By Sherri Killam-Williams
Special to TelevisionWeek
The Society of Professional Journalists/Bloomberg Journalism Training Program has become so popular it’s booked solid for the next nine months. The program, launched last year in cooperation with the Society of Professional Journalists, helps participants learn to write more precisely, use numbers to tell a story or create a document-driven newsroom.
“This has been one of our most well-received programs,” said Julie Grimes, SPJ deputy executive director. Because the training comes to the newsroom, participants incur no travel expenses.
The program assembles everyone within an organization who participates in putting together the news, from assignment to writing to production.
The workshops are sponsored through a grant from Bloomberg and taught by trainers from SPJ and the Bloomberg organization. The grant pays for travel expenses for the trainers and for materials that are distributed at the workshops.
The idea came about a couple of years ago, when SPJ was planning its national conference in New York.
“We talked with Bloomberg about sponsoring a single event, and they were interested in doing something more and looking for a way to give back to journalism, and this was that way,” Ms. Grimes said.
Funding provided by Bloomberg helped SPJ reach more than 1,000 journalists through the workshops during its first year. SPJ charges a small fee to each organization-$300-for the newsroom training, which generally consists of two four-hour workshops on topics chosen by the host organization.
SPJ asks that the training sessions include at least 25 people. Participants can be from the same organization or from multiple news organizations. The same topics are presented to all of the participants at the same time.
“All of the people involved in the news product are together in the training program,” Ms. Grimes said. “All have the opportunity to see the same program and see how it applies to the newsrooms.”
News organizations can choose two of six topics for their workshop. The programs are Improving Cross-Cultural Reporting in Your Community (new this year); Newsroom Ethics/Values; Creating a Document-Driven Newsroom; Precision in Writing; Convergence 101; and Knowing the Numbers.
Jerry Hart, a member of Bloomberg News’ 11-member training team, usually teaches Precision in Writing, the most requested topic, said SPJ Director of Programs Chris Vachon.
“It’s all about eliminating loaded words and making sure you say exactly what you mean, something that gives credibility to a journalist’s work,” she said.
The SPJ/Bloomberg training program allows Bloomberg to share its philosophy of writing and journalism, Mr. Hart said.
“Everything we write is backed up with the facts,” he said. “It’s mostly something we call ‘show and tell.’ That’s a matter of writing with nouns and verbs, not adverbs. We have become a success by following this. We’re hoping other people understand this and take on some of the ideals. It’s just good basic skills we advocate. This is a refocusing on the fundamentals.”
Matt Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, is a member of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation of SPJ, which supports SPJ’s educational programs and serves the professional needs of journalists and students pursuing careers in journalism.
Bloomberg is dedicated to training for journalists, Mr. Hart said. “Matt Winkler is very committed to training and has made it a big part of our everyday work at Bloomberg. We evaluate our writing on a daily basis. We work with writers and reporters. Training is definitely a big part of the way things are at Bloomberg.”
Mr. Hart said training should be part of every journalist’s professional development and considers the SPJ/Bloomberg program a good opportunity for organizations to provide that training at a nominal cost.
“Our own profession is suffering from a bit of mistrust among [audiences], and anything we can do to raise the quality of our journalism and win the trust back is something all news organizations are obligated to do,” he said.
Pumping up stories with “steroid words” has become a crutch for some writers, Mr. Hart said. “‘Go out and find the facts’ is our philosophy.”
He thinks the classes on precision writing and working with numbers are popular with participants because they also focus on writing. The feedback he receives from the classes indicates the reporters plan to incorporate the techniques into their everyday writing.
Organizations interested in the SPJ/Bloomberg program can contact Chris Vachon at 317-927-8000, Ext. 207, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We would definitely like to increase the number of locations of workshops,” Ms. Vachon said. More than 20 workshops were scheduled from December 2004 through December 2005. Depending on the level of interest, trainers may conduct more than one workshop in the same city, as was the case in the Phoenix area when both KNXV-TV and the East Valley Tribune newspaper held sessions this year.
“We’ve gone into newsrooms for both broadcast and print,” Ms. Vachon said, “and this training is applicable to both newsrooms. I think two things make it valuable: One, we come to the newsroom-they don’t have to travel anywhere-and two, the caliber of our trainers.”