Thursday, February 23, 2012

Digital Ninja School: An experiment on training 'digital first' journalism

While the lack of blog updates here may indicate I haven't been up to much -- I assure you that's not the case. We've been very busy developing a training program to radically change the skill sets and mind sets of every single position in our Journal Register Company Connecticut newsrooms.

If you work in a newspaper newsroom, you know this transition from a print to digital focused mindset is easier said than done. Much easier. We're talking about learning and applying an entirely different mindset than what many of our journos learned when they were first hired and trained. In lots of respects, it's like sending a traditional print journalist to grad school for further education. This takes a lot of time, willingness, eagerness, money, and experimentation to make this kind of radical change to your business.

We haven't had trouble in the willingness department. That's been very clear. But the time to learn and experiment? Not to mention, money. That's been a problem. Our journalists have been painfully burning themselves out trying to do the whole 'more with less' thing.

That's why we launched the Digital Ninja School program.

The idea behind it is to put our money where our mouth is. Again, easier said than done. But we're giving it a valiant shot.

Not only are we making a point to free up time for every single person, managers included, in our Journal Register Company Connecticut newsrooms so they can learn the digital first skill sets and start applying them to their daily jobs -- we're rewarding them with cash money. Up to $2,000 for proving themselves and learning what we already want them to learn. It's more than 'job' training -- this is skill and career development.

Maybe you think the ninja theme is a tad hokey. But a ninja is a trained expert - and that's what we want to produce here. Entire newsrooms of trained experts.

The five areas available to become a ninja -- or expert -- in is:
  1. Digital Publishing
  2. Social Media
  3. Video
  4. Blogging
  5. Data Journalism
How does the 'freeing up time' thing work? By planning ahead, of course. If we're going to continue to tell stories with the best tools available, we have to be editors about it and sacrifice a few stories now so we can do more stories in the future. In some cases, this may mean giving a reporter or photographer half a day to study up on Reader Engagement or Facebook instead of covering a town meeting. We can hyperlink to a "competitor's" coverage of the meeting. In other cases, it may mean I have to help staff our Breaking News desk so two web producers can spend time learning about SEO and hyperlinking. Ninja School is like putting out the paper every day. It has to happen, and we have to work together as a team to make it happen.

Another aspect of the program that I like, and think is a crucial component, is its openness. Anyone can go through Ninja School if they want, but you have to be employed by one of our newsrooms if you want the money reward. And we're posting examples of the work and progress being done by each student on the Ninja School site. If you pay close attention, you will literally witness our newsrooms transform.

My role in the program, other than working towards my own black belt, is the curriculum. Along with the awesome help of some 'digital masters' such as Steve Buttry and Mandy Jenkins, I've curated the training programs, documents, help sheets, and hyperlinks you see on all the course pages. It's still a massive work in progress.

And if you consider yourself a 'master' in any of the school's areas -- please email me. If you are willing to provide us some training (in the newsroom or over the web), recommend some links, or offer support by email to our students - we'll credit you as a digital master.

If nothing else, I hope you follow along on this experiment of ours and offer some feedback as we go along. We want this to work.

So what do you think? Will this program work? Are we focusing on the right areas? What areas are we weakest in? Let me know in the comments, or leave us some suggestions on the Ninja School site.


  1. I think it's awesome. Good luck.

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