Credit: Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

An essential part of hanging onto