Creating a ‘Learning Culture’ in the Newsroom

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently released a report on the state of professional development and training of journalists called “Digital Training Comes of Age,” written by Michele McLellan and Eric Newton.

The report provides online survey responses from 660 journalists who received Knight-branded professional development in the past two years. The report highlights the need for a change in the training of journalists for the 21st century.

At a time when many newsrooms and news organizations are reducing staff and resources while trying to do more with their news products, professional development is one of those areas often ignored.

Yet, this professional development is crucial to the future of journalism whether they are for-profit or non-profit news organizations.

According to McLellan as stated in the second page of the report, “Professional development will play a key role in the transformation of the news landscape,” she said. “Not all news organizations will survive the transition to the digital age. The ones that make it will be nimble, adaptable. They’ll have learning cultures, where training is built into the daily routine.”

This week, the Hub takes a look at the major highlights of the survey findings from the report and provides some tips on how to create a “learning culture” in your newsroom.

Based on the 660 journalists surveyed, the Knight survey identified the following 10 key points:

  1. Lack of training is a major source of job dissatisfaction.
  2. Overwhelmingly, journalists say they want more training.
  3. Increasingly, journalists want digital-tools training.
  4. Journalists say they aren’t getting the training they most need.
  5. Most journalists give their news organization poor marks for training.
  6. Journalists used their training and are likely to recommend it.
  7. Online training is growing more popular, especially internationally.
  8. Many journalists pay for their own training.
  9. News organizations must become learning organizations.
  10. Work focus shifts to digital and combined media.

The survey findings show a variety of reasons why news organizations today need to spend more time and resources toward professional development of their employees and include digital learning opportunities as much as possible.

This can be achieved by creating a “learning culture” in the newsroom.

This “learning culture” must be pervasive throughout the whole organization – from the top all the way to the bottom.

There are many ways that news ventures including nonprofits can start creating this kind of culture. Here are some tips from the Hub on how to get started:

1. Have a training budget. As a news venture, make sure to set aside money for training or professional development as part of your overall budget. Professional development should be considered a required budget item not an optional one. For the first year, if you can, estimate $500-$1,000 per employee if possible.

As stated in the Knight survey, many of journalists who responded said they were paying for their own training. Of those who responded, the journalists reported spending an average of $751 on training in the previous year.

2. Communicate to the staff the training budget. Communicate to your staff how much each person has towards training or professional development. If your staff is aware of how much money they each have for training, they may be more likely to seek out training opportunities than if they didn’t know a budget existed.

3. Go digital. Based on the Knight survey, nearly half of the journalists said that they were able to get training through online distance learning. There are a variety of resources today for journalists in getting online education from webinars to short online courses. In many cases these online programs are affordable and it allows your staff to get the learning virtually without having to incur any expenses for travel. See the list at the end of this article for some potential places to get started.

4. Create a training calendar and catalog. Identify skills that you think your newsroom staff needs and ask your staff members what skills they would like to learn or hone. Based on the information collected, create a training catalog. The catalog can help you identify the major areas that your staff is interested in and you can begin to figure out how they can become proficient in those skills – perhaps it’s a series of internal workshops your staff can do or perhaps it entails some external training opportunities or attendance at some conferences. Also, create a training calendar so you and your staff can set training deadlines accordingly – perhaps on a monthly or weekly basis.

5. Identify subject matter experts (SME). Identify staff members that know a specific skill and have them give an internal training on that subject area to the rest of the newsroom – it can be on any type of skill including photography, video, social media optimization, headline writing, etc. You have a wealth of knowledge in your organization – maximize that knowledge across the newsroom.

6. Videotape internal trainings. When conducting internal trainings, try to videotape the session so those who could not attend can view the training at a later time.

7. Hold webinars. Often times, it’s hard to get everyone on the staff together. Consider hosting internal webinars on specific topics or subject areas. Check out a previous post from the Hub on how to conduct webinars in your newsroom.

8. Create an internal training website or wiki. This website can house all professional development and training information for your staff. This website can feature upcoming conference information, fellowship information, a training calendar, a training catalog, and lists of websites and books for learning new skills. It can also feature the videotaped trainings or internal webinars given by your staff.

9. Pass on the learning. Since trainings can be expensive in some cases, have those staff members who went through it report back to the newsroom and provide a training session to the rest of the staff on what they learned.

Based on the Knight survey, 80% of journalists who received training said they shared it with others in the newsroom. “In all, 518 journalists said they trained a total of 18,641 others, an average of 36 trained per journalist,” as stated on page 9 of the report.

Making an investment in one training can permeate throughout the organization and lead to significant professional development changes for all your staff members.

10. Incorporate learning breaks during the week. Digital media companies like Facebook and Google know that their employees need breaks in order to be innovative, creative and the best at their jobs. Well, the same can be done in the newsroom. Provide an opportunity once a week for your staff members (maybe at different time intervals versus all at once) to have some time to learn. It can be as simple as just an hour or two for a break to learn something new. This may be a chance to read a how-to-book, take an online webinar, etc.

11. Learning tip of the day. On a daily basis, send a brief email to your staff about a technique that they can learn and implement in their daily work. It may be as simple as how to write better headlines, how to use the CMS efficiently, what settings to have on your camera to take the best photo, etc.

These are just a few ways to get started in creating a “learning culture” in your newsroom and setting the path towards showing your staff that professional development is valued in your organization and in turn, how much you value each of your staff members. Having a strong professional development strategy in the organization can only strengthen and improve the journalism that your staff is producing day in and day out.

Here are some websites to consider for training opportunities: