Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Thomson Creates Its OWN J-School

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Thomson Creates Its OWN J-School

Article excerpt

Stone is a new media professor at Roosevelt University in Chicago and a frequent contributor to E&P.

Motivated by high editorial staff churn and difficulty landing journalism graduates for the long haul, Thomson Newspapers is launching an in-house journalism school for aspiring reporters with as little as a high school diploma or equivalency.

The plan to spend over $1 million of corporate training funds was propelled by the desire to reverse the trend shared by many newspaper companies -- the revolving door of reporters on community beats. Thomson executives say the turnover creates confusion and diminishes credibility in the 58 community papers Thomson operates in North America.

Dubbed the Reader Inc. Editorial Training Center, after Thomson's Reader Inc. initiative aimed at fostering newspaper readership, the center will ensure "new journalists bring a passion for readers to their work, unencumbered by lofty preconceptions of what journalism is all about," says Stuart Garner, president and CEO of Stamford, Conn.-based Thomson Newspapers.

The venture, apparently the only U.S. effort of its kind, mirrors features of the Thomson Editorial Training Center in Great Britain, which became Trinity Editorial Training Center after Toronto-based Thomson Corp. sold some U.K. properties in 1994. The school has trained thousands of journalists in the past two decades, says Jim Jennings, vice president and editorial director, Thomson Newspapers, who directed the British program in the 1990s.

"We brought the best of what we had done and added a North American feel," Jennings says. Thomson plans a program in August 1999, and three programs per year starting in 2000. Recruiting will start in a few months in each newspaper's own circulation area. Thomson serves 23 regional markets in North America.

The initiative raises the longstanding argument over whether journalism schools should be trade schools or should provide a broader perspective of how the world operates. Eric Meyer, professor of journalism at the University of Illinois, calls the Thomson training course a dangerous move because journalism shouldn't be about technical training. "We believe you must know something about the world before you begin reporting about it," he says. "We want [journalism students] to take political science, meteorology, [and] biology to give them a broad understanding about what the issues really are. ... If you don't do that, you run a serious risk of simply transcribing notes."

Thomson's Jennings says Meyer is absolutely right. "Journalists need a broad-based education," he says. But Jennings doesn't think academic journalism programs are always the right answer.

Meyer believes the move is only designed to save Thomson money. "They very often look for the least expensive solution," he says. "If they can hire 100 reporters at $15,000 per year instead of $25,000, they are saving a lot of money.

Terry Quinn, Thomson's senior vice president for reader and product development, denies Meyer's charges. Quinn says Thomson Newspapers spent $3.3 million on training last year and will spend $3.6 million this year. For a company of Thomson's size, the average training budget is only $600,000 to $1 million, Quinn says. …

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