Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Training Matters -redux

In this I outline why journalism training has never been more pressing in today's climate.

I was a speaker at this year's 15th World Editors Forum of the World Association of Newspapers in June in which I spoke about training to hundreds of editors. This is a redux of an earlier article.

In the twenty years I have been a journalist working across various disciplines, five of which I have combined as a senior lecturer, few issues rank higher within the space I ocuppy as training, whether it's in the lecture hall or newsroom.

In those twenty years I have been fortunate enough to work with, train with, or train scores of journalists.

Some of my earliest international memories include working in South Africa in 1993 alongside the International Federation of Journalists, the Media Workers Association of South Africa and South African Union of Journalists creating a Training the Trainer programme.

Soon after arriving from South Africa on his first trip in 1992 David wrote this Dispatches for the BBC's In house newspaper, which would catch the attention of a number of South African media institutions.
  • South Africa Report for BBC Radio 4, the only non- South African documentary played on South Africa's public service radio during the historic 94 election.

  • The need for training was something South Africa's institutions readily embraced for a post apartheid regime.

    More recently I have consulted for a number of newspapers in the UK, including the Press Association and FT.

    What's clear amongst many editors and proprietors is the need for training -not just as an away day exercise to bond staff, and that is necessary - but as a means of keeping the working environment fully active: to enrich the iron in the blood.

    The motive is not just to be on top of the game, but in front of it.
  • What's media scape like?
  • How can we strategically stay ahead of the game?
  • how can we respond to the the changing needs of journalism?


    I am perhaps one of the thousands of fortunate journalists to have experienced some of the best training around during my newsroom years.

    The BBC's Training Unit, which does not exist in the form it was in the 80s and 90s, saw its fair share of me for voice training and various journalism practices.

    I once even served as a guinea pig for broadcast managers to interview an ethnic minority and assess whether their interviewing style needed changing or whether I was simply hopeless. I had worked for some of the biggest outfits, but not via interviews with personnel, but by managers seeing my work and calling me up.

    BBC Radio Leicester, the first local radio station in the UK, where I started my career was where I received some of my best training under station manager Leo Devine, now a senior BBC figure.

    And I was reminded of that culture of training recently when a broadcaster approached me at the Royal Festival Hall and reminded me that I trained him in 1988.

    David in an edit suit in the days of physically cutting tape recorded on a Uher
    Other than that, like most news rooms you just got on with it - de facto training on the job - for which I have also had some tremendous experiences working on the likes of Reportage and Newsnight.

    Training, is either the thing that dare not speak its name of our career, quite unsexy in one guise, or a fall back position, a safety net that ensures a broadcasting outfit could maintain its professional status quo by bringing up staff to the water mark of best standards.

    Without playing down challenges in that era and the commitment from those that could afford this expense, there appears some startling differences between then and now.

    It was no genius on my part that when I graduated from journalism college , Falmouth, following years of the sciences and a degree in Applied Chemistry, I landed a couple of prime jobs.

    Serendipity played a part- right place right time - but truthfully I'd been maxed to the head with training.

    And truth, as a former chemist more used to writing chemical symbols than essays, oh I needed training.



    David presents his ideas to a critical audience of leading media practitioners at the prestigious National Press Club in Washington DC before collecting the coveted Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism.
  • National Press Club report here featuring Adrian Holavaty - a VJ report back then we more or less knew journalism and any scenario planning of trend extrapolation provided a fairly comfort zone ahead.
  • What's the worse that could happen?

    Oh we're launching a 24 hour news show, which requires multiple feeds from the journalist.

    Difficult and daunting YES, but in the broader sense of the word it was still journalism you understood.

    Today, no such luck, the seams of a profession are being picked and rewoven into a new, some say exciting, others believe a shapeless tapestry.

    Added to the normative variables of journalism e.g. storytelling, ethics and writing, we're witnessing new parameters - which in many cases we might argue have nothing to do with the profession.

    It begs questions, many ones, wider ones.

    What, if we can afford to train our journalists, should we train them with?


    Where do we start?


    Interactive documentary, The Family, made in 2000 using Flash and Video Journalism was a runners up in Channel 4's digital media competition
    The buzz word at the moment is multimedia, a discipline that pulls in a wide facet of journalistic talents nominally spread amongst a team.

    Now it's expected, within foremost the emerging generation and to an increasing extent those already in the profession to be the passport to keeping their career going.

    We're in the evolving era of jack of all trades and masters of them all.

    We will still need specialists, journalists who have no need to master these things, but the trend suggest a collapsing of interdisciplines into one.

    It's a Niagara Falls chasm of a leap from the days I remember at the BBC when friends where being asked to become bi-media.

    From bi to sex and counting; soon you'll be dec skilled - that's 10 separate disciplines.


    David training the first UK Newspaper Journalists to become VideoJos resulting in his award winning film 8 Days

    In 2005 working with the first regional journalists to attend the Press Association's (PA's) Videojournalism training session we proved that print journalists could indeed learn TV.

    And if you're long enough in the tooth to remember the BBC's excellent journalists training schemes where 12 cohorts become the chosen ones across the nation, you'll be no stranger to the mantra surrounding the once mystic art of TV making.

    The feeling was: "If you haven't got a double first from. . . you're ahead of me here, you're not coming in".

    Now print journalists shoot, cut, edit, voice their reports and we're training them to do it swiftly and produce appropriate visuals for their chosen platform.

