Wick Communications

Four requirements for journalism training

In journalism on March 30, 2012 at 8:44 am

Did you hear of the end of the American Press Institute? Actually, I guess “end” isn’t the word they are using. It is merging with the Newspaper Association of America Foundation and the combined organization pledges to continue as one of the preeminent journalism training grounds in the world.

I certainly hope that is the case. But I’m reading that the board has fired the entire staff. That doesn’t seem good. In any event, the organization certainly didn’t get the sendoff it deserved. For more than 65 years, most of it spent in an amazing building in Reston, Va., API allowed journalists the breathing room they needed to discuss change, plan to do better and meet other journalists involved in what can only be described as “the struggle.” API sessions were often multi-day affairs that built camaraderie. Which, it turns out, isn’t a moneymaking concept, at least not on the surface.

I was lucky enough to attend a session last year. The session was titled, “The Battle for Community: Crowded, Competitive and Hyperlocal.” That is I, fourth from the left in the photo above, as always wondering what to do with my hands when the photographer says, “cheese.”

The demise of the API got me thinking about journalism training. There is certainly precious little of it – at least beyond the university walls. …

In her excellent blog post, Michele McLellan cites an old study that suggested the newspaper industry spent .4 percent of total payroll on staff training and development. Other industries typically spend much more than that, as much as six or seven times more. Is retail sales or interior design or fast-food management more important and therefore worthy of training than saving the democracy?

If you accept the premise that we all have something to learn, that we can all do our jobs more effectively, then it behooves us to find a model for ongoing training that is inexpensive and worthwhile. We are all tremendously busy. Few of us can really afford to get away for several days the way API once required. Yet, some of the less-expensive web-based training mechanisms (like webinars or this very blog) don’t seem to resonate nearly as well as those old API sessions.

I think that going forward training needs to do several things:

It must inspire: I have always returned from training sessions and even state press association gatherings with a renewed sense of urgency. More than the specific ideas I get, the sessions are important because they inspire me to be more creative, more thorough, more provocative… just more.

It must be actionable. By that, I mean there must be something concrete that comes from it. It must give specific tools that I can work in immediately, without any more resources. Training should make us better in a measurable way.

It must be social: As I said, often the most important part of traditional training sessions are the time spent around the coffee pot or at the big round lunch tables between sessions. Meeting others who do what we do keeps us from feeling isolated and that is very important.

It must be focused on good journalism: Time was, journalism training sessions included talks by great writers who told us about creating narrative thread and building a better lead and interviewing sources. The vast majority of journalism training schedules these days revolve around social media and bringing more eyes to the website or “monetizing” our work. That is a shame. Journalism training prior to 1995 wasn’t concerned with monetizing anything. It was designed to make better journalists and more informed citizens. We should do more of that.

Clay

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