Somewhere, every publisher has a list with a heading something like this: “Stuff We Really Need to Do If We Had the Money and/or the Time.”
It’s frustrating to look at because, as the list-heading says, these items are necessary – but not affordable in terms of money or time. Probably, both.
And at the head of the list: Professional development of your staff.
It hasn’t been that long ago that professional development was a luxury item for financially successful newspapers. But that was before newspapers became more than just print-on-paper. Now we’re trying to reach audiences across various media platforms and new hardware and software and journalistic techniques mean that we always seem to be playing catch-up.
So is training available for community newspapers? You betcha. But it often involves travel and hotel stays and expensive tuition and time away from the job.
Fortunately, there are lots of training/professional development opportunities for community newspapers – and lots of it is free. So let’s look at what’s available.
The downside to online training – as opposed to classes you may attend – is that you have to make time to do it. It takes self-motivated staffers. If you suspect that motivation, you may get several people take the training online and to share what they are learning with others.
Let’s look at some free or low-cost training that’ll jump-start your professional development program:
NewsU. Probably the best-known online training is the Poynter Institute’s News University. NewsU offers a broad range of online training on everything from reporting to writing to FOI to social media to grammar to sports to video, and lots more. A few are free. Lots are one hour and cost $29.95. They are also archived, so you can access them anytime you want to.
Lynda.com. Lynda offers the motherlode of online training. You can get a free 10-day trial to check it out, and subscriptions begin at $25 a month. Lots of great software and tech training – including photo courses.
The National Press Foundation. The NPF offers free resources and webinars for any journalist. Put them on your “check occasionally” list to see what they having coming up. Some are more appropriate for metro journalists, but others are valuable for reporters at community newspapers.
The Reynolds Center for Business Journalism. The Reynolds Center focuses on the business beat, but some of their workshops relate to broader topic areas. You’ll find archived workshops online.
The Society of American Business Editors and Writers. This group offers podcasts on important skills for journalists – you can spend an hour developing skills like using Linked-In as a reporting tool or developing an email newsletter for your newspaper or digital business writing.
Google. Don’t forget one of the best tools you have – asking Google to find you the training you are looking for. Have a new staff member who needs Photoshop training? Ask Google, and tell the search engine you want free training: “free online photoshop tutorials.” That search term, by the way, netted 2.6 million responses.
Online Media Campus. These online modules offer training in advertising, editorial, technology, management, even revenue generation. The cost for most is only $35.
Investigative Reporters and Editors. IRE and its sister organization NICAR (National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting) offer all kinds of seminars and webinars for your reporters who want to deep-dive into investigative reporting. You have to join IRE first, but after you do, the organization offers lots of training and other resources free.
The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. The Knight Center has free digital books on journalism you can download (the classic “Web 2.0,” “10 Best Practices in Social Media”). You can also sign up for free online courses.
DigitalEd. You can register for live webinars for $39 or view archived webinars for $19. At this writing, available archives include Advanced Social Media Analytics, How to Personalize Your Content for Better Engagement, Learn to Use the Amazing Camera on Your Mobile Phone and more.
Texas Press Association. The TPA offers online training, including some that are free.
The MulinBlog Online Journalism School. You probably haven’t heard of this, but it offers online courses in topics like Writing for the Web, Intro to Data Visualization, Audio Slideshow Storytelling, and Social Media Marketing.
The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. If your staff members need a refresher in Texas open meetings and open records laws, check out one of the FOIFT’s Open Government Seminars. They are held in various locations around the state and they are reasonably priced at $50.
Don’t overlook what you can do in your own newsroom. You can start with a training lunch once every two weeks. The paper should provide pizza or burgers or salad, and for openers your staff can talk about their training needs. What do they want to know? What kinds of software training, for instance, would be valuable. Do they want to know more about copyright law? InDesign? Smartphone photography? Once you know this, you can go to work. For some things, you may find that your expertise is right there in-house.
And for other areas, you may need to bring in someone. But don’t assume that “bringing in” means paying a trainer or consultant. You’d be surprised whom you can Skype in for a half-hour talk. Some of the country’s top professors and trainers would be willing to talk by Skype to your staff. All you need is a free Skype account on both ends. Then open a laptop and you have a trainer.
Another great resource that’s free is the Journalist’s Toolbox. This site, sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, is the best collection of resources you’ll find. Anywhere. So let’s say, for instance, that you want to beef up your reporting on weather-related stories. Go to the weather tab on the Toolbox, and you will find literally more than 100 weather-related sites. And that doesn’t even include covering drought, where you’ll find more than 10 resources just for covering that topic.
Also consider getting workshop leaders from local universities and community colleges. You may even get a high school English teacher to talk about grammar problems your writers are having.
The resource close to home: TCCJ
If you’re a Texas newspaper, TCCJ exists to help with training issues. You know already about our workshops – both two-day and one-day workshops. All are free, underwritten by the Texas Newspaper Foundation. TCCJ has held free workshops on iPhone and Android photography, advertising sales, advertising copywriting, advertising design, newspaper management, reporting and writing, sports journalism, media law, FOI, newspaper design, photojournalism, and more. We announce our workshops on our Facebook site and in emails to our extensive list of Texas journalists. If you’re not on our email list, just send your name and email address to us at [email protected] and ask to be included.
We also put the PowerPoint presentations from our workshops online at Speaker Deck. You can use anything you find there to do your own in-house workshop.
At TCCJ, we think one of our best training resources is the Center’s Facebook page. We spend a lot of time monitoring the online world for information of interest just to community newspapers. Then we link to it on that page. You could literally have an in-house training session where all you did was to look back at our postings over the last couple of weeks and talk about the articles you find there. In addition to news of the industry, we also post lots of training-related articles – anything from news of an upcoming webinar to an article on how to improve your leads. And if we find something that’ll make you laugh, we post that, too.
And one of our best resources is the phone on the desk at the Center. If you want to train your staff in something and don’t know where to start? Call us at 817.257.6551. If we don’t know, we’ll research it for you.