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.
A few weeks before the conference, I was worried. The first weekend of February didn’t seem like a good time to present a training program in St. Louis for frontline editors. February weather in the Midwest is always unpredictable and often bad. The same week the Poynter Institute was presenting a seminar called “The Complete Assigning Editor” and the American Press Institute was presenting a seminar called “Assigning Editors’ Survival Guide.” Plus, it was Mardi Gras weekend in St. Louis and the city (and specifically our downtown hotel) would be full of revelers. It was Super Bowl weekend as well.
The week of the conference, another distraction arose. The host newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, had just been bought by Lee Enterprises. Surely its editors would have something other than training on their minds.
Here’s what you need to know about training for frontline editors: Any time is a good time for a training program. They can’t get enough.
We had nearly 160 editors come to “Become a More Effective Editor,” presented jointly by the Mid-America Press Institute and APME NewsTrain. Most had a longer drive than the 29 editors who joined us from the newest Lee paper. Christina Jolliffe, the Ohio metro editor who got such an uplift, flew in from 560 miles to the east. Kay Lapp James of Portage, Wis., paid her own way and came on her own time from 390 miles to the north. Diane Elliott drove 10 hours each way from Garden City, Kan., 690 miles to the west.
Elliott is planning to make that 20-hour round trip again for future MPI seminars. Her story, which is common, explains why so many editors need and want training: “When I started as the local news editor two years ago, I did not receive any training before taking over. All I knew is what wasn’t working when I was a reporter.”
The St. Louis conference brought together a long-established organization and a new one that understand this universal lament and are trying to address it. I strongly support both organizations. I’m in my third year on the board of MPI, which has been presenting low-cost regional training programs for nearly 40 years. (I am no longer on the MPI board, but remain an enthusiastic supporter. I led a session at an MPI seminar last year before leaving the Midwest.) I helped plan and present the first APME NewsTrain program in Omaha two years ago. (Again, I remain an enthusiastic fan of NewsTrain and was keynote speaker for a seminar hosted by my alma mater, Texas Christian University, in Fort Worth last year.) I was on the planning committee for this conference with two other MPI board members, Margaret Holt of the Chicago Tribune and Paul McAuliffe of the Evansville Courier & Press.
NewsTrain, funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation, presented its training programs in 10 cities last year to 854 editors from more than 200 news organizations. This year’s schedule will take NewsTrain to Washington; Denver; Seattle; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Louisville, Ky.; Atlanta; Salt Lake City and San Jose, Calif. Program Director Lil Swanson is working to line up seven to nine more locations for the year. (Elaine Kramer is now project manager of NewsTrain.)
Our St. Louis program featured a Friday night keynote address on credibility and diversity by Ernest Sotomayor, past president of UNITY and online editor for Newsday, followed by a reception hosted by the Post-Dispatch (and, yes, plenty of discussion about the purchase by Lee).
The conference split into two groups Saturday for sessions on management and editing. Michael Roberts, deputy managing editor for staff development at the Arizona Republic, led two editing sessions in the morning for one group and in the afternoon for the other group. One session discussed helping reporters focus stories and the second covered story forms.
Kristen Gilger, a former newspaper editor now teaching at Arizona State University, led two sessions on management for each group. First she discussed difficult conversations. Then she led a workshop on providing feedback.
Sunday started with Roberts leading the whole conference in a discussion on how to direct beat coverage to generate more enterprise reporting. Breakout sessions followed, with Brant Houston, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, discussing how to direct reporters in digging through public documents and Kurt Greenbaum, online news director for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, discussing ways to use the newspaper website more effectively.
In a follow-up message, I asked participants what they found most useful. Their responses:
- “Everything was useful,” James wrote.
- “I found the whole seminar helpful,” Elliott responded.
When I heard from Elliott on Wednesday, she already had put Gilger’s lessons to use in a difficult conversation with a staff member. She had passed on to her reporters Roberts’s lesson about digging deeper into a story by asking why five times, a technique he said journalists can learn from 2-year-olds. She had set a goal for the week of giving specific praise to staff members at least twice. She was planning to introduce a couple reporters to story mapping. She was planning to use beat development tools with new reporters.
Jolliffe, who told her boss it was one of the best workshops she has ever attended, also started putting the lessons of the conference to work right away. “She has already had a meeting with reporters to give them copies of handouts she got at the seminar, handouts on story construction and beat structure,” Ewald wrote. “She’s pumped up.”
In one session of the St. Louis program, Swanson cited the familiar statistics about how little our industry invests in training and how important training is to journalists. I’m suggesting to her that perhaps Patti Ewald’s message that nearly vanished into the spamosphere best sums up the economic case for training.
Helpful link: Knight Foundation Report: Newsroom Training: Where’s the Investment
I have messaged Patti Ewald and Christina Jolliffe, asking if they could provide updates. If they do, I’ll update.