    Video online can either using one person be video journalism for television of video journalism for video journalism - the creative gonzo form.

    And along the way of what I refer to as blank paper syndrome, there have been noticeable success.

    One that tickles me after taking a call from one of PAs early training adopters was from the Liverpool echo - David how much can I charge for news footage?

    The Echo made a nice tidy sum that day selling their story to the BBC and commercial broadcasters.


    The International Video Journalism Awards in Berlin. David top of the shot can be seen filming minutes before collecting an international award
    However, videojournalism is one arm of as the name suggest multimedia - a many tentacle beast.

    But those that can are having a go and making good on their online ventures.

    However one of the biggest tasks besetting training, a sort of pot-noodle of a word, is not necessarily the technical and theoretical skills we need to learn, but the paradigm and creative bent that is required to comprehend changes; changes which don't look like slowing down.

    Contemporary attitudes, re-engineering our approach, mixing technology with the traditional, thinking spatially rather than linear ( see post for Journalism.co.uk), writing for human eyes and artificial one e.g. robots are just some of features we're having to wrestle with.

    Has training ever been more crucial?

    Well no not really, this is all relative; each by gone era will trumpet the importance of training

    But that doesn't diminish the profoundness of training, here and now.

    Is it crucial now?


    In fact I'm thinking of tagging on RnD to the word training, which often still evokes thoughts of Open University lecturers looking like fallen rock stars wearing hush puppies.

    RnD because in the current climate training is not, or should not be about ensuring staff are kept up with good practices but prepped for disruptive forces and how to seize initiatives.

    I use an old image illusion to make a point that if you can't see it, it doesn't mean it's not there.

    Or as I have said in the Video journalism manifesto, if it hasn't happened it awaits to be done.

    Go to the web young journalist said Anthony Moor, editor of OrlandoSentinel.com on a posting that oozed passion and foresight. ( I apologise it does reference me as well)

    For examples of if it hasn't happened it waits to be done you can look to the British media's relation with videojournalism.

    After Channel One, the BBC would take up the reigns of this new media form as a viable asset, seven years on from C1s beginnings and in between that period no one would dare try for its lack of a broadcaster's endorsement.


    Why does training matter?

    It doesn't if you're not interested; you'll get by.

    By why it matters otherwise is it is the engine that drives our progress: the swan syndrome, looking elegant on top but webbing furiously.

    Here and now, it provides us an in, to what might come.

    There are many of us, you who believe the tower fans of change are yet to gather force; the net at a standard 16mb plus will drive a medium of unimaginable power e.g. live net broadcasting, IPTV.

    As I write this I have been made privy to software in the making (I'm under an NDC) that when it comes off will completely and utterly change the landscape.

    There's work to be done; present forms are evolving, new ones are emerging.

    Journalists are having to think like graphic designers, motion graphic artists, action scripters, SEO analysts and as they slay one form, within the core disciplines the experts are raising their anti.

    Cubism turns to futurism and then constructivism emerges.

    Online, the foundations of what we once did might still be sound, but the style is (meta)morphosing.. futurism to a new futurism.

    The flash documentary I made with my colleague in 2000, runners up in Channel 4's Unleash the Talent, I believe still holds, but it's old hat; we've moved on.


    David presents from Flash on the Beach a gathering of some of the world's best designers using Flash or otherwise, while below he talks training and new digital techniques at Apple's store in Regent Street, London.

    Training matters because it's about progress, not the fag end of budgetary expenses.

    Three years ago a colleague and I conceived an online learning tool for journalists built in Flash.

    Last year the BBC acquired its intellectual engine, and us as consultants to make its own version to launch its flagship Journalism College training.

    Why does training matter?

    Because there is no certainty for those who remain complacent.

    Big companies can and most likely will conceivably go to the wall if they don't change.

    Doing nothing now is no longer an option - hoping this thing called the web will blow away.

    We (more so in developed countries) occupy one big mother board so if you're not innovating, someone else will and your CEO will have no excuse to shareholders when that tech company down the road launches the next big journalistic tool that you should have had.

    Brrrrr Final Cut Pro!

    It matters, in a bizarre twist of fortunes because large swathes of university grads are leaving the nest with fabulous skills - that much we know from within the BJTC - but there are cases where some fail to find homes that can use their new skills.

    I see the timetunnel of Channel One looming in which of the hundreds of VJs - some very good , some er, perhaps needing more journalism training made choices to move elsewhere as the market did not support VJs

    Today only a few have survived from the days of Channel One.
    Former Channel One Entertainment star Julia Ceaser is today a Presenter and Business Correspondent on BBC News 24
    Can there be such a thing as over skilled?

    £$%^&*@@! No!

    But what the present generation know, what they can do is so awesome that it leaves managers bereft of ideas what to do with them.

    In a recent posting I say tongue in cheek go hire a teenager for Christmas.


    Students and Lecturers report on Nato troops during an evacuation order in which real special forces were deployed
    The Nato programme at my university is unique.

    Students get a chance in a lifetime to be in a make believe war zone environment as Nato forces battle each other, setting up their own game theory scenarios and letting these new journalists loose to report.

    Students by then will know how to shoot video and stills, pod, sat. back to base, get an idea of rank and procedures on board anything from a destroyer to rapid boats.

    Training matters because without it we become anemic, we atrophy, we become bored at what we're presented with and if not industrious we fall behind our competitors whom today are world wide.

    To coin an old phrase demo or die, train or be slain.

    The choice is yours.
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