From the Classroom to the Newsroom: Professional Development in Broadcast Journalism

By Cleary, Johanna | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Autumn 2006 | Go to article overview

From the Classroom to the Newsroom: Professional Development in Broadcast Journalism


Cleary, Johanna, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


Journalism educators expend vast intellectual, financial, and time resources preparing students to enter the field. But what happens to the professional educational process of these students once they become full-time journalists? Despite studies showing that newsroom employees cite opportunities for professional training and development as a key factor contributing to their job satisfaction,1 most news organizations spend only a fraction of their budgets-if that-on professional development.2 Could this widespread inattention to the professional development of the industry's "knowledge workers" be contributing to a burnout of some of journalism's best and brightest? This study contrasts the perceptions of broadcast management, represented by a sample of news directors, with broadcast news employees, represented by the producers, and finds significant differences in the two groups' beliefs as to the availability and importance of company-sponsored professional development.

Every day in American broadcast newsrooms, managers ask their employees to draw from the "creativity well," at least figuratively speaking. Yet, those same managers often elect to not supply the training needed to help replenish that well. While the results of this study show that professional development training is frequently missing from the average newsroom, they also indicate great opportunities for journalism educators to be part of the solution to the problem. Among the roles educators can play are serving as trainers themselves in professional settings and helping students develop advocacy skills to push for increased training once on the job.

Various recent surveys indicate that news managers in the United States are spending, on average, from less than 1% to 4% of their annual personnel budgets on training staff.3 A significant factor contributing to a productive and responsive newsroom culture, training has numerous benefits that provide a return on investment. Robert Giles, curator of Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism and a former Detroit News editor and publisher, recently noted:

A culture that values training and education does more than improve the quality of news coverage. It contributes to higher levels of satisfaction on the job and to lower turnover-not to mention the prospect of increased trust among readers and viewers.4

Giles maintained that while the benefits of investing in the intellectual capital of news workers were obvious, news managers, by and large, were not making those investments, even in a time of unprecedented profits.

Within the news industry, the concepts of "professional development" and "training" can have multiple definitions. Programs range from in-house, brown-bag lunches to in-depth, extended mid-career degree programs including two-week seminars at the Poynter Institute. (The most common models are outlined in Table 1.) In this study, "professional development" and "training" were defined as "ongoing and regular efforts, funded by the employer, to provide job-related education to newsroom employees" and the terms are used interchangeably.

Review of the Literature

Newsrooms, like many industries in today's economy, are filled with "knowledge workers" who rely on staying current in order to keep themselves and their companies competitive. Organizational culture literature5 repeatedly cites the importance of adequate training and professional development in order to keep "knowledge workers," and organizations, thriving.

Researchers have made convincing cases for the role of professional development in motivating and retaining employees. At the heart of this issue is organizational commitment, or the "psychological state that (a) characterizes the employee's relationships with the organization, and (b) has implications for the decision to continue membership in the organization."6 This relationship has obvious implications for the issue of employee retention. …

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