Your employees do not walk through the office door and automatically know what to do and how to do it. True, you hire employees for certain knowledge and skills, but those traits are fluid, depending on the organization through which they are applied.
Once you’ve hired good staffers, it’s time to tackle employee training.
Employee training is important because it:
- improves morale – employees feel better about their jobs and workplace if they are prepared for their work roles,
- develops knowledge and skills – the more your employees understand their work and the more they develop their skills, the more successful your organization will be,
- increases productivity – employees who know how to do their jobs the right way automatically are more productive than those figuring it out as they go, and
- ensures success – well-trained employees have more personal and job successes, and create more innovative solutions to organizational needs.
Despite the importance of employee training, it frequently is forgotten, ignored or treated as a low priority. Supervisors often are unsure how to best train employees or make time for such efforts. U.S. newspapers are particularly bad about training staffers, spending less than half a percent of their budgets on training and often cutting training budgets first during difficult financial times.
The lack of training is frustrating when you consider that nine out of 10 journalists say they need more training and the same number of editors agree. Journalists also cite insufficient training as a reason for low morale.Failure to train journalists is nonsensical in a time when the media industry is changing so rapidly.Click To Tweet
Despite the educational setting, training is difficult in student newsroom, mostly because of staffers’ varying schedules and seemingly constant staff turnover. Student journalists tend to spend most of their time outside of the classroom actually covering news. Just like their professional peers, student journalists want training, but place it low in their priorities unless it’s part of their coursework.
Here are some suggestions for how new editors can train employees, even though they don’t have time.
Appoint a leader
There is some super knowledgeable on your staff (maybe even your adviser or a journalism professor) who just loves to teach and organize. Put that person in charge of everything training related. Make sure the person develops a full training program and passes on his/her knowledge of how it works before graduation, that way your staff isn’t starting over every year.
Develop a plan
I wrote before about setting goals to accomplish strategic work. Training plans require this approach. Set goals for your staff training, then develop and follow a plan for how to accomplish those goals.
All new staffers should have an orientation to your staff and their new job. This is a general overview of your organization and expectations of their role. The orientation, which welcomes new staffers, can be done individually or in groups, although it probably is the best use of time when done in groups.
Break it up
Newsroom employees complete a lot of different functions, usually according to their job roles. Because of this, it makes sense to divide your training by section. For example, you may want to host training for editors, reporters, designers, photographers, etc. separately.
Provide a manual
All new staffers should receive a publication manual. Your pub manual should include everything staffers need to know about their jobs, including publication history, job descriptions, codes of conduct, and other policies and procedures. Understand that most staffers won’t spend a lot of time reading the publication manual, so you’ll need to develop training that introduces them to various aspects of the manual. Giving them access to the manual is just the first step.
For more information about creating a publication manual or what it should include, read my Pub Manual 101 series.
The publication manual provides policies and procedures, but your staff likely still will need training in specific areas of work. For example, we give every new writer a News Gathering and Reporting Guide to help with the basics of information gathering, reporting and writing. Develop handy dandy handouts for your staff on any topic they need. Provide these to each new staffer in that area and hand them down to future editors.
Survey the staff
The best way to know what type of training staffers need and to identify what is/isn’t working well in your current training plan is to ask returning staffers. Survey them on what they want/need from training. Consider doing this at least once a year, perhaps even at the beginning of each semester.
There are tons of resources out there for journalists. Be sure to make your staff aware of them. Some resources (besides this blog) I recommend:
Also, check out this list of books I recommend and/or require for mass communications classes.
Host a workshop
Many student editorial staffs host workshops for staffers, before, during and after the semester begins. These workshops, which typically are a couple of days long, include sessions on a variety of journalism-related topics. The workshops are led by student editors, faculty and/or professional journalists.
Have mini sessions
Mini training sessions are something my past staffs experienced success with, since it isn’t always possible to merge conflicting student schedules for longer training workshops. The model that worked best for us is having a 10-minute training discussion at the beginning of each staff meeting. I typically led these sessions, with the editor-in-chief identifying the topic she wanted me to discuss in advance. These sessions work well because staffers are required to attend staff meetings, and they cross-trained staffers for newsroom jobs. For example, photographers, reporters and editors all benefit from a mini training session on cutline writing.
Mini training sessions don’t have to happen during staff meetings. You can call a five to 15 minute training session any time you have a group of staffers with a similar issue.
One-on-one critiques are a great way to address individual staffers’ weaknesses. These only have to take a few minutes. Just be sure to schedule them privately. Never correct a staffer in public because you don’t want to embarrass or demoralize him/her.
Allow “over shoulder” reading
I had an editor who allowed me to stand over his shoulder and watch him edit my copy. I learned more about writing by watching him than I did through just about any other newsroom practice. Tell reporters when you plan to edit their copy (have standing hours for editing) and provide an open invitation for them to come watch you edit their work.
I created this site as a practical training tool to help my students and others. A blog is an option, but training doesn’t have to be so formal. I send email tips to individual staffers and the staff as a whole. Our staff also uses Facebook groups, which I post training tips to occasionally. Staffers are more likely to remember advice when it is delivered individually and with specific, current examples.
I hated markups when I was an editor. Our publisher would grab the paper hot off the press and mark it up. We were an afternoon delivery paper, which meant I had all of his corrections on my desk before the paper even left the building. I hated seeing my mistakes and knowing I couldn’t correct them before the paper was distributed. But I learned from the markups and didn’t make those same mistakes again.
I do markups for the student staff I advise. I do them the day the paper is published, after it already is distributed. While it’s difficult to see your errors in print, past student editors have told me I also tend to praise more in writing than I do verbally.
Attend local seminars
Attending local seminars and conferences takes a bit more time, but it also allows student journalists to network with and learn from pros. Most professional organizations host local training opportunities. To find them, I suggest researching local chapters of at least the following organizations:
There are tons of specialized local media organizations, most of which your adviser and professors likely are involved in and willing to tell you about. Always be on the lookout for training for your staff.
Attend national conferences
It’s a much larger commitment of time and money, but there is no substitute for national journalism conferences for training and networking. Organizations whose national conferences you should consider:
- Society of Professional Journalists,
- Online News Association and
- College Media Association/ Associated Collegiate Press.
Many college media staffs require staffers to attend training sessions to maintain their employment. We’ve never had much luck with this, mostly because these types of sessions usually are done before the semester begins, when many of our students still are out-of-state and/or tied to professional contracts. Requiring your staff to attend training is a great way to make sure everyone has the same information. I just encourage you to consider whether this would work for your individual staff.
Training is not a one-shot thing. Frequently offer your staff different types of training to help them feel confident and up-to-date on their skills.
Staff development is a difficult but important part of journalism that journalists crave. Employee training frequently is forgotten or ignored, for a variety of reasons. I hope this advice for how to train employees, even when you don’t have the time, is helpful for you.
What types of staff training is your organization doing successfully? Share your ideas and best practices in the comments.