Broadcasters spend little time or money to improve some of their most important resources–producers, reporters and anchors.
TV news organizations spend millions of dollars upgrading equipment but virtually ignore improving the skills of their employees. Routine professional development isn’t part of the industry’s culture. But the products the stations and networks are trying to sell are the people who produce and cover the news. Why not invest in them?
“The focus on developing peopleÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦is the key to competitive advantage,ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â says the American Society for Training and Development. Virtually every other business and profession understands that, but the average TV journalist is lucky to find a mentor who might give her a few minutes a week.
Syracuse University journalism professor Dow Smith says TV news training is “really pathetic,ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â even though the trend is to hire inexperienced people and pay them low salaries. As a result, “we wind up with newscasts that don’t make any sense,ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â and sometimes there are “horrendous, epochal mistakes.ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â He adds that news directors don’t understand the value of training because they never got it themselves.
Fox News Channel Washington correspondent Brian Wilson says that “we go headlong into day-to-day coverage and don’t think enough about our craftÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦. I look at some people here in the Nation’s Capital and see people [in TV news] who are woefully inadequateÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â and need training.
Wilson agrees with Smith that consultants are some help, but their approach is “formulaicÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦and they give the same advice everywhere they go.ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Smith says that consultants throw in some training as a “side issue, but training is an art form, a specialty that requires sophistication.”
What about the universities’ role? Are they equipped to handle professional development as well as teach journalism theory, critical thinking and the humanities?
Veteran New York City freelance TV reporter Frank Ucciardo doesn’t think so. He castigates “textbook dilettantes who don’t know what it takes to be a reporter.ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â He recalls a story of a major university journalism professor who told a student that she should know a story’s outcome even before she went out to cover it. Ucciardo says that “Columbia University did what it should have done several years ago—reevaluate its entire curriculum.ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
But Lee Thornton, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland, says training is nothing new at the college level. Her students shoot, edit, direct and operate every piece of equipment in the studio. They produce a half-hour newscast four nights a week. Her concern is the schools aren’t giving enough thought to where the field is now. Thornton, a Ph.D. and a former CBS and NPR correspondent, laments: “What in the world are we doing? Networks are looking like local stations, and they’re both superficial.ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
Utah State University Journalism and Communication Dean Ted Pease says schools, strapped with budget restraints, cannot keep pace with technological change. “We can never catch up,ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â he says, “and it’s worse than ever.ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Utah State’s TV studio is located in an old ice cream store—freezer, drains and all, he says. Pease’s students get practical training during internships at TV stations in Salt Lake City, 80 miles south of the university.
In his Freedom Forum study No Train, No Gain, Pease says 93% of newspaper journalists surveyed said they would like to attend professional development programs, and many of them didn’t feel they knew enough to do a complete job on a news story. Although Pease doesn’t believe print journalists have made enough progress since the survey was published, newspapers have been training editors and coaches, and he doesn’t see any parallel in broadcasting.
A more recent study released by the National Journalism Organizations’ Council of Presidents reveals that TV, radio and print journalists claim lack of training is their major source of job dissatisfaction—ahead of pay and benefits. It makes sense that professional development would make employees more productive and keep them happy, and that would be good for ratings and the quality of journalism. But most TV news organizations don’t seem to get it.
What to do? Ucciardo believes training should be handled in the smaller markets, and stations should at least share the cost for their employees to take programs at organizations like Television News Center in Washington, D.C., the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the annual RTNDA convention in Las Vegas. TNC will send its staff to train anywhere in the country.
Fox’s Wilson says that it is also important for individual TV journalists to train their younger colleagues. Dow Smith is encouraged by the annual “producer’s academyÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â he helps conduct for the Belo and Hearst-Argyle station groups.
But these ideas are just piecemeal. The industry as a whole has got to wake up to the fact that regular training is good business and good journalism. Without professional development a lot of talent is being wasted.