Skills for journalists in print and digital media.

Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

Try a NewsTrain workshop in 2010

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I’ve been working with APME’s NewsTrain workshops since the beginning. After seven years of them across the country, we’ve worked with thousands of editors. And now we’re drawing and working with an increasing number of journalism educators. If you’ve never been to a NewsTrain, here’s a taste.

More background, the schedule, and how to host one in your town.


Written by mroberts8

February 22, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Plagiarism is plagiarism is plagiarism

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The chilling, maddening, twisted account of NYT Business reporter Zachery Kouwe and his resignation over plagiarizing Wall Street Journal and Reuters material is also, sadly, a rich training opportunity. Kouwe was initially called on material he took from a WSJ story on Bernie Madoff and posted on the NYT DealBook blog. Times editors apparently found more examples from the WSJ, Reuters, and other sources.

Consider Kouwe’s explanation, quoted here from the New York Observer, of how it happened:

“I was as surprised as anyone that this was occurring,” said Mr. Kouwe, referring to the revelation that he had plagiarized. “I write essentially 7,000 words every week for the blog and for the paper and all that stuff. As soon as I saw, I guess, like six examples, I said to myself, ‘Man what an idiot. What I was thinking?’”

Mr. Kouwe says he has never fabricated a story, nor has he knowingly plagiarized. “Basically, there was a minor news story and I thought we needed to have a presence for it on the blog,” he said, referring to DealBook. “In the essence of speed, I’ll look at various wire services and throw it into our back-end publishing system, which is WordPress, and then I’ll go and report it out and make sure all the facts are correct. It’s not like an investigative piece. It’s usually something that comes off a press release, an earnings report, it’s court documents.”

“I’ll go back and rewrite everything,” he continued. “I was stupid and careless and fucked up and thought it was my own stuff, or it somehow slipped in there. I think that’s what probably happened.”

Apparently Kouwe has no idea of what he did in terms of process, and maybe even what constitutes plagiarism in the rip-and-clip-and-link-a-thon of digital publishing.

After reading Kouwe’s bizarre explanation, what are your staffers or students doing when it comes to “…the essence of speed,” or throwing things into a publishing template, or going back to re-report a story broken by another publication. And what are the workflows associated with blogs and other quick-to-print portions of your web site — if any?

Perhaps it is time to revisit what constitutes plagiarism, in all its forms, especially in the digital context. And perhaps it’s time to evaluate emerging workflows, accuracy measures, editorial oversight (even after the fact) for digital content. And then clearly convey the standards and best practices needed to ensure credibility in a training setting where examples, discussion, and simulated exercises are tossed out for writers, editors, copy editors, and online producers.

Proactive training can protect the essence of your good name.

Written by mroberts8

February 17, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Outside speakers & training

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When travel and tuition money for outside training opportunities disappears, newsroom managers may turn to guest speakers as a local alternative.

Making the best use of a guest speaker takes some effort. Not making that effort can result in poor training that wastes time, accomplishes nothing, and gives training and the topic a bad name.

Here are ways to make the most of training provided by a guest speaker. And most also hold true when tapping staff members to provide training, be it for writing, editing, video and multimedia, software skills, management, beat background, or any other topic.

  1. Learning objectives: No one has time for long-winded presentations on broad topics and generalities. Consider what you want people to learn and be able to do when the session is over. Instead of bringing a local college professor in to talk about “good writing,” identify a couple specific skills related to good writing and build the session around those skills. Many guest speakers are not good at this kind of concrete skill focus. Some talented performers even have trouble breaking down what they do into a clear process. So it falls to the newsroom manager arranging the session to drive that discussion. This is a crucial first step.
  2. Time: Most newsroom training tends to fall into the 60-90 minute category. So when having the discussion in #1, keep the time fame in mind. If you have the luxury of several hours or even a day, still break that time down into 60-90 minute modules and build a strong sequence. Attention to time will help in framing clear learning objectives.
  3. Civilians & Journalists: Journalists like to ask questions. Training or education in most other settings is far more passive and lecture-oriented. Prepared a guest speaker who is not from the newsroom culture. Let them know there will be questions and that people will freely challenge assumptions or statements. That way, when it happens, the speaker will not take it personally or panic.
  4. Exercises: Having a chance to do what is being taught is an essential part of effective adult learning. An exercise provides a structured opportunity to practice new skills and receive immediate feedback from the speaker or other participants. Often this is where the real learning takes place. When working with an outside speaker, help that person develop an exercise that reflects real-work situations in the newsroom.
  5. Participate: Top managers should not only attend the sessions they’ve helped plan, but also participate. Join in the exercise. Offer feedback. Open and close the sessions by mentioning how this new skill will help people and the organization. This sends an invaluable signal of importance about the topic and job expectations after the training.

More: How to Build a Training Module

Written by mroberts8

February 10, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Realistic multimedia training

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Ellen Weiss, VP for News at National Public Radio, recently described lessons learned the past two years as NPR ramped up a more ambitious radio + online model.

High on her list:

Be realistic about how much multimedia you can handle and train for. Writing is multimedia when you are a broadcast organization.  NPR brought its training back to reality — away from video and to things people could take back to their jobs: how to take a good picture, what’s the mix of writing, blog writing, writing for the web vs. writing for print.

A key concept in developing effective workplace training is “…things people can take back to their jobs.” This should be a consideration in formulating a training plan (Weiss’ point here), in training design, and in the critical reinforcement that must follow training. Why?

