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Understanding current barriers to journalist training

By Diane H. Murray, co-principal investigator


(Murray is director of public service and outreach for the Grady College of Journalism
and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia)
Thirteen editors of daily newspapers in areas of Georgia that, according to 2000 U.S.
Census data are in persistent poverty, were interviewed in May and June 2008. Editors
were asked nine questions related to barriers to training their newsroom staff.
Q1 In the past year have you or your staff attended any professional development or
training programs.
The majority of editors (85%) said they or their staff attended training and professional
development programs in the last year.
Q2 Thinking about issues that face your coverage area, name up to three in which you
would like your news staff to have more background, training and expertise.
Common issues were improved writing/story telling, legal issues, open records and
layout and design.
Q3 How would you support news staff attendance at training on these subjects?
Editors said they would give time off from the newsroom, as well as cover travel and
registration costs.
Q4 What support do you currently offer for mid-career training of news employees?
The majority support attendance at these training programs by giving time off from the
newsroom and covering travel and registration expenses.
Q5 What are your most frequent sources for training for your news employees?
The majority (77 percent) cited the Georgia Press Association. Southern Newspaper
Publisher Associations Traveling Campus and on-site training by the newspaper, parent
company or vendor each received 62 percent.
Q6 Approximately how much do you or your company typically pay for professional
development/training per program?
The majority of the editors cited cost as a barrier to training, both registration costs and
travel costs being a concern. When asked how much they typically pay per professional

development program 50% said under $100, 42% said $101-$350. Only one respondent
stated they would pay more than $600 per program.
Q7 What is the maximum number of consecutive days you are able to allow a news staff
member to be away from the office for training?
Time away from the newsroom was also mentioned as a barrier to training. Editors stated
that their organizations were already lean and it was difficult to pull someone out of the
newsroom to attend training. One editor said it was almost looked at as punishment, since
there would be so much work to do before attending the training and so much to catch up
on upon their return. When asked about the maximum number of consecutive days they
were able to allow a news staff member to be away from the office for training, nearly
half said three days. Fours editors could only allow one day and three editors were
willing to commit to up to a week.
Q8 How do you choose which programs to attend?
Please rank the following items 1-4. 1 most important, 4 least important
Price, Location, Topic, Sponsoring Organization
While topic was chosen at the number one factor (45%), only slightly above price (42%).
Sixty percent of the editors listed the second most important factor as location. Many
mentioned that location had to do with overall cost of sending the individual as well as
time away from the office. Sponsoring organization did not seem to be an important
factor in decision making with 91% ranking it as number four.
Q9 With more time and money, how would you like to improve your staffs skill levels?
Most expressed a desire for more training opportunities, including taking advantage of
API, Poynter and others that are currently out of their financial reach.
Overall, these findings were consistent with finding of a 2006 study by the Institute for
Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. Our census of 13
papers and their 529 papers survey found similarities in the amount of time newspapers
could allow a staff member to be out of the office for training and in the places they turn
to for training opportunities. Both surveys identified state press associations as a primary
resource for training. We also found similarities to a 2006 survey, Investing in the
Future of News funded by the Knight Foundation. As with our survey, the survey results
indicated that lack of money and time are the biggest obstacles to providing more
training.
As we begin to understand barriers to training newspapers in our target area experience,
we can address those barriers and provide resources to meet training needs. Through our
research we sought to answer the following questions:

RQ1 How can a training program implant a rationale to increase news coverage of
poverty among journalists who work in persistently poor Georgia counties?
Research indicates that news organizations are not willing or in many instances able, to
devote staff time and organizational money to attending stand up training. The research
also indicates that the issues that concern news organizations in persistently poor
Georgia counties are basic reporting issues and not focused on specific subject areas
affecting their readers. While a training program specifically focused on poverty would
not be well received, if training resources were made available to help newspapers weave
poverty related topics into their regular beats; education, health, crime, our research
indicates it would be more well received.
RQ2 How can a training program provide these journalists with expertise, story ideas
and sources to make their news coverage of poverty authoritative, contextualized and
undistorted?
In 2003, the Grady College developed Specialized Reporting Conferences focused on
issues affecting journalists in the Southeast. By design, the conferences served as a place
journalists could gain information and increase their expertise in a particular subject area,
get story ideas they could use right away and gain access to sources who could provide
background and expertise on a variety of issues surrounding the specialized topic. The
programs were very well received by news organizations and helped improve coverage at
several newspapers. Jason Winders, executive editor of the Athens Banner-Herald said
the training his reporter received on Base Realignment and Closure was integral in
expanding and improving the papers coverage on the subject. The paper later received an
award from the Georgia Press Association for the coverage. The Knight Chair in Health
and Medial Journalism at the Grady College has held three Gnat Line News Briefings,
designed to give journalists primarily in south Georgia access to training on health and
medical reporting. Evaluations of those programs have indicated that following the
training, reporters feel better equipped to address health and medical related issues
affecting their communities.
RQ3 How can a training program be framed to overcome barriers to training and will
be used.
Training resources must accessible to journalists and relate to their current coverage
assignments. As research points us away from traditional, stand-up training we must find
other ways to present the information they need. Creating an online resource that
provides journalists with an understanding of how poverty in their community affects all
other aspects of the areas they cover, education, healthcare, crime, housing and social
services is key in helping journalists understand and report on their community. The
Website can include story ideas as well as contact with important sources to help them
frame their stories. This will help journalists improve their coverage on an important
issue and improve their overall story telling, a key issue editors mentioned when asked
what type of training their staffers need.