Knight report on training shows journalists want technology, multimedia, data skills

A new study by the Knight Foundation released today summarizes the state of journalism training. Some findings from "Digital Training Comes of Age":

  • Journalists want more training in digital tools such as multimedia, data analysis and technology. Most give their news organizations low marks for providing training opportunities.
  • Digital classes are gaining popularity as a cost-effective way to reach more trainees. A third of U.S. journalists and eight in 10 international journalists say the online classes they took were as good as, or better than, conventional training in the classroom.
  • Training organizations are adapting to the digital age. They are providing more training online and rethinking how their programs can foster the transformation of journalism.

The report was authored by Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at the Knight Foundation, and Michele McLellan, a consultant to the foundation. Although the study focused on Knight-funded programs, the authors believe the insights are relevant to all who are interested in journalism training.

Professional development will play a key role in the transformation of the news landscape.

Not all news organizations will survive the transition to the digital age. The ones that make it will be nimble, adaptable. They’ll have learning cultures, where training is built into the daily routine.

About 660 journalists, alumni of Knight training programs, were surveyed, with 61 percent of participants coming from outside the United States. Most of the international journalists were from Latin America. McLellan doesn’t believe the makeup of the survey participants lessens the impact of the overall conclusions.

“We thought that this might be a result from a couple of factors: The non-U.S. have less access to training in general and appreciate online training more," McLellan said in an email. “The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas has developed effective e-learning programs [and] the vast majority of the non-U.S. participants were trained by the center.”

However, there are important differences between the U.S. journalists and international participants. When looking at the effectiveness of e-learning, 84 percent of international journalists thought distance learning was better or about the same as classroom training; only 34 percent of U.S. journalists felt that way.

One of the more interesting findings was how widespread the adoption of e-learning has become, with more than half of the participants reporting that they have participated in a virtual or online class. In 2002, a Knight survey found only five percent of journalists had taken an e-learning module. Knight cites Poynter’s e-learning site, News University, with its more than 220,000 registered users, as one of the driving factors in the growth of e-learning for journalists. Knight provided funding for NewsU.

When looking at the kind of training journalists want, the survey found that digital tools and techniques were at the top of the list. Here are training topics the survey participants said would offer great (or very great) benefit, combining U.S. and non-U.S. journalists responses:

  1. Technology: 78%
  2. Multimedia:  77%
  3. Data skills: 75%
  4. Leadership: 70%
  5. Topic expertise: 62%
  6. Ethics, legal: 51%
  7. Reporting skills: 46%
  8. Traditional skills: 46%

Leadership training ranked higher than I would have expected at fourth place, which may be a reflection of the mid-career participants in the survey, as they might see a career path ahead to move into a newsroom management positions at their organizations.

McLellan also was surprised by this survey result. “Relatively few of the survey participants are editors or managers, and I don't have an explanation for it. It may be that the term is open to interpretation. In comments that were part of the survey, it did not emerge as a frequent topic.”

Also notable is that 65 percent of non-U.S. journalists wanted traditional skills training compared to 19 percent of U.S. journalists.

Unsurprising: That news organizations are not satisfying their journalists' training needs.

Fewer than four in 10 of the journalists who work in newsrooms give their organizations an A or B when it comes to meeting training needs. The majority, about six in 10, rank their news organizations as C or worse. Grades have gone steadily downward in the three Knight surveys, with a greater proportion of Cs, Ds and Fs this year than ever before.

The report authors admit these results may actually be more optimistic than average, since the journalists who responded to the survey appear to be training enthusiasts with generally optimistic attitudes.

There’s other good news, too. The report is full of case studies that demonstrate how effective training can make a difference. For example:

Consider The Seattle Times. Its top editors attended leadership sessions in 2008 at the Knight Digital Media Center at USC Annenberg. “It is difficult to overstate the impact those five days have had on our organization,” said executive editor David Boardman. “We won both a Pulitzer Prize and the Associated Press Managing Editors Innovator of the Year award (in 2010). I have doubts we would have won either had Kathy (Best) and I not attended the KDMC workshop.” After the training, Boardman said, “we were turbo-charged.”

The survey also asked about job satisfaction.

The most satisfied journalists feel they are contributing to society. The least satisfied do not.

Even after millions of dollars spent by foundations, the lack of training support within newsrooms is sad. Training still matters, more than most things journalists care about.

Nearly one journalist in four is dissatisfied with the opportunities for training. As we found a decade ago in "Newsroom Training," discontent about continuing education is the number one newsroom complaint, topping even salary, chances for promotion and job security.

  • Howard Finberg

    Howard has been in journalism for 40 years. His resume includes positions with the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and The Arizona Republic.


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