Journalists need to invest in their own careers

This post from Matt Waite titled “Stop waiting for them to save you” is interesting on a couple of levels. It’s built around the notion that newspapers have never really invested in training as much as they should, but that doesn’t relieve individuals of taking responsibility for their own training.

Here’s the sad truth, as I see it: how flush was your training budget when times were good? Most places, not very. So how flush do you think it’s going to be now, when circulation is going down, down down, and ad revenue is going elsewhere? Here’s a hint: You probably don’t have a training budget anymore.

So, to quote Shawshank Redemption, get busy living, or get busy dying.

What drives me nuts is that I’m almost completely self taught, so I get especially agitated by people who wait around to be saved.

These two quotes juxtapose my own unique position. On one side, it’s part of my job to make sure people get adequate training. On the other side, pretty much everything I know about the web (whether dealing with business issues or development technology) I taught myself.

It is frustrating to watch people sit around and wait for somebody to teach them.

Of course, I don’t think that lets me off the hook when it comes to ensuring our own staff is adequately trained. If we’re going to ask people to do all of these new things, and we expect them to do it well, we have an obligation to ensure they are trained.

Even so, I think its important for all journalists to take responsibility for their own careers and learn all they can about online content production.

Matt asks this rhetorical question:.

Why should I do something that costs me time and maybe even money to benefit my employer when I don’t get paid for it?

Matthew’s response to me tracks a little more to the negative side: self-investment is a hedge against layoffs or the complete collapse of newspapers. From my own experience, I think there are more positive reasons to invest in yourself: It’s a chance to advance your career.

I spent six years with Scripps. During that time Scripps did buy me some useful books, but I took no classes and went to no seminars. Everything I learned, I taught myself. What I taught myself enabled me to do cool things and things that helped my company make money. That got me noticed. That got me promoted. One thing led to another and I’m no longer with Scripps, but I have a hell of a great job working for a great company living in a great community.

None of that would have been possible if I hadn’t invested in myself.

And nothing about where I am is planned. I just believed that if I invested in myself, good things would happen. And they did.

In the short term, Scipps benefited greatly by the things I taught myself. In the long run, I benefited more.

But back to the yen/yang of this issue.

There’s only so much you can learn about web stuff in a classroom. You can’t really learn how to shoot and edit video well or how to create Flash animations or even how to build a simple HTML page without investing a lot of your own elbow grease.

So, my question is, is it worth it for a company to invest time and money to train people who aren’t willing to train themselves?

I mean, the people who invest in themselves are the ones most likely to master the skills necessary to do great work.

To paraphrase Rob Curley, it’s mindset that matters most.

UPDATE: Catching up on my blog reading and came across this post by Danny Sanchez on a related topic: Don’t read, do.

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14 thoughts on “Journalists need to invest in their own careers

  1. I’ll tell you my thinking on why I tracked negative on the response to my own rhetorical question. I’ve been preaching the “improve yourself, improve your career” idea for a long time. For every one convert I get, I get 50 blank stares, shoulder shrugs, or stubborn retorts of “I got this far without it.” So I guess I’m changing tactics. If you can’t be goaded into learning something new with the carrot, I can break out the stick. Fortunately for me, the daily doom and gloom parade on Romenesko you pointed out is one helluva stick. It may be half the story on what’s going on in the media world, but it’s the half that your typical incurious newsroom drone gets.

  2. You’re probably right about that, and something I thought about while writing this post.

    But are the incurious ever really going to get it anyway?

    And being the incurious, they’ll never even read this.

    Which is why I took the tact I did with Romenesko. One last ditch effort to reach the incurious with a little common sense.

  3. Are the incurious ever going to get it?

    Two things:

    1. God have mercy on you trying to train them.

    2. If you follow my stick logic, that all depends on how good their instincts for self-preservation are.

  4. […] Journalists need to invest in their own careers. I’ve pointed to post similar to this one by Howard Owens in the past, and I’ll keep pointing to them, because it is such an important concept. It applies to j-school students, too: you need to invest in your own education. […]

  5. It boils down to the hiring process doesn’t it. Instead of hiring to accomplish a task, hire to accomplish a goal.
    “And nothing about where I am is planned.” speaks volumes. Certainly you had a great answer to the interview question: where do you hope to be in five years? And I bet it wasn’t “I dunno.”
    Probably the greatest management training need in newspapers is “how to hire.”

  6. What we’re talking about here is legacy personnel, unless you’re proposing firing everybody and hiring new people?

    I wouldn’t advocate that because there are too many talented, savvy people in newsrooms. Many them haven’t had a chance yet to prove that they can excel online. That said, we need some of the more smart people in newsrooms to get more serious about investing in their own careers, without prompting by management. I’m talking about the entire industry here, not just my company.

    And, FWIW, I think I’m very good at hiring the right people. I’ve developed a good, well-tested process. But this isn’t about hiring people. It’s about training the people you’ve already got.

    BTW: One reason my interviews are so good at finding the right people is that I never ask boring questions like “where do you want to be in five years?” I ask unexpected questions designed to elicit thoughtful answers.

  7. There’s only so much you can learn about web stuff in a classroom

    this is true no matter what one’s profession might be–including software developer…

    I have many acquaintances in the realms of software development and web design–yet I seem to know a great deal more than they do about blogging, online interaction, and the way people use the web. And the ones I know who’ve become adept with online communication across a wide spectrum of subcultures (and not just their own geek crowd) have done it on their own, outside of their worktime, too…

    There’s so much about life online that *cannot* be taught from a book. It has to be learned thru experience–just the way we learn to network for a job or ask someone out on a date. But I think there has to be interest in it first–someone has to prove it’s relavent to people’s lives.. If there’s no interest in how this thing out here’s gonna evolve, and individuals can’t see it as being relavent to their lives, then it’s still going to be a foreign world.

    And when people are in “siege mentaility,” the question becomes “why learn the ways of the enemy?”

  8. Oh well, I was trying to support your point. I thought you were talking about the younger staffers not “legacy” people. At six years with Scripps were you a “legacy” person?

    Yes, I’m sure YOU do have excellent hiring techniques, how did we make the jump from talking about the industry to talking about you?

    Rhetorical questions: I won’t be back for a while, I can get snark at blogs that are much more fun.

  9. Mark, sorry I didn’t see your post as support, but as addressing a different topic.

    While it wasn’t my intent to come across as snarky, certainly I read your comment as a snark at me personally, which is why I addresed it as I did.

  10. I agree with the concept of self-training. I balk at the concept of purchasing my own video camera to use for work-related pursuits.

  11. I think it’s okay for employers to require employees to train themselves, to an extent. But it would be good if they’d at least pay for the training if it costs money (like you said, buying books etc) and if the employer would allow the employee to use work time to learn…

  12. I’m not suggesting by any means that employers “require” employees to seek out their own training.

    I’m not even sure that’s legal.

    I’m talking about taking personal responsibility for your own career. If it benefits your current employer, fine; but you’ll benefit yourself more in the long run.

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