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.
Peter, the paper’s managing editor, named Phil, the deputy ME, the newsroom’s training coordinator in January. Phil, who has a master’s degree in journalism and has taught at the university level, already had been involved in training since arriving in Saint John from the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal in 2000. The new role signals an increase in the paper’s commitment to training. Though Phil has retained other duties, training became a top priority.
I knew the Telegraph-Journal was a different sort of newsroom even before I arrived for a coaching visit in October. I offer about 40 workshops for clients to choose from. This was the first newsroom to choose “Sharing What You Know,” my workshop on how to develop and present a training workshop for your colleagues.
Most of my training for newsrooms is of the passive variety. I blow into town and present some workshops on reporting, writing and editing skills. Then I leave and hopefully some of it sticks. Peter and Phil wanted some of that kind of training for their staff, but also wanted help in actively training on their own after I was gone.
Five editors attended “Sharing What You Know,” each planning to lead a different training session for colleagues at the Telegraph-Journal. I wished I could stay around for the workshops.
- The Telegraph-Journal embraces a wide array of means to provide training:
- People on staff lead workshops in skills they have mastered.
- When staff members attend outside training programs, they lead in-house sessions to share what they learned.
- Outside trainers come into the newsroom to present training.
- The newspaper is paying the full cost for Phil to take Six Sigma, a course in improving processes at companies of any type.
- The newspaper subsidizes staff members’ costs for outside training programs.
The subsidies for outside training include journalism conferences. The same week I was in Saint John, I also led workshops at a Canadian Association of Journalists conference on Prince Edward Island. A reporter from the Telegraph-Journal was there, subsidized by the paper. That kind of training help is common in the industry, though not common enough.
The Telegraph-Journal goes further. Some staff members have taken university courses relating to their jobs. New Brunswick is Canada’s only officially bilingual province. So the paper paid for a reporter’s French studies at a university. Another reporter studied Mi’kmaq, a Native language of the area. Staff members who complete university courses related to their work receive full reimbursement from the paper.
Six Sigma teaches students to examine the processes of their companies, seeking ways to improve performance and efficiency. Phil used the techniques to study errors at the Telegraph-Journal. He learned that 16 percent of errors occurred in cutlines and 45 percent in the little information boxes that editors create. That research is helping the paper to focus on improving accuracy in those areas. (One of the workshops an editor in the “Sharing What You Know” workshop was planning will be on writing cutlines.)
The Telegraph-Journal reflects the same ambition and commitment in its news coverage, which creates extra challenges in its training programs.
The newspaper has bureaus scattered around New Brunswick and publishes separate editions for Saint John and the province. Including the Ottawa bureau, it has 15 journalists stationed outside Saint John. Bringing them all in for a day of training would cripple news coverage for the provincial edition that day. But Peter didn’t want to exclude them from the training. So I led my first conference-call workshop when I visited the Telegraph-Journal. An operator got all the bureau reporters on the line and I led “Writing as You Report,” the same workshop I would lead later in the morning for reporters based in Saint John.
This commitment to training is making a difference for the Telegraph-Journal, beyond the morale boost that usually accompanies an increase in training.
“Pushing folks who have received training to share the wealth … is helping to change a defensive culture at our newsroom,” Phil said.
Changes in Canada’s criminal code prompted some training on the new restrictions on what information could be released to the news media. The training “helped the paper better handle a series of youth crime stories that would have otherwise presented legal minefields for the paper,” Phil wrote in an e-mail.
Another training session spurred a discussion, and a change in the company’s policy to acknowledge when speakers’ quotes were translated into English for readers.
Phil said the in-house discussions prompted him and Peter to start writing a column, Reader Report, “that seeks to demystify newspapering for our readers.”
The link couldn’t be more clear: Training helps journalists serve our readers better. We shouldn’t train just because it makes us feel good, though that’s nice. We should train because our readers deserve better journalism.
That’s true whether you have 45,000 readers or 4,500 or 450,000.
Update: Peter Haggert last June was named editor in chief of Toronto Community News. Phil Andrews is managing editor of the Guelph Mercury. I updated and adapted part of my “Sharing What You Know” handout last year for my workshop, Preparing and delivering workshops and presentations.