I didn't participate in any off-site professional training programs until I was at my third daily in my fifth year of reporting. In the early 1980s, I told myself that my first two newspapers weren't committed to staff training and professional development. Or, I told myself, they were too cheap to send me anywhere. I paid a price for my cynicism.
Then I spent the next 10 years making up for lost time. I went everywhere: state press association seminars, regional programs, univerity forums, the Poynter Institute.
In the mid-1990s, I became the newsroom training coordinator and managed a paltry training budget. I couldn't send everyone to every place they wanted to go, and I saw some our fine entry-level journalists telling themselves the same cynical things I told myself as a young reporter.
I wish someone had told me early on: I am responsible for my professional development. If my paper won't pay to train me, then I pay to train me. It's painless. Set aside $10 a week from the paycheck. In a few months, that tithe can easily cover fees and lodging for some strong training programs offered by state press associations, by SPJ, by NABJ, by VCU's new media center, by the Poynter Institute.
Taking ownership, making a personal investment pays off:
First, you learn some stuff. No duh!
Second, those training workshops are great for networking. Find your next job there.
Third, you score major points in a job interview when editors learn you paid for your own training.
Finally, it's a chip you can play with your editor when the next workshop comes along. The good faith you show today is almost always rewarded tomorrow.
"...And I saw some of our fine entry-level journalists telling themselves the same cynical things ..." Ed was referring to me, I'm sure. (And others, too. I wasn't the only one bitching. At least I don't think I was.)
I know. I know. What is this all about? You're a student. Youre in your first, maybe your second, job. You hardly have two one-dollar bills to rub together, so what in the world am I doing suggesting that you put aside money for training? And training?! Isn't that what you're doing right now in school? In your first real jobs?!
Well, let me stick it to you straight: Life is filled with priorities. I'm not here to knock yours, but I will be the first to say that not making professional growth and development an important part of your career is a big, fat mistake.
I challenge each and every one of you to really think about what it is you are spending your money on. If you really want to go to a national SPJ convention, you could. But it might mean you buy fewer MP3s this year and not quite as many skim lattes or six-packs. I'm not saying, "Don't enjoy yourself." Just examine your priorities. Saying you're determined to succeed isn't going to cut it . You must act on your determination.
All right. So let's say you can't absolutely can't save even $5 a month right now. (I don't buy it. But OK. Whatever.) Make it your business to get that training fund started as soon as possible. Dont wait. Dont make excuses (because you will. I did.).
Fortunately, it didn't take me as long as it did Ed to learn to make training a priority. I'm very involved in SPJ on the local and national levels because I have learned so much by attending its various workshops and programs.
Dont let your education stop once you graduate from college. And never let the walls within which you work dictate the professional levels to which you rise.
Another upside to getting connected to a journalism organization: Advocacy. Over the years, Ive come to realize that journalists must be advocates for journalism. Showing up for work every day, breaking a big story every week and filing the occasional freedom-of-information request does not make you a stalwart of the First Amendment. Always do something more for journalism for the First Amendment than what it takes for you to collect your paycheck.