Training plan: Start with a sense of where you want to end up. What kind of things do you want people to do, as opposed to know. Break it down by department or job description. A good plan should encompass what skills need to be taught and who needs to learn them for immediate use back on the job.

Training design: A common mistake is to cram too much into a single training session. With a focus on the job, craft each session by completing this sentence: By the end of this session, participants will be able to _____ (do what?) Keep in mind each session should not only demonstrate the skill, but give participants a change to practice and receive feedback. So even something as apparently simple as “…how to take a good picture..,” from Weiss’s comment above, may take several one-hour sessions to convey the step-by-step skills required back on the job.

Back on the job: In many industries, training effectiveness is measured in how much new skills transfer back to the job. A great training session is not enough. Managers need to plan on coaching and reinforcement to bring new skills into regular use. This can include shadowing, formal feedback, metrics on output, consistent praise for success. Training plants the seed for new skills, but on-the-job reinforcement nourishes and cements their use.

More on this topic: Training on the edge of change. How to build a training module.

Written by mroberts8

January 22, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Future of local news skills

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As 2009 and the ’00 decade wind down, established news organizations and a growing number of digital folks are circling back to local news in search of the elusive formula for local content and profit.

  • Politico recently hired Jim Brady, former executive editor of  to establish a local news site in Washington D.C., of which Brady says,”I was in journalism for 24 years. I wanted to do something that helps guide a path for other people in terms of building businesses around journalism. Local is an appealing area to be in, because if you can do something well in Washington, then others can look at that model and try that too.”
  • MSN has a new deal with NBC and Hearst to add more content to its Local News page.
  • Local news aggregator is growing, signing deals with CNN, Dow Jones, and others. CEO Mark Josephson says the plan is to “…continue to evolve so that more publishers can do more things with all the data we aggregate and organize. We’re going to do more things for local bloggers to drive more traffic and help them build their business and we are going to continue to evolve our core site so that people can get more answers about what’s going on right around them.”
  • The recent Interactive Local Media Conference put on by BIA/Kelly brought together a variety of people all trying to figure out the best formula for local news  and other content. Summarizing what he heard, Mark Briggs of Journalism 2.0 concluded:  “While we’re just getting started here, some urgency is required. News enterprises, large and small, need to gear up their ‘local online’ strategy, seizing the opportunity to cash in while connecting local businesses with local consumers. Before it’s too late.”
  • The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are pushing forward with local sections in cities outside New York City. The NYT San Francisco effort, for example, includes a news blog devoted to the Bay area. Similarly, ESPN is expanding its own network of local sites in major cities, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. Plans are for as many as 20.
  • The local news guide offered for freelancers just a few months ago by Michelle Rafter in WordCount, as well as MediaShift Mark Glaser’s occasional roundups need constant updates.

So as 2010 unfolds, it will be interesting to watch what kind of content emerges as the core of a successful site. And from that, people focused on staff development will have to consider what news-gathering competencies stay and the same and what new ones emerge.

Written by mroberts8

December 16, 2009 at 7:57 pm

Posted in Newstraining, Training

SEO for reporters and editors

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Search engine optimization (SEO) — the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a web site from search engines — for newsroom folks is about building “site authority” (an ongoing profile of reliable quality) and optimizing content as its posted. For reporters and editors that involves the use of keywords related to the content, keywords people will likely use to search for an article.

Few readers “read” a web site like a newspaper, starting on the homepage and paging back to what they want to read. They search, and most (about 70%) search on Google. So the goal is to have stories appear on the first page of a Google search.

The use of keywords in headlines is probably not a new concept in most newsrooms, as its always been part of good print headline writing as well. After attending some recent training in SEO, I came away with a much better understanding of the power of keywords in stories.

There has long been a sense in news writing that repetition is bad. So typical news stories tend to use a variety of terms about the same thing. Here in Phoenix, we might write about the Phoenix real estate market, or the metropolitan Phoenix home market, or the Valley housing market (off the area’s nickname, Valley of the Sun) — all in the same story. This kind of thing happens in news, sports, business and feature writing all the time.

SEO results are better when there is one consistent term that anchors the headline and appears in the opening paragraphs of the story. And a term that contains words a reader is most likely to use in a search. Hearing this in the SEO program, I realized we needed to discuss keywords central to our primary beats and develop an awareness and discipline in using them in the opening sections of a story (about the first 250 words). And we also need to step away from that conventional approach of not repeating terms.

I’ve always felt repetition is a good thing in long or complex stories when readers need all the help they can get to keep central themes and players straight. And now there seems to be a good reason to apply the same care at the start of a story to help more people find it on the web.

As a training or workflow development exercise, an explanation of how keywords affect searches, followed by a discussion and choices on core keywords, could be a quick, simple way for newsroom staff to play a part in an overall SEO strategy.

And check out Google’s free Keyword Tool that allows you to type in a word or phrase and see what other words are most likely to be used in such a search. Web page managers use it to help design the headings and other labels on a web page. Reporters and editors might find it helps with the brainstorming about the best keyword phrases on their respective beats.

Written by mroberts8

December 4, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Needs assessment template

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Don Clark is a veteran training developer and consultant who has a wonderful web site full of information, models, and templates devote to training and performance improvement. Here is just one example, a template on how to conduct a needs assessment that lays a good foundation for effective training.

Written by mroberts8

December 2, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Posted in Training