October 29, 2003

Ending the Training Drought

The Knight Foundation has given $2.2 million to the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University to increase professional development training for journalists.

This is important.

Journalists receive less professional development training, i.e., ongoing education, than nearly all other professionals. A 2002 survey funded by the Knight Foundation found that seven in 10 journalists receive no regular training. No wonder these reporters and editors often seem ill-equipped to operate in today's fluid media landscape.

"American companies spent an average of 2 percent of payroll on training. News industry figures … may be half that." - "Newsroom Training: Where's the Investment?" (Knight Foundation)

In fact, Richard Somerville of the Readership Institute found that "the average newspaper industry expenditure on formal training (as opposed to informal, on-the-job learning) is 0.7 percent of payroll."

Why is training important?

First, journalists learn skills that make them better reporters, editors, photographers and managers, from investigative techniques to communications skills to management practices.

Second, training challenges the intellect and stimulates innovation. Those who learn something new want to use it.

Third, it aids retention, which means newsrooms have a better chance of keeping the best and brightest journalists.

Fourth, the higher retention rate increases diversity. According to the ASNE's 2002 newsroom employment survey, newspapers hired 447 minorities that year, only four more than the number who left the industry. An earlier ASNE study found that "lack of professional challenge is the key reason cited by" minority journalists for leaving newsrooms. Imagine how the diversity rate would increase if newsrooms could only keep more of the minorities they hire.

Fifth, training saves money. In "Newsroom Training: Where's the Investment?", Joe Grimm, recruiting and development editor for the Detroit Free Press, points out that the replacement cost for a professional is "1-2.5 times annual compensation."

"Look at it this way," says Grimm. "If the cost of replacing a professional journalist is $50,000 apiece and you're losing 10 a year, that costs $500,000. If you can slow down your attrition rate just one percent - 10 percent - you save $50,000 a year. If people say their top gripe is lack of training, spend $25,000 a year to train them and they'll stay longer. You'll still come out ahead."

Sixth, training makes money. A recent report by the American Society of Training and Development found that "575 U.S.-based, publicly traded companies that ranked high in training had much higher total shareholder return (TSR) than those ranking lower.

The culture in most American newsrooms is toxic, dominated by a defensive hierarchy of middle managers who are not rewarded for risk-taking and sustained by systems of reflexive and rote decision-making. The organizational culture of U.S. newsrooms is most often compared in studies to that of the Pentagon or the Postal Service.

Training is a tool with which to attack that culture. Learning produces change. Change is disruptive. Disruption requires adaptation. Adaptation leads to survival and growth.

 The Daily Northwester Medill receives $2.2M grant to educate media professionals
 Readership Institute Culture and Management Practices
 American Society of Training and Development Profiting From Learning: Do Firms’ Investments in Education and Training Pay Off?
 No Train, No Gain Training for Newspaper Journalists

Posted by Tim Porter at October 29, 2003 09:24 AM

scary but too true. I'd like to see some of these new tabloids include a bit of classic management consulting 101 and a bit of organizational development.

I like the emphasis on risk taking. It is a constant battle and the independent media centers are taking the call to action seriously.

Posted by: mark on November 18, 2003 10:40 PM
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