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?
Find a way. Work with your colleagues to train each other in your newsroom. Put your investigative reporting skills to work on the hunt for training programs that offer fellowships covering some or all of your costs. Take advantage of regional training programs with minimal costs.
I don’t absolve your bosses of responsibility here. They should be investing in their staffs. They should read the Knight Foundation report “Newsroom Training: Where’s the Investment” and “The Learning Newsroom” from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. (Update: Now I’d recommend All Eyes Forward, the book summarizing the Learning Newsroom project). Your bosses should understand the value of training to their staff and their readers. They should pay to send staff members to seminars at Poynter and the American Press Institute and to conferences of Investigative Reporters and Editors and other specialized professional groups. They should pay to have a writing coach or someone else on staff dedicated to training. They should bring in outside trainers to present workshops in your newsroom.
But you shouldn’t wait for all of that. You should take the initiative on your own to build momentum for training in your newsroom.
The next time a colleague writes a story that makes you proud to work at your paper, reserve a conference room and ask that reporter to meet with interested staff members over lunch to tell how she did it. You will pick up some tips to help you on future stories and so will some colleagues. More important, you will take a step toward a newsroom culture that values learning.
Go online to various journalism training programs and look for programs that cover all costs. I’ll write a future column just about those programs, but you could get a good start for now by going to Google and searching for journalism seminar fellowships. That will give you more than 20,000 hits, and the first several look promising. You could narrow your search by adding “Knight,” since the Knight Foundation is underwriting several such fellowships.
If the program you want isn’t fully funded, inquire about aid. Some excellent training programs have grants for minority journalists or journalists from small papers or journalists from papers with tight budgets.
Check out training close to home that you can attend at low cost. Many state associations offer workshops at their annual conferences. Regional organizations such as the Mid-America Press Institute and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association offer training. National programs such as IRE, Society for News Design and Poynter’s National Writers’ Workshops present regional programs. Find something nearby and see if your editors will spring to send you. If they won’t, consider investing in your own career development.
Or consider another pitch to win your editors’ support. Find a story you can pursue with a local angle in the city where a seminar is scheduled. Pitch your editors with a package: Spend a day (or two) there for the seminar and another day (or two) reporting on the story.
However much hassle a training opportunity might be, you are worth it. You almost always will come away with some helpful tips you can use right away to make your next story, photograph or page design better. You will come away inspired to pursue your best performance.
And you will show your editors the value of training.
Update: Newsrooms and training organizations have cut their budgets and don’t offer as many training opportunities as they used to. But I think the advice I offered here is still mostly valid.