October 9, 2018

The Dallas Morning News used to send a dozen people to Poynter.

“Now we can send one or two at full tuition,” said Tom Huang, the assistant managing editor for features and community engagement at the Dallas Morning News and a Poynter adjunct faculty member.

Budget constraints have forced editors like Huang to reduce spending in every area — and professional development is often at the top of the chopping block.

While editors know the value of investing in their staff, new financial realities require them to be smarter about how they use their limited funds.

It starts with identifying the biggest challenges in your newsroom and then selecting the type of training you can reasonably afford.

When to invest

Your newsroom has skills gaps

Whether it’s because of rapidly changing technology, new lines of business, a special project or workforce realignment, your newsroom may have a gap between the people you employ and the skills you need to succeed.

“The best thing a company can do is to retrain their employees as those jobs change,” said Allen Blue, the co-founder of LinkedIn, at a recent Poynter workshop on the future of work. For a person who oversees a platform used to help people find new jobs, that’s noteworthy.

Retraining employees is an efficient way to close the gap — and Poynter excels at skills-based training for journalists.

“Poynter is the place for practical hands-on training in new journalistic technologies,” said Allan Schear, an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist and assistant professor at Montgomery County Community College who attended Poynter’s Drone Journalism School. Schear credited the workshop for helping him stay abreast of ethical, technological and legal developments related to drones in his work.

Huang said the Dallas Morning News relies on peer-to-peer coaching for digital skills like social media, SEO and innovating within their CMS, but outside help is needed to bolster fundamental skills like writing, interviewing and editing.

“Veteran journalists and editors don’t have time to devote to apprenticeship anymore,” Huang said.

Investing in craft-based skills is needed to help early career journalists like Whitney Bryen elevate their work.

“There are Yelp reviews on prisons and jails?! I never thought to look for sources there,” wrote Bryen, a multimedia journalist for Oklahoma Watch, in a follow-up survey about Poynter’s Covering Jails workshop. “Also, I’m thinking about jails/prisons and the (Department of Corrections) a bit differently through the eyes of the workshop, and that has produced several story ideas that I plan to submit (Freedom of Information requests) for in the very near future.”

You want to retain top talent

With diminishing resources and budgets, many newsroom leaders are preoccupied with avoiding layoffs. Of course, you don’t want to let people go — but you also need to focus on engaging your team so they don’t leave on their own.

The cost of turnover, according to a Center for American Progress analysis, is 20 percent of an employee’s salary. Let’s say your exiting reporter makes $40,000 a year. It will cost you $8,000 to replace her or him, considering hard costs, like recruiting and interviewing, and soft costs like lower productivity and morale.

It’s hard to control the factors that necessitate layoffs. You can better control the factors that lead people to leave. According to the Work Institute’s 2018 Retention Report, the No. 1 reason employees quit is a lack of career development opportunities.

For half the cost of replacing an employee, you could provide him or her a peer mentor, enrollment in three skills-based webinars and travel to an intensive workshop or leadership seminar. Not only will the reporter likely stay on the job longer, but he or she will do better work.

If you are in a position where you can expand your team, “offering professional development opportunities is also a selling point when you recruit,” Huang said.

Your staff is burning out

Burnout is a real issue in journalism. For your journalists trapped in the news cycle, exposed to trauma regularly or discouraged by attacks on the industry, sending them away from the newsroom for professional development can be a career-saving salve.

“Going to Poynter as a journalist is like going to church for the spiritually deprived,” said Holly Kellum, White House correspondent for NTD Television and a graduate of the Poynter Producer Project.

Attending a seminar at Poynter gives attendees a built-in network that’s equal parts supportive and stimulating.

“There are other like-minded people in the industry who care deeply about doing great work and are up against adversity every day — whether it’s budgets, bosses, colleagues, company priorities or just regular obstacles,” said Julianne Varacchi, senior photo editor at ESPN and an alumna of Essential Skills for Rising Newsroom Leaders. “Being together with them for a whole week was really inspiring and refreshing. Since I don’t experience that on a daily basis, it’s easy to get disillusioned.”

Katrina Helmer, a reporter for WDRB News and an attendee in Poynter’s Covering Jails workshop, put it simply: “This conference … gave me the boost I needed to not give up.”

The beauty of reinvigorating key staff members is that they can infuse their entire team with positivity and productivity when they return, emphasized Varacchi.


Types of training

Online learning

E-learning can be a rapid and cost-effective way to bring training on narrow topics by subject matter experts into your newsroom.

For example, Poynter’s online News University will feature skills-based webinars in 2019 about covering immigration enforcement, building an audience with email newsletters, optimizing headlines online, podcasting and investigative reporting. Poynter webinars typically cost around $30.

“One of the online courses I’m most looking forward to is the Drone Photography Webinar Series Certificate with Poynter’s drone expert, Al Tompkins, and Judd Slivka, Missouri School of Journalism’s first director of aerial journalism,” said NewsU interactive learning manager Vidisha Priyanka. “The focus of this four-part series will be how to improve drone photography and storytelling skills.”

American Press Institute and Media Bistro also offer e-learning opportunities that your reporters and editors can access remotely, without having to take time away from the newsroom.

In-person seminars and workshops

In-person teaching gives people the chance to take a break from the daily grind, connect with other journalism professionals, and focus intensely on specific topics or the development of crucial soft skills, like ethics and leadership.

Poynter recently announced its 2019 in-person teaching calendar — as well as a limited time offer to save 15 percent on tuition, which ranges from $300-$1,500.

Training customized to newsroom goals

If you have a whole department or newsroom that needs training — perhaps you’re updating your ethics policy or retraining all senior leaders — it is more cost-effective to bring trainers to you.

“To save on sending multiple people to Poynter, recently our company has brought Poynter teachers to ESPN for small sessions, which have been great,” said Varacchi.

Organizations like Investigative Reporters and Editors and Poynter offer in-newsroom training for teams and entire staffs. Poynter custom teaching can focus on leadership, ethics, digital innovation, cultural change and storytelling.

Dozens of organizations including Usa Today Network, The Washington Post, AP, GateHouse Media, Univision, National Geographic and NPR have taken advantage of Poynter custom teaching. For details about bringing Poynter to your newsroom, contact Leah Bickley at


Annual conferences don’t usually provide in-depth training, but they are valuable for networking and provoking new ideas. See Poynter’s roundup of all journalism conferences, with some occurring yet this year.

Poynter hosts a semi-annual Ethics Summit, and Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network hosts Global Fact each year.

Free training options 

Of course, it’s much easier to greenlight professional development when it doesn’t actually cost money. Poynter will offer a few tuition-free seminars in 2019:

Other popular seminars like ONA’s Women’s Accelerator are also free.

In 2018, Poynter taught a variety of free, 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. As a newsroom leader, watch for these free opportunities as they become available next year — and allocate travel support in your budget now.

For financial aid, Poynter offers limited travel scholarships. Some local chapters of journalism associations like AAJA have funds available for individuals seeking professional development, and there are a variety of journalism funders that provide operational support for newsrooms.

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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