Newsroom training: Preparing for an effective program

You’ve got the motivation and a bit of a budget for a newsroom training program. Congratulations! What do you need to do next? While each client has different needs, here are some basics that I’ve asked many to help me with:

1) Commit at the executive or managerial level.

I traveled across the world to conduct training sessions where no one but the lowest level newsroom staff was present, and it’s a recipe for skepticism and bad morale. Why? A copy editor in a major newsroom once told me: “We were forced to come in during our off-hours, to sit and learn about how to make the newspaper better, and our bosses are not even here to hear your advice.” She had a point: Why should I teach them best practices, upon which they should be evaluated, when their bosses aren’t hearing the same messages?
From that point forward, I insisted on an in-house partner, to work with from the point of planning the training to the followup we usually conduct a few weeks after delivery. If the topic is skills training at the departmental level (say, better headlines or photography), the manager of that department must be involved, and present at all sessions. If the topic is newsroom- or company-wide (say, how a redesign impacts audience development or revenue), then the top editor of the company must be involved and present, possibly the publisher or advertising director, too. Yes, it’s tough to break away from daily duties, but it increases your chances for progress dramatically.
2) Outline your goals, and include the staff.
Prepare a description of what management desires from the course, what the staff desires, and how the newsroom or company will benefit: What are the current strengths and (be honest) weaknesses of your operation? What different type of staff or newsroom is desired after the training? Do you want to be more efficient, creative, accurate? Where does the newsroom or company expect to be in 2-3 years (i.e., is there any redesign possible, expansion or change in format, or other significant changes in approach)? Be inclusive. Convening a small informal work group to prepare this is helpful to build ownership and excitement for the program.

With some clients, I will solicit input from staff via an anonymous newsroom survey, often completed a month or so before my visit. The responses often guide our conversation as well as ongoing internal work to improve the design or culture.

From here, we work together to put together a program of 1-3 days or even more. This will include a combination of formal presentations (Powerpoint and lectures), usually limited to 45 minutes or less; hands-on exercises; group discussions; portfolio critiques for groups or individuals; time for me to sit in and provide feedback on planning meetings; and possibly 1-on-1 time to mentor staff or newsroom leaders.

3) Share your current work with the trainer, in advance.
I always want to see samples of newspapers, magazines, URLs or apps you are creating. In every training program I deliver, these are essential to focusing my message where it is needed. You can share physical samples, or PDFs or files in Dropbox work fine. Working on your own redesign? I want to see those prototypes, as well.
A big part of effective training is customized feedback for all participants. I often ask for each person to send me, several weeks before my arrival, samples of work they have produced that they regard as a success, as well as work that “fell short” for whatever reason. (I don’t use the word “failure,” because there are many reasons for a bit of work to not hit the mark. We talk about effective language of critique like that, as well.) This creates awareness of the training program and engagement early on. Once on-site, I engage them in a rich discussion of what works with the material submitted, and as important, approaches that may have been considered to make it better.

4) Share a copy of of your Design Style Guide.
I like to see the design manual that dictates your accepted design styles, if you have one. If there are any directives guiding your visual philosophy, a mission statement or similar, I want to see that, too. (If you don’t have any, we can work together during training to clarify those for your team.)

5) Share your newsroom planning tools.
Especially when conducting training on leadership, communications and teamwork (newsroom culture), I like to see what kinds of planning and teamwork is happening at the moment. Tools for these include the following:

  • photo or graphics assignment forms (if digital, send me a screen snapshot or similar)
  • a sample copy of a completed daily news budget (this is the detailing of stories in the works for a particular day – it would be terrific if this corresponded with a PDF of the corresponding day’s edition of the paper, I can also backtrack and see what you published on the web or social media around that time as well)
  • forms for sketching, or description of other planning or organizational mechanisms used to conceptualize news reports in advance
  • organizational charts for staff structure or work flow, if you have them

Questions about whether a training program is right for you, or how else to prepare? Email me at ronreason@gmail.com.

Related or semi-related: 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *