Newsroom Training: Essential, Yet Too Often Ignored: 'Only a Third of News Organizations Increased Their Training Budgets in the Past Five Years.'

Article excerpt

When The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's editor Julia D. Wallace announced a major newsroom reorganization and buyout offers in February, she made this pledge: "As we implement changes, we will boost our commitment to training."

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This promise was impressive because Atlanta was already doing more training with its newsroom staff than most news organizations in the country despite facing the same financial pressures as other major U.S. metros. This newspaper is also in a minority of U.S. news organizations that have increased midcareer staff training in recent years. Along with several other savvy newsroom leaders, Wallace realizes that strategic training can help news organizations cope with the competitive and financial quakes now rocking the industry.

As the news industry strives to become a dynamic competitor in a fierce information economy, good newsroom leadership requires finding an edge to distinguish their news products from the glut of other media offerings. Improving reporters' and editors' skills, while raising their energy level and spurring motivation, can mean the difference between a news organization successfully reinventing itself and one that doesn't.

"We want people to perform new types of work, some of which is not yet defined. Offering training lowers the fear associated with changing job duties and roles and offers an incentive both for staff members and managers, as training promises to improve the work, " says Melanie Sill, executive editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, where newsroom training has been significantly increased.

Wallace and Sill have learned the lessons of the business world: Successful companies regard training as an investment, not as an expense, and lowering the fear factor is just one of the return benefits of consistent and continuous training. In other industries and professions--whether for pharmaceutical salespeople, Starbucks baristas, or even lawyers--training is a vehicle for financial success. Companies that invest in their people and create environments that support innovation adapt better to changes in their markets. They also have highly satisfied employees and outperform their peers financially.

"It's something the leaders in the best companies talk about all the time, says Amy Lyman, president of Great Places to Work Institute, which puts together Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" list. "If you want people to be innovative, they need to have the smarts and the skills and the knowledge, but they also need to have the freedom, the comfort, and the support to try things that are new and may fail."

That attitude is rare in the U.S. news industry, which trains only sporadically, relies mostly on training offered by nonprofit organizations, and inevitably cuts the training budget (if it has one) when revenues fall. On average, U.S. companies invest 2.3 percent of payroll on training, according to the American Society for Training & Development. In contrast, the newspaper industry invests less than one-fifth of that, 0.4 percent of payroll, according to an analysis by Inland Press.

Only a third of news organizations increased their training budgets in the past five years, according to a 2006 survey sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. About 30 percent have maintained training budgets in that time while 20 percent have cut them, according to the survey of 2,000 journalists and news executives conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. One in 10 newsrooms provides no training at all.

Yet nine in 10 journalists say they need more training and nine in 10 news executives agree. The executives--typically among the more experienced and knowledgeable journalists--say they need more training themselves, particularly in management and new media. Lack of training is the top source of job dissatisfaction among journalists, ahead of pay and benefits. …