February 17, 2006

Blogging Slows, Book in Progress

As I'm sure you've noticed, blogging has slowed to a crawl here at First Draft. The culprit is not lack of interest, but lack of time.

As the Tomorrow's Workforce project enters its final year, my partner (Michele McLellan - ex-Oregonian and ex-Nieman) are I putting together a book we hope will help newspaper editors develop and implement strategic training for their newsrooms, a key component to creating focused change for newspapers.

Much of my thinking about the current state of newspapers and about methods in which they might change has come from this project. I've funneled in "first draft" form a lot of that thought onto First Draft. I'll continue to do that, but at least for the next few months more infrequently. [Read: Best of First Draft.]

I need to juggle doing more research for the book with the writing, as well as keeping on top of some other projects that help pay the bills.

Michele and I are greatly interested in hearing from you any thoughts about how organizations learn, about strategic change projects underway in newspapers or elsewhere, or simply about what you think the priorities for change should be in newspapers. Email me at tim [at] timporter.com or Michele at info [at] tomorrowswork.org.

Below is an excerpt from the outline for the book, which has a working title of Learning to Change, Strategic Training for News Organizations:

The book will focus on the lessons learned from Tomorrow's Workforce, which grew out of a 2002 Knight Foundation study - Newsroom Training: Where's the Investment? - that found a dearth of newsroom training and strong desire on the part of journalists for more. Tomorrow's Workforce worked with 16 newspapers, providing each with an assessment of its newsroom culture, editorial and readership priorities, leadership and communication skills, and its commitment and capacity to train and develop its journalists. The result enabled each newsroom to develop a strategic learning plan for staff and managers.

Some of these papers are doing well, some less so. We hope to draw useful lessons from both. Thus far our analysis helped:

 Newsroom leaders identify editorial and readership priorities and increase capacity of news organizations to fulfill those goals.
 Newsroom leaders understand how to involve their staffs more effectively in linking broad goals to specific activities and to increase staff engagement in regular, ongoing training activities.
 Newsroom leaders assess and prioritize staff development needs and measure the impact of training.
 Journalism-training experts build continuous, effective and practical professional development programs that increase skills, knowledge and engagement in newsrooms.
 Staff members understand individual training and development choices they can make to help them continue to grow as individual journalists and as members of a news organization.

Across industries, corporate investment in staff development is linked to higher employee satisfaction and retention, more constructive and creative workplace cultures and, in many cases, more profit. The U.S. newspaper industry has been stingy with money for training, spending about 0.7 percent of payroll in 2001 - only a third of the national average.

Our work in newsrooms and our interviews with hundreds of newsroom executives and working journalists not only confirmed that finding but also found that even in American newsrooms most committed to professional development training had little impact on the content. It was not aligned with goals. It at times conflicted with readers' needs. It was often opportunistic training without a specific purpose in mind. It was, in short, non-strategic.

Most needed, we found, is training for managers - both executive and middle level. These leaders need training in leadership, communication, goal-setting -- the skills that are critical to leading a news organization through these challenging times. At the same time, non-management staff members such as reporters, copy editors, graphic artists and photographers, generally receive limited skills training that frequently is not linked to the goals of the organization or to change imperatives confronting mainstream media. [Read: Leadership: What Newsroom Leaders Need to Start - and Stop - Doing Now.]

These newsroom training gaps sit atop a defensive, risk-averse culture layer that discourages innovation and change and regards training and professional growth as something that happens only when the journalism is finished for the day.

Learning to Change, Strategic Training for News Organizations will report on how Tomorrow's Workforce newspapers are overcoming those obstacles, setting clear editorial goals and priorities, developing training at all levels to achieve those goals and using professional growth as a way to strengthen readership.

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Posted by Tim Porter at February 17, 2006 08:29 AM

I'm sure you're already aware of Peter Senge's work, "The Fifth Discipline" but I'll toss it out for you just in case.

By the way, just finished "Elements" and found it highly informative and useful for a journalistic "Know Nothing" such as myself.

Posted by: Jim Brodhead on February 17, 2006 09:07 AM

Tim, this sounds great. Onward!

Posted by: d. rabin on February 18, 2006 01:32 PM
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