Training is an investment, not an expense

“Newsrooms can and should have people, or at least one person, dedicated to thinking about their journalism, their audience, the tools they have available, and how to best connect all three.”

2018 is the year for newsrooms to look within and focus on building better training and tools for journalists. As news products and digital platforms continue to evolve, the need for journalists to evolve alongside technology is key in organizations of all sizes. Newsrooms can and should have people, or at least one person, dedicated to thinking about their journalism, their audience, the tools they have available, and how to best connect all three.

Journalists no longer have the luxury of working on one part of a story while someone else produces the rest and others manage its distribution and close the feedback loop, tracking audience responses. The news cycle is constant and journalists need to understand not only how to source and report stories, but also how to incorporate the audience’s needs and voices in every step as we produce, package, distribute, and measure their impact.

Newsrooms don’t always prioritize formal training or professional development opportunities for their staff, so even the journalists who are interested in learning are more often than not left to their own devices to figure out what’s relevant to them, or even how to approach small innovation steps in their day-to-day work. Breaking habits or mental patterns is hard, especially without guidance.

How can we fill these gaps? We facilitate training, incorporate tools, and design better workflows. We help build digital skills that foster a culture of collaboration and continuous learning in newsrooms. We develop a better understanding of why stories resonate in certain channels or how to use certain platforms to listen for feedback and this helps us put our audience at the center of our work.

Dedicated training resources are key in raising this bar. Just because someone is good at a particular skill doesn’t mean they can train others on it. Newsroom trainers must have a deep understanding of journalistic core values as well as technological knowhow and soft skills. In order for them to be effective, training programs or initiatives need to be thoughtful and intentional.

Helping journalists build new digital muscles goes beyond bringing shiny tools into a newsroom and teaching people which buttons to push. The real lessons happen when journalists really understand why a particular storytelling format works best for a story, how to best leverage those new tools and seamlessly incorporate how people connect with our stories into their process.

Reflecting on the role of newsroom training as a priority is significant, because at a time where many news organizations are making cuts and occupying much of their resources on initiatives that directly impact revenue, developing human resources may be considered an afterthought — or worse yet, an expense and not an investment. Newsrooms need to focus on expanding digital skills even if budgets are tightening, because strengthening our digital literacy helps strengthen the existing relationships with our audiences, which ultimately diversifies and improves the quality of our report — and we could definitely benefit from that.

is senior editor of digital storytelling and training at The New York Times.

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