Archive for January, 2011

This was the first post of my Training Tracks blog from the archive of No Train, No Gain, originally published May 25, 2004:

Good reporters don’t take “no” for an answer when we’re pursuing a story.

If a source turns us down for a key interview, we marshal our arguments and make another try. If an official denies us a record, we file formal requests or appeals or even lawsuits. Or we find another official who can slip us a copy on the sly.

So why do journalists accept “no” so meekly when our editors say they can’t afford the kind of training we want? (more…)


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Bill Dunphy wants my dream job.

Bill wants to be a columnist. I have written hundreds of columns, but I’ve never been a columnist. In my 30-plus years in the newspaper business, I wrote columns about sports, religion, entertainment and agri-business. When I was the editor, I wrote a weekly column that might address something that was happening at the newspaper or issues in the community or nation. Or whatever I wanted to write about. I was, after all, the editor. But I wasn’t a columnist. I was an editor who also wrote a column or a reporter who also wrote a column. I learned that a column grows well out of other work.

For much of my career, I thought being a full-time columnist would be the coolest job. But in my best bid to be a columnist, the editors chose someone else. I wasn’t smart enough to dream about the opportunities that came instead.

So now Bill has asked my advice on his pitch to be a columnist. My reflex response — conditioned on decades of envy for columnists — was that he should get the hell out of the way and let me have the job. But on reflection, I’m wondering if that job I coveted so long even has the right name. (more…)

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You may have seen on the news that Washington had some snow yesterday. I spent eight hours and 40 minutes driving in it. I wrote about it for TBD.

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I’ve been updating old posts from my Training Tracks blog here, trying to resurrect my contributions to the No Train, No Gain archives. Usually I provide a brief update at the end. This post, however, was about Roy Peter Clark reaching the halfway point of his series, “Writer’s Toolbox.” Since that series became a book and then a blog, I decided to update with a new Q&A with Roy. He graciously took the time to answer my questions by email.

Roy, we did a Q&A in 2004 when you were halfway through your Writer’s Toolbox series, which became the book Writing Tools, published in 2006. How did the book do? How many copies have been sold? Did it have subsequent printings? Is it still selling well?

Thanks for asking, Steve.  The success of the book “Writing Tools” has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my career. We’ll be closing in on sales of 100,000 soon. It’s been translated into Danish and German. Scott Simon on NPR generously referred to it as emerging as a “small classic.”  Much more important — and gratifying — are the regular messages from writers young and old who testify that the book helped them in some important way.  That was my mission in the first place.

Of the 50 tools, which is your favorite? (more…)

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This is another Training Tracks blog post from the archive of No Train, No Gain, originally published June 21, 2004:

An intern asked a couple questions that wouldn’t even occur to a veteran in our newsroom: She was covering an event about three or four hours away and wondered if it would be OK to check out a company car the day before and drive to the event and spend the night. And would it be OK to drive all the way back in the evening after she filed her story?

On the surface, this was a simple matter of logistics, a cautious intern covering her tail as she made plans. And let’s face it, covering our tails is an important lesson for budding journalists to learn.

My answer went beyond the logistical questions to address the unspoken question and one of the most important lessons interns or other young journalists need to learn: trust and responsibility. (more…)

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This is another Training Tracks blog post from the archive of No Train, No Gain, originally published Aug. 23, 2004:

After Charley swept through Florida, a colleague there wrote asking if I had a workshop on covering a hurricane. Working in Omaha now and having spent my career in the Midwest, I responded that I might be able to help with a tornado. By now that colleague might be able to lead his own workshop on covering a hurricane.

How ready is your news operation to cover a disaster? How well do you learn from the disasters and other big stories you cover? (more…)

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This is another Training Tracks blog post from the archive of No Train, No Gain, originally published Sept. 6, 2004:

I started out in training by playing to my strengths. I had spent most of my career as an assigning editor, a department head, top editor and reporter. So my early workshops taught reporting, writing and leadership skills.

A little over three years ago, Joe Hight, managing editor of the Daily Oklahoman, invited me to Oklahoma City to present some workshops for his staff. He ordered a few workshops from my menu, then asked for something for the copy desk.

