Ten years ago, I was a higher-education reporter for Tribune Media Services in Chicago.
I just had been tapped to build and supervise a national network of college-student journalists who would generate content for what was then the nation’s largest and oldest college news service.
The company didn’t give me much of a budget to work with, so I had to come up with creative ways to keep the student correspondents engaged, inspired and generally feeling as if they were getting something of value for their work. And I had no news-management experience, so I needed fast advice on the cheap.
That’s when I rejoined SPJ, an organization I knew a little about from my college days. As student members, we talked about internships, threw a couple of great parties, road-tripped to a national convention and pretty much called it a day.
In 1997, I no longer needed any of that stuff (except maybe the great parties), but SPJ seemed like a good idea because I also vaguely recalled that it championed journalism ethics, access to public information and professional development.
Those were precisely the things I needed to know more about — and in a hurry.
SPJ immediately provided invaluable information and resources that helped the young correspondents and me. Because of SPJ, I could steer the students to journalism workshops and discussions. And whether they were from California, Florida or Maine, I could — because of SPJ’s vast network of volunteers — make everyone aware of issues affecting the practice of journalism in their state. Because of SPJ, I found mentors who answered my questions and helped me avoid plenty of the pitfalls that usually fell rookie managers.
I eventually moved on, and so did those students — but for many of us, SPJ is still an active and vital part of our careers.
The Society not only makes me a better journalist, it also makes me a better colleague and editor. SPJ provides myriad opportunities for professional development that I easily can share with my newsroom — opportunities that fewer news organizations are funding these days.
Given that employers aren’t picking up the checks they used to, I again find myself thinking outside the box while trying to help other journalists enrich and advance their careers. Here are just a few ways SPJ can help newsroom managers and those they supervise:
Training leads galore
JournalismTraining.org, a Web site maintained by SPJ and funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, allows journalists to search for journalism instruction by date, topic and even ZIP code.
Breaking into newsroom management can be a lot like debating whether the chicken or egg came first. There’s nothing like being told that you can’t have an entry-level management job because you have no management experience.
SPJ can fix that in a hurry.
Chapter and national leaders manage sizeable budgets, spearhead innovative projects and motivate volunteers. That kind of experience gives journalists great exposure to the challenges of newsroom management. I speak from experience: The news organizations for which I have worked benefit from the management skills SPJ helped me develop.
An array of professional tools
Want to help colleagues enrich their reporting? One of many tools is SPJ’s Diversity Sourcebook, which allows journalists to cultivate a wider and more inclusive network of sources. Or consider sending them to SPJ’s online Freedom of Information section, which includes lists of public records and ideas about how to use them to generate original and compelling stories.
Newsroom training program
SPJ offers a traveling newsroom training program that fits into the smallest of newsroom budgets. This unique opportunity combines SPJ’s high ideals with hands-on application. Training opportunities include deadline writing, broadcast writing, online writing, newsroom ethics and public records.
I’m glad I rejoined SPJ a decade ago. It is not only for the passionate journalism advocate, but also for the creative newsroom manager.