I hope this blog post is premature. I would love to retract it tomorrow as an error, but it appears to me that No Train, No Gain is dead. The website launched 10 years ago, so it lived a long life in Internet years. But I mourn nonetheless.
I got involved in newsroom training as a sidelight in 1997, and after I added it to my official duties with a 1998 move to the Des Moines Register, I joined a listserv for newsroom trainers, Newscoach. The group, which never formed an official association, met annually at the old West Coast office of the Freedom Forum in San Francisco, under the leadership of the late Bev Kees. I can’t remember if I was aware of the 1999 conference. I very much wanted to attend the 2000 conference, but it met just as I was changing jobs from the Register to the Omaha World-Herald. While I negotiated for the World-Herald to send me to the conferences every other year, I couldn’t go that first year, because the conference fell right before I moved.
At that conference, the trainers decided to form a website where trainers could share workshop handouts, exercises and other training materials. A message seeking volunteers went out on the listserv and I volunteered. I became content coordinator, which meant I would ask trainers to contribute content, screen the contributions and pass them along to the webmaster for posting. I also contributed all of my training materials, and I developed a handout for every workshop that I presented.
Our webmaster was Dolf Els, who was in charge of training for Media24, a large media company in South Africa. Dolf and I became good friends, exchanging frequent emails over the next several years and meeting at two or three of the annual conferences (which moved from the Freedom Forum and San Francisco to Poynter and St. Petersburg, Fla.) as well as once when he visited Washington.
Dolf designed and ran an excellent site and newsroom trainers around the world contributed training materials. The last traffic reports I heard (probably 2006 or 2007) were that we were getting 13,000 unique visitors a month from more than 100 different countries. For several years, we were the No. 1 hit when you Googled “newsroom training.”
Nothing has contributed more to whatever renown I have gained in journalism than NTNG. I personally was contacted by journalists from dozens of countries, asking if they could use a handout or seeking advice on training issues. I know some of my NTNG materials were translated into at least Russian, Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Croatian and Bahasa Indonesia. As I traveled to conferences, newsrooms and universities, I almost always found someone who knew my work from NTNG, and many were using my materials in their classrooms and newsrooms.
As I have noted in this blog before, people often asked me how I could afford to give away my training materials, and my response was that I couldn’t afford not to. NTNG directly or indirectly led to tens of thousands of dollars in outside income for me, as well as to a full-time training job in 2005 with the American Press Institute. In 2004, I started my first blog for NTNG, “Training Tracks,” blogging about issues and people related to journalism training. When I moved to API, I moved the blog to API’s site, but Dolf kept linking to my posts from NTNG.
The last year or two the site has been almost dormant. Dolf was doing some work in China for Media24, and didn’t have time to update when he was traveling. Eventually he left Media24. I am sorry to say I have not kept in touch well enough to know what he’s doing now (I messaged him on Facebook and will update when I hear from him). Even without fresh content, we remained the No. 1 hit for “newsroom training” for well over a year.
And now it appears to be gone. Lots of trainers contributed materials to the site. I won’t remember them all here, but I encourage you to add some names if you know them: Michael Roberts, Joe Hight, Debbie Wolfe, Laurie Hertzel, Gregg McLachlan, Ana Estela de Sousa Pinto, Matt Baron, Eric Nalder, Joe Grimm.
I still have most of my handouts that were posted to NTNG, though they are in need of updating. I will post them (probably without enough updating) to my blog in the coming weeks. And I think I can find most of my old Training Tracks blog posts in Google’s cache and will post them here as well.
No Train, No Gain was an extraordinary experience from a time when newsrooms valued training more than they do today. My involvement with it was a highlight of my career. I thank and salute Dolf Els and my other collaborators.