Every few months my iPhone reminds me to update my apps. Upgrades take time and require shutting down the phone and giving it a reboot. But as I recently learned from my switch to iOS 10, it is well worth the effort.
A similar principle applies to your career, especially for journalists working at small outfits. With many of us juggling numerous beats along with hopscotching between digital and print, training can seem like a luxury or a fantasy—a bit like a three-week vacation in Hawaii. Seriously?
But just as it’s critical to take time off for a R&R recharge, it is equally as important to carve out time for a professional makeover—especially today. The “new” newsroom is fast headed to all digital and those of us who want to survive and thrive in it need new skills or face being outdated.
Skills like web curating, shooting and editing via smartphone, and navigating social media dashboards such as Hootsuite are critical. The digital newsroom also requires journalists to use apps and software for workflow including Google docs and Slack.
Let’s be honest: Many news organizations, already lean and mean, don’t have the budget or bandwidth for training. A friend stopped herself short of an eye roll when I told her to take some time and invest in learning. “I don’t even have time for lunch,” she snapped.
While we can’t force an organization to give us more time or money, savvy reporters can still upgrade themselves on a shoestring budget. Here are some tips and tricks that have worked for me:
Become a groupie
Join a journalism organization, the majority of which have memberships that are reasonable on a reporters’ salary. While there’s a smorgasbord of organizations out there, organizations such as IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors) and JAWS (Journalism and Women Symposium) are training-heavy and hold workshops all over the country. IRE tapes most of the sessions from its stellar annual confab.
Raise your hand and lead
Some journalism organizations such as ONA (Online News Association) are expanding their local and regional chapters, many of them led by journalists in local markets who are organizing their own training sessions. Offer to lead a local and regional chapter and organize panels and workshops.
When I was a board member for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) in Hong Kong, my fellow board members (a title for hungry young journalists) organized workshops on everything from book writing to video streaming. The best way to learn is often from peers.
Befriend the Millennials (or if you’re a Millennial befriend a non-Millenial)
As a Generation Xer I’ll admit I’ve feared the Millennials at times. Their lightning-fast thumbs, their Periscoping and multitasking, can seem intimidating. But the best way to tackle your fear is to face it. Bottom line: Befriend Millennials and expand connections beyond your vintage. It’s a nice exchange; I can impart some wisdom on news judgement to twentysomething colleagues and they can teach me how to edit on iMovie or Snapchat.
Get a mentor
Journalism organizations such as JAWS have mentorship programs as part of their membership perks. But even without a formal program, you can search for a mentor by scanning the bylines of journalists whose work you admire. Reach out, email them and share your own work or an article that may be of interest to them. Be brave and ask them out for coffee; you’d be surprised how flattered people are when you cite their work. Mentors can be valuable at any stage of a career, not just for journalists new to the business.
Volunteer at conferences
National professional organizations often seek volunteers at their annual confabs. If the conference takes place in an attractive destination—Chicago, San Francisco or hey, Hawaii!—make a vacation out of it; your company might even give you some time off. Even if not, it may be worthwhile to take a few days of vacation and go conferencing. Review the agenda and see if there are sessions of interest to you, ask if they need volunteers (often the answer is yes). In exchange, the organization frequently waives the conference fees and feeds you too; networking can be icing on the cake.
The bottom line: A professional upgrade is necessary in these rapidly changing times and a savvy journalist can get an upgrade on their own and on a shoestring budget.
• Invest in yourself: Gone are the days when companies will proactively give you the time and money to attend a conference or training (you can certainly ask—just have realistic expectations). Self-investing is liberating, a good chance to network and a tax write-off; occasionally a workshop or training will give you a certificate too, which can be icing on a resume.
• Training and education don’t have to be expensive. Thrifty and savvy reporters can create their own training programs: seek out a mentor and take advantage of perks from industry organizations such as Poynter, which offer affordable memberships that include training.
• Do not underestimate the power of YouTube. I recently found an excellent tutorial on how to edit with iMovie. There are also private Facebook groups including Columbia New Media Initiative and ONA Educators, where you can post questions or exchange information with fellow journalists.