Time to Train Everyone in Your Organization to Be a Journalist

When I train journalists at a television or radio station, I usually recommend that the newsroom invite anyone who will come — including those in the sales, promotions and engineering departments. That’s true whether I’m offering training in writing and storytelling, ethical decision-making or multimedia.

And yet few newsrooms take me up on the offer. They just don’t think of sales folks as ever acting in a journalistic role.

As we pare back our staffs, and as emergencies hit, you will find that you need everyone in your building to help out in ways you never imagined. That’s the idea behind a series of articles that my friend Valerie Geller, a skilled and experienced trainer for radio folks worldwide, pulled together recently for rbr.com, a site that features stories about the radio and television business. Geller tells me that as her clients cut staff, it is becoming vitally important that they do emergency training for everyone.

“It was a bit like: If you’re on a bus and the guy next to you keels over with a heart attack. If SOMEONE knows CPR, maybe they can keep that man going until the experts, a doctor or the ambulance with the trained professionals, or medical team arrives,” she said. “We started thinking, maybe we ought to train our front desk receptionists and support staff if there aren’t any reporters in case of emergencies … at least to hold the fort until the professional reporters can take over the job.”

Geller’s three-part series includes:

Geller says the training should cover everything from how to turn off the automaton at a radio station, to being sure the station can actually go live if needed, to making sure everyone can differentiate between a press release and actual news.

Does your staff really know the difference between a storm “watch” and a “warning”? Do you have accurate and up-to-date lists for local hospitals and emergency medical service centers? Do you have a list and a map of where all staff members live? Does everyone know how to file a photograph, e-mail or video using a cell phone?

Geller said to me in an e-mail:

“The first rule for training inexperienced staff who may be involved in emergency coverage should be the ‘Hippocratic Oath’ as taken by all physicians: ‘Do no harm.’ Credibility and correct information is vital. If someone calls and tells you it is safe to go into a building where a shooting took place, but it turns out one of the gunmen is still inside, you may have made the situation worse. If you broadcast the wrong information, such as reporting on the death, or injury of a person who is neither dead [nor] injured, you cause unnecessary pain and suffering [for] their families. And there are legal issues. This is why extra caution should be used when giving names of people affected by a disaster before they have been officially confirmed. The staff you train should be reminded that what’s most important is to keep your community safe and informed.”

Spring storms are not far away. There is going to be a lot of snow melt and that will bring floods. What have you done to be sure that your Web site, your radio and/or TV station, or your newspaper is going to be ready to help your community through the days when the public needs you most? I suspect that layoffs and buyouts have reduced your staff. Some of the old reliable folks are not there anymore to do what they always did. It is vitally important that you train your folks now.

Police train.

Firefighters train.

Nurses and doctors train.

So should we.

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