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No train, no gain.

Sweaty palms. Pounding head. Labored breathing. Palpitations. Dizziness. Nausea.

Flu? Heart attack? Nope, deadline.

Deadline pressure is tough to handle. It's tougher for journalists who lack the training they need to do a good job.

A national survey by The Freedom Forum found that a surprising number of newspaper journalists -- 48% -- often or sometimes felt poorly prepared to cover a story well. The study also found that journalists said they don't get enough professional training.

The Freedom Forum survey -- a questionnaire sent to 2,000 journalists at 400 newspapers -- was conducted by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. The survey has a plus or minus error rate of 4%. It found that:

* 93% of the respondents said they wanted to attend professional-development programs, either at the newspaper or outside the newspaper.

* 38% said no in-house programs were regularly available; 31% said no outside programs were regularly available.

"As a group, journalists are proud of their careers and committed to them," said Don Ferree Jr., associate director of the Roper Center. "They have a sense that they could do their jobs better were they to get better training."

Journalists who see themselves as professionals feel more at home at a newspaper with a training program. "It is not just a morale question, or a skill question," Ferree said. "The whole climate of training reinforces their self-image, gives value to the idea that they are professionals."

And it pays big business dividends. "It is a concrete indication that the newspaper's management has an interest in the rank and file," said study researcher Ted Pease, an associate director at The Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University. "Morale and performance improve. If your people are better, they are going to do a better job of coverage. A better product can be reflected in a happy consumer, in circulation and advertising increases."

Worth the money, time

Training is cheap. "Everyone assumes it takes money. It doesn't," said Evelyn McCormack, managing editor/administration of Gannett Suburban Newspapers in Westchester County, N.Y. "It takes as much as you want to spend -- or as little as you want to spend."

Affordable outside training is available, too. "Our programs are free," David Yount, president of the National Press Foundation, said at a May 26 Freedom Forum conference where the survey results were released. "We pay room, board, airfare, cab fare, everything. And we don't have the demand we ought to. ... We have to beat bushes to bring in journalists."

Newspaper leaders not only are hesitant to spend money on training, they also are loath to spend time. Too many editors are too busy producing the newspaper to make it better. They are like the fellow who, exhausted from sawing with a dull saw, says he has no time to sharpen it because he's too busy sawing.

Playing favorites

Many journalists, 47%, also complained that the available training opportunities are unfairly distributed, often to personal favorites of editors.

This perception of unfairness can cause almost as much damage as the fact of unfairness. "People believe training opportunities are linked to promotion and job advancement," Pease said. "If that many people don't believe training is distributed fairly, we have at the very least a horrible communication problem between managers and the staff."

Mary Sanchez, minority-affairs staff writer at The Kansas City Star, said, "If you are not in the network you may not know about (training) resources. It is really up to the reporter to take the initiative."

However, one form of in-house training is well used at the USA's newspapers: sink or swim.

"There's a feeling that you just do it," said Lewis Dolinsky, copy desk chief of the San Francisco Chronicle. "You don't go to meetings, you don't go to seminars. You're a professional, and you just do it."

Yvonne Lamb, assistant metro editor/staff development at The Washington Post, said, "Reporters report without understanding. They say, |But that's what he said.' The basic problem is that we don't train people ... we expect them to know it."

Joan Konner, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, said anyone can practice journalism "and anyone usually does. But we believe there is such a thing as a professional journalist, someone with intellectual training, skill and a commitment to journalist as a public trust.

Getting a good start

An editor with eight years of experience, whose only training as a new hire was to receive an employee handbook, wrote on his questionnaire: "New employees should have tours of the entire newspaper. Community orientation should be essential. There should be extensive briefings on the paper's mission, goals, style, policies."

Ironically, in a sink-or-swim culture, the longer journalists survive without sinking, the less likely they are to get swimming lessons. Only 60% who changed assignments indicated they had received transition help, compared with 80% of new hires who reported receiving some orientation.

Not surprisingly, in-house training at daily newspapers is spotty at best. Most newspapers employ a scattershot approach to training that hits some with a little, many with nothing.

In-house training for the typical journalist amounts to one seminar every other year. The most frequently mentioned in-house training, writing, is listed as a regular training topic by only 3 in 10 respondents.

We might cringe at the notion of only 3 in 10 teachers getting ongoing professional development, or wonder how Detroit could ever produce re-engineered cars if only 3 of 10 autoworkers knew how to build them. Yet this is happening at the USA's newspapers.

Demand also is great for more outside training. More than 9 in 10 say they want outside training at least once a year. Outside training "is good because you can concentrate on the topic without worrying about work," wrote one journalist who had been to five programs.

Many programs are available -- American Press Institute, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Poynter Institute for Media Studies, Foundation for American Communications, The Freedom Forum Media Studies Center, local, state and regional press associations, colleges and universities, and specific programs for and by minority journalists.

But journalists rarely go to outside programs. It can take more than a decade for most journalists to go to two seminars, the number they want to attend each year.

Journalists want training in writing, editing, reporting, design and computer-assisted reporting. They also want to learn about ethics, libel, privacy, race, gender and environmental issues.

What they often get is:

"Go watch City Hall. Write everything they say and do, even if it is boring and makes no difference to anybody whatsoever. We need to fill tomorrow's paper -- so don't worry about focus or organization or making it tight and bright. Just write it long, but don't forget, no jumps.

"Oh, yeah, I know you have to be at City Hall in 5 minutes, but before you go, put in a photo assignment. Oh, one more thing: If you can think of a graphic or break-out box, great. Corporate's big on that stuff."

Ottaway's silver bullet

Ottaway Newspapers Inc., one of the best in the nation at staff development, thinks personal attention to newspeople is its silver bullet. The subsidiary of Dow Jones & Co. has part-time writing coaches and two full-time training editors to work with the staffs at its 23 small- and medium-size newspapers.

"We turn putting out a newspaper into rocket science," said David Brace, Ottaway's vice president of news and former training director. "It isn't. Anybody can do it. The real skill is developing and nurturing the staff."

The study also found that effective training requires the support and encouragement of colleagues and superiors after the training.

Charles R.T. Crumpley, senior financial writer at The Kansas City Star, said returning from a Fulbright scholarship was "a crash landing" for him. "I slid back into the same job. Management did not want to know what I learned. The way American business is set up is that the employee moves on unless that management can extract a benefit after the training of the employee."

At a Freedom Forum conference to discuss the training study, participants produced a wish list to help improve journalism professional development:

* Local training networks that pool the resources and needs of secondary schools, colleges and newspapers.

* A national network of newspaper training professionals.

* A new national directory of journalism training programs.

* An idea bank or electronic bulletin board where journalists can share information and ideas on training.

But too many newspapers are doing nothing. In the recession, training can run counter to a newspaper's strategic mission -- more profit now, never mind tomorrow. "I fear there won't be any papers worth working for, if current patterns prevail, " wrote one journalist.

Publishers know that their continued survival means delivering value to their readers and advertisers. But many don't see that a motivated newsroom guarantees readers a valuable newspaper. Part of that value, according to Madelyn Jennings, vice president of personnel at Gannett Co. Inc., comes from retooling and training the news staff.
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Title Annotation:staff training in newspapers, includes related articles
Publication:American Journalism Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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