
You can’t say training is conducted too far away. SPJ’s Bloomberg-funded program sends experts to your newsroom to conduct workshops on ethics, Freedom of Information issues, convergence and other areas.
You can’t say training is inconvenient. The News University, launched in April by the Poynter Institute with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, offers online tutorials that you can take any hour of the day or night. In the comfort of your pajamas, you can complete NewsU courses ranging from writing leads to producing multimedia projects to “Handling Horrible Images.”
In recent years, there has been an explosion in training opportunities for journalists, as foundations, professional organizations and some employers have mobilized to address one of the industry’s most serious shortcomings.
“There definitely has been a great increase in organized training opportunities,” said Ted Gest, president of Criminal Justice Journalists.
Debbie Wolfe, the technology training editor at the St. Petersburg Times, said journalists can choose from an unprecedented buffet of training resources – off-site, on-site and online. “I’m thrilled that there’s this variety.”
The catalyst for the proliferation in journalism training resources occurred in 2002, when Gest chaired the Council of Presidents of National Journalism Organizations. At that year’s convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the council released the results of a Knight-funded study titled, “Newsroom Training: Where’s the Investment?”
The study was based on a survey of nearly 2,000 journalists and news executives. Among the findings: Journalists said the lack of training was their No. 1 source of job dissatisfaction; nearly half of newsroom staff members said they didn’t get training at all.
“Clearly, there has been a positive reaction to that report,” Gest said.
That reaction included a bevy of new training programs, many of them funded through the Knight Foundation’s $10 million Newsroom Training Initiative. The reaction also included a 2004 report by Poynter titled, “Training: It Matters More than Ever.” That report ranked the subject areas in which journalists want training (top of the list: leadership strategies, legal issues and ethics); identified the obstacles to training (time, money and accessibility); and made a case for e-learning via NewsU.
“The demand for training is there,” said Howard Finberg, director of NewsU.
Already, NewsU has about 5,000 registered users and offers 20 self-directed modules and online seminars – almost all of them for free. The most popular courses include “The Interview” (designed by Chip Scanlan, a senior faculty member at Poynter) and “Math for Journalists” (by Wolfe).
On many courses, NewsU has partnered with other journalism organizations. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the University of Washington, for example, developed the module about covering traumatic events; the Society of Environmental Journalists provided a lesson on covering water quality.
Such collaboration is evident in most of the training opportunities that have emerged in recent years.
Since mid-2002, Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. and SPJ have conducted about 50 Better Watchdog Workshops throughout the United States, and more are in the works. The workshops help reporters learn investigative skills. Funding for the program has come from SPJ’s Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, the Chicago Tribune Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.
With funding from Bloomberg News, SPJ last year kicked off its Training on the Go program, which provides customized on-site sessions on writing, reporting and, beginning this fall, diversity. The lesson about FOI issues is even available as an online course at NewsU (www.newsu.org).
Knight is funding six major journalism training projects. Besides NewsU, they include:
* NewsTrain, sponsored by the Associated Press Managing Editors. NewsTrain will hold six training sessions, from San Jose to San Antonio to Cleveland, from late August to October. (www.newstrain.org)
* The Committee of Concerned Journalists’ Traveling Curriculum, which visits newsrooms to help staff members clarify goals and values. (www.journalism.org/
* The Traveling Campus, offered by the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. The curriculum covers writing, copy editing, page design and other skills. (www.snpa.org)
* The Learning Newsroom, a joint project of the American Press Institute and the American Society of Newspaper Editors. It will work with 10 newsrooms of various sizes to improve and expand in-house training and development. (www.learningnewsroom.org)
* Tomorrow’s Workforce, a partnership involving news corporations, journalism organizations and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. This project will assess newsrooms’ training needs and “help show how strategic investments in newsroom training and in professional development can improve the appeal and value of quality journalism.” (www.tomorrowswork.org)
“Being good is no longer good enough. Today’s journalists need to be great, and it is not possible to be great if you do not really know what you are doing. And if you aren’t great, your news company probably won’t survive the 21st century,” said Eric Newton, Knight’s director of journalism initiatives.
He said training is the key to creating new products, diversifying newsrooms, making money on the Web, connecting with readers, adding depth and context to stories, and other challenges facing the news industry.
To improve, a profession must invest in training, Newton said.
“The average American company, which spends three times what news companies spend on professional development, knows this. Knowledge-based professions, such as lawyers and doctors and teachers, know this – and often spend 10 times the percentage of payroll that news companies spend,” he said.
While the Knight Foundation has been the most generous supporter of newsroom training, it’s not the only benefactor.
The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, associated with the Donrey Media Group, created the Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at the American Press Institute in 2004. The center plans to hold 50 daylong workshops throughout the country this year; the events are free. Moreover, the center’s Web site, BusinessJournalism.org, includes tutorials on such subjects as how to read financial filings, as well as other resources.
Another new specialized training provider is Newsplex (www.newsplex.org), operated at the University of South Carolina by Ifra, an international news publishing association. It focuses workshops on convergence, cross-media storytelling and technology.
API (www.americanpressinstitute.org) also is offering “tailored programs” that will customize training for individual newsrooms. Steve Buttry, a longtime newsroom trainer who helped establish the No Train, No Gain Web site (www.notrain-nogain.org), directs that effort.
The new training opportunities are in addition to long-established programs such as seminars at API and Poynter; the National Writers Workshops, a partnership between Poynter and local newspapers; and “boot camps” held by IRE and its National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.
Indeed, there are now so many training programs that SPJ and the Council of National Journalism Organizations have established an online database to help journalists find the opportunities that meet their needs. At JournalismTraining.org, users can search the database by ZIP code, state, topic or month.
Wolfe, who in 1995 became perhaps the first full-time technology trainer at a newspaper, said managers and industry leaders are beginning to realize that in training, “one size doesn’t fit all.”
Industry officials also are starting to understand that “training is not a one-shot deal,” Wolfe said. “It’s got to be ongoing.”
The true test of the industry’s commitment will come when funding for the spate of new programs starts to run out. Knight and Reynolds agreed to support their training projects only for a certain number of years. NewsU, for instance, has three years of funding left.
“Knight doesn’t want to become the permanent teat on which the industry feeds,” Buttry said. “The key question is, will the industry recognize the value of training and continue to fund it?”
Journalists will have to recognize the value, too, and be willing to pay part of the cost, Finberg said.
“I believe that ultimately, journalists will realize that their future will be determined by how smart they are. Just as they take control of their own career, they will have to take control of their own training,” he said.
Jeff South is an associate professor in the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University. In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be noted that he has worked with SPJ, IRE, API, NewsTrain and other groups on training projects.