October 15, 2018

Large news organizations like The New York Times, the Associated Press and Univision typically have budgets dedicated to staff training. Whether you’re trying to get a slice of this pie, or are trying to convince your boss to scrape together pennies for professional development, one thing is certain — you need to ask for what you want.

Retraining helps you grow your own capacity and address skills gaps in your newsroom. Refining your craft keeps you engaged and productive. Reconnecting with your mission as a journalist and joining a community of other passionate, dedicated professionals will save you from burnout.  

(This article connects the dots between those benefits and your newsroom’s bottom line. Share with your boss as evidence.)

“If you think you can benefit from training, you need to raise your hand,” said Doris Truong, director of training and diversity at Poynter and a former editor at The Washington Post.   

Here’s how to do it with tact and tenacity. 

Plan ahead as much as possible

Truong recommends finding out who in your newsroom controls the budget — it might not be your direct supervisor — and when they’re making decisions. 
“I sent an email to our editor-in-chief, Liz McMillen, asking about what the process was for The Chronicle to consider the workshop as a ‘mid-career’ tuneup,” said Eric Kelderman, senior reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education and a graduate of Poynter’s Summit for Reporters and Editors. “I think I went to Liz because I figured she would likely be the person who would be ‘the decider’ on this.” 

If you’re a journalist with a contract, the so-called “decider” might be you. When you approach renegotiations, remember that professional development, like Poynter’s TV Power Reporting Academy, is a bargaining tool and can be written into agreements. 

After determining how professional development is handled, start thinking about how to ask for time away from the newsroom. 

“I did feel like getting time off was more difficult than getting reimbursed,” said Negar Mojtahedi, a Canadian journalist who works for Global News Television and Global News Online and attended Poynter’s Summit for Reporters and Editors, in an email. “With cutbacks, people on sick/stress leave and just being short staffed overall, it's really difficult to get time off when you need it.” 

Destinée-Charisse Royal, senior staff editor in graphics at The New York Times and a graduate from Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media, agreed that planning her time away from the newsroom was a concern.

“I got the buy-in from my two bosses before I was even sure I was going to apply,” Royal said.  

To help you plan ahead, Poynter released its in-person teaching calendar for 2019 earlier this month. 

Tie your training to newsroom goals 

Though professional development is ultimately about you and your career, asking for support should be framed as contributing to the greater good of your newsroom. 

“The best thing to do is to show (your boss) how taking a seminar at Poynter will benefit not just your own professional development but that of your news organization as a whole,” said Mojtahedi. She recommends showing your superiors the specific steps you will take to pass along what you learned at Poynter.

Let’s say you want to attend Poynter’s Leadership Academy. To bring it back to the newsroom, you could:

  • Host a brown bag lunch to teach colleagues about practical tactics, like how to build better connections with your local community.  
  • Peer mentor a colleague to transfer knowledge of a strategic concept, like how to lead behavioral change.  
  • Spearhead a project to capitalize on your new skills, like overseeing an investigative project on deadline. 

Make it easy on your boss

To get to “yes,” remove barriers for your boss. Suggest how the newsroom can fill in gaps when you’re gone. Offer to ghostwrite your own recommendation letter. Familiarize yourself with the training’s learning objectives and cite testimonials from other graduates about impact. 

A little zeal and initiative go a long way, too. To figure out how to fit professional development in the budget, “I have to see that my staff is really passionate in what they do,” said Hannah Seide, senior editor for Radio Free Asia and an alumna from Poynter’s Essential Skills for Rising Newsroom Leaders.

“It should be clear that you have already taken steps to make yourself better, and you simply want guidance in adding to it,” said Cliff Brunt, a sports writer for the AP and a graduate from Poynter’s Summit for Reporters and Editors. “Make it clear that you intend to grow regardless, but then have a clear plan showing how this particular summit can help.”

Have a backup plan

With budget realities, sometimes your newsroom simply cannot afford to send you to training, no matter how valuable it is.

Marleni Cuellar, anchor, host, and correspondent at Great Belize Productions-Channel 5, knew her company didn’t have a budget for training — but she wanted to attend Poynter’s TV Power Reporting Academy anyway.

“This workshop offered me the skills set I really wanted to improve on,” Cuellar said. It was only through three years of saving and a birthday present that she could pay for tuition and fly to St. Petersburg for the training. 

Like Cuellar, “sometimes you just have to invest in your own career,” said Tom Huang, an editor at Dallas Morning News who has seen his paper’s budget for staff development decrease in recent years. 

Crowdfunding could be one option to pay your way. Platforms like GoFundMe helped people raise money for the Capital Gazette and Stoneman Douglas High School’s journalism program after tragedy, but it’s also been used successfully by student journalists to fund travel to conferences, study abroad opportunities and newsroom improvements.  

If you’re paying out-of-pocket, a $30 webinar on Poynter’s News University is easier to afford than a full-fledged seminar. Poynter offers hundreds of online training opportunities to help journalists elevate their writing, editing, visual storytelling and business acumen. When visiting instructors are at Poynter for in-person teaching, we’ll often ask them to translate their teaching for our online audience, too.

Another way to access teaching from Poynter’s acclaimed instructors is to apply for a free workshop. In 2018, Poynter taught a variety of grant-funded workshops, like how to cover local jails, the future of work, equity in higher education, children of color in the South and innovation in healthcare delivery. Watch for these types of opportunities as they become available in 2019.

Sign up for Poynter’s Weekly Training Digest to get updates on upcoming training in your inbox every Tuesday.

For financial aid, Poynter offers limited travel scholarships. Some local chapters of journalism associations like AAJA have money available for individuals seeking professional development.

Whether you’re seeking full funding for training — or scholarships, donations or other aid — the key is to take action to make it happen. 

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Mel Grau is the senior product specialist at The Poynter Institute, focusing on Poynter's training experiences and newsletters. She previously edited The Cohort, Poynter’s biweekly…
Mel Grau

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