November 19, 2014

For many journalists, this is the best of times for training. For others, it’s a missed opportunity, according to a new Poynter report.

The results of a new report “Constant Training: New Normal or Missed Opportunity?” were released today by The Poynter Institute and the Knight Foundation. Two-thirds of journalists report that they have received training the past 12 months. In addition, more than half, 56 percent, of those journalists were mostly satisfied or very satisfied with the training.

That’s a significant improvement from the 1993 “No Train, No Gain” report, published by the Freedom Forum, which revealed that only 14 percent of the journalists surveyed received regular weekly or monthly training at their newspapers. A follow-up report, “Newsroom Training: Where’s the Investment?” in 2002 painted a similar picture, with more than two-thirds of the journalists surveyed saying they “receive no regular skills training.”

However, Poynter’s 2014 survey shows that training varies wildly between newsrooms, with several reporting less than half of staff members have received training in the past year.  The lowest response was a newsroom where only 17 percent of staff members reported receiving training.

The results are from a survey of staff members from 31 newsrooms around the country conducted by The Poynter Institute on behalf of the Knight Foundation. The newsrooms ranged in size from 20 to 150 staff members. More than 1,650 staff members were possible participants for the survey, which achieved a 72.5 percent response rate or 1,188 responses. The survey was conducted online in June–July 2014.

Given the whirlwind of disruptions at news organizations during the past two decades, it’s good news that more journalists are getting journalism training than ever before, and they have an appetite for even more. Almost nine in 10 journalists [88 percent] said they could absorb more training, especially training that’s digitally-focused.

However, there are some disturbing results from the survey, with a third of the journalists in the survey [34 percent] saying that they received no training in the past 12 months. Considering the abundance of free or low-cost training available, the numbers of journalists not getting training seem strikingly high.

Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation takes an even harsher view of the situation in a blog post about the study:

But today’s study says we’re stuck at roughly the same average even as change is accelerating. What’s more, a national survey reports an overall average. In some newsrooms, nearly everyone gets some training; in others, the number can go as low as 17 percent. How can a number get that low when programs such as News University and NewsTrain have wiped out obstacles such as money and time?

Some will say they are trapped under bosses who don’t think well-trained people are faster and better. Others will say their company’s only focus is its cash-cow strategy, milking the business to death, and good journalism has no place there.

Today’s rapidly changing media ecosystem demands that journalists continually refresh their skills. In 1993, the Internet as a means to deliver news and information was a glimmer in a digital futurist’s eye. Today, digital-first isn’t just a slogan; it’s what is needed to get journalism to the public.

From Poynter-Knight Newsroom Training Report 2014

Barriers to Training. From Poynter-Knight Newsroom Training Report, 2014

The survey participants, when asked what kind of training they wanted, put digital topics at the top of their lists. Seven of the top 10 training topics had a digital focus, with social media, the use of digital tools and video skills as the top three areas where journalists thought that training could help them in their profession during the next 12 months. Other top topics were data journalism, audience development, writing skills, managing change, mobile devices, Web analytics and Web design.

Another indication of the hunger for training could be seen when we looked at what training participants wanted compared with which training they had in the previous 12 months. For example, 59 percent of the journalists who took digital tools training wanted more training on that topic. There were similar high levels of hunger among those who took training in video skills, Web analytics or mobile devices.

This raises the point that everyone, especially journalists, lives in a world of constant learning. Each new technology creates new opportunities and new challenges. Which create new openings for training. To be successful in the digital world, a journalist needs to embrace the idea of “constant training” to meet the changing demands of the workplace.

Other results from the “Constant Training” report survey are more troubling.

Actually doing the training presents a significant problem. Lack of time was cited by 62 percent of the participants as the number-one factor that prevented them from getting the training they needed or wanted. That’s twice as many responses as lack of funds, the second-place factor, which was selected by 34 percent.

Print-first vs. Digital-first. From Poynter-Knight Newsroom Training Report, 2014

Print-first vs. Digital-first. From Poynter-Knight Newsroom Training Report, 2014

The survey also provides an unsettling insight into the focus of the newsrooms surveyed. The journalists surveyed still see their newsrooms as print-centric or straddling the fence. Only one in 10 said that their newsrooms are thoroughly “digital-first.”

In addition, newsrooms surveyed are dominated by older workers — the median age of the survey participants is 48 years old — raising questions about how managers make sure that they are effectively engaging younger staff members and providing digitally-focused and relevant training to all staffers, regardless of age or digital background.

The report and data can be downloaded from here:

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.
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…
Howard Finberg

More News

Back to News