Posts about training

Retrain or retire

I’ve been thinking about Mark Glaser’s lengthy column on job opportunities in journalism. On behalf of my journalism students, I’m delighted.

But what’s appalling is that newspapers are not retraining their staffs in the new skills of new media.

There are lots of cynical excuses for that: The papers want to lay off expensive people and hire cheap kids. Or the old dogs won’t — or some would say can’t — learn new skills.

Well, why not try? I have been arguing — to little result … so far — that news organizations of all sorts should train every person in the newsroom in the skills of new media: how to make video, audio, and blogs. That wouldn’t take long, just a day or two. It’s that easy. That’s why everybody out here is doing it.

There are many benefits. Staffers might get an interest in new and social media and transfer over to the internet side, saving their careers in many cases. They might simply get an understanding of the new structure of media and get an appreciation for all the new opportunities the internet provides for gathering and sharing news and that can improve their journalism. They could start producing their journalism across all media, however it’s best to tell the story and however it’s best for the public to get it. And this influx of new thinking might help the organization advance and improve.

Instead, I see newspapers waiting until the budget ax falls and then they just lay off people or pay a fortune in buyouts. That’s too late to retrain. And it is a waste of resources, intelligence, experience, and precious time.

Let’s say that a year before they got rid of a quarter of their editorial staff, the managers at the San Francisco Chronicle saw it coming but took that the time to train the entire staff in new media. They could have identified those staffers who embraced new and social media and technology (allowing them to at least keep the forward-thinking ones and scare off the old dogs). They could have started to rethink their product and service — as a staff. They could have improved their reporting and distribution of the stories they printed. They could have gotten the public excited, too, about their new ways and maybe gotten some more audience and more advertising online and avoided at least a few of those still-inevitable layoffs.

Instead, newspapers are too often playing victim, waiting for the worst to happen or taking too-small steps away from the cliff. It’s a disservice to their staffs, their readers, their shareholders.

And I won’t put that onus entirely on management. Staffs should be demanding to be trained. Photographers should be ganging up on their bosses to learn video; ditto reporters. Hell, even ad sales people should be dying to learn video so they have something new to sell.

This is on my mind also — full disclosure — because I have been trying to put together the continuing education (professional development, call it what you will) program at CUNY. If you have any ideas how we should go about this — how to convince journalists that they should learn new ways now, before it’s too late — let me know.