Well, I have copy editing experience. In fact, I was a pretty good copy editor. But that was 17 years ago (when Joe was asking; 20 years ago now). And perhaps no job has faced more changes and pressures as technology and economics have changed newsrooms. I balked, but Joe can be pretty persuasive, so I agreed to present a workshop for copy editors. (more…)

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This is another Training Tracks blog post from the archive of No Train, No Gain, originally published Oct. 25, 2004:

My initial reaction when an editor asked me to adapt my “Becoming a Storyteller” workshop to stress stories under 12 inches was cynicism.

I thought (and still think) that newspapers risk shooting themselves into the foot when they set arbitrary limits on stories. Certainly too many stories (not necessarily the longer stories) in newspapers are too long. I have developed a workshop to teach writers and editors how to tighten their stories. But I’ve always believed that newspapers need more, not less, of those spellbinding stories that the reader just can’t put down. (more…)

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This is another Training Tracks blog post from the archive of No Train, No Gain, originally published Nov. 11, 2004:

I have long believed that a newspaper’s training program depends more on its commitment and ambition than on its resources. Peter Haggert and Phil Andrews are demonstrating that at the Telegraph-Journal, based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

The Telegraph-Journal has 47 editorial employees and a weekend circulation of about 45,000. It has a training program that many newspapers four or five times as large would envy and should emulate. (more…)

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This is another blog post from the archives of No Train, No Gain, originally posted Jan. 14, 2005.

I presented a workshop this week that illustrates some lessons I have learned about how participation can be more important than content in training.

From the first, the content was strong in my workshop on generating story ideas. It was one of the first handouts I developed. I frequently got good feedback when I gave the handout to a reporter I was coaching individually or when I discussed the techniques in the handout with individual reporters. I had examples for each of the techniques discussed in the handout, too. Some were my own stories, some were stories from reporters I have worked with through the years.

I also recognized that content wasn’t enough, that I needed to involve the audience in the workshop. But my initial efforts at stimulating participation were pretty weak and I was disappointed in my first couple attempts at this workshop. (more…)

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This is another post from the archive of my Training Tracks blog on No Train, No Gain, originally posted Feb. 16, 2005, with my updates in boldface. I did not try to track down all the people to provide updates, and did not interrupt the flow to provide most updates about individuals. Few of the people cited are still in their same positions. Where I could find links, the links provide updated information about the people named here. I am pleased to report that the Mid-America Press Institute still offers outstanding seminars for journalists. Clyde Bentley will be discussing mobile journalism at the first MPI seminar of 2011, Feb. 11-13 in St. Louis.

I usually have a pretty swift hand on the delete button for the advertising flotsam that fills my e-mailbox.

Messages hawking vi*agr@ or lower mortgage rates or cheating housewives fly out of my inbox with barely a glance. This message started like a credit card pitch, so it was nearly gone in a flash. But then I saw that it really was a personal message:

MPI St. Louis conference: $35

Plane flight: $200

Other expenses: $200

The uplift it gave my metro editor: Priceless

That message from Patti Ewald, managing editor of the Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria, Ohio, summarized the bang newspapers can get for our precious training dollars. (more…)

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As I noted earlier today, Bill Bradley helped me find archives of No Train, No Gain at the Internet Archive. So over the next few weeks, I will be posting my old contributions to NTNG, so I’ll have them in the archive here. I will try to place each piece in context, but won’t take a lot of time to update them. I link better now than I did then, but I won’t add a lot of links. I will do minimal updating. If you subscribe to my blog by email or RSS, I warn you that you’ll be seeing a lot of old stuff posted for a while.

Also, I am working with two journalism organizations that are interested in hosting the NTNG archives. I will blog more about those plans when we have worked out more details.

This was the last entry in my Training Tracks blog for NTNG before I moved that blog to the American Press Institute, when I started working there. This posted on NTNG on April 11, 2005. By the way, I’m working with Poynter now on plans to update Beat Basics and Beyond, the online course discussed here.

I’ve presented something over 250 workshops in person, able to look around the room, make eye contact with participants and engage them in discussions. I worry sometimes that my confidence in this kind of training could give way to complacency. I have no such worry about e-learning.

My first foray into interactive e-learning was the development of “Beat Basics and Beyond” for the Poynter Institute’s News University, a project funded by the Knight Foundation. (more…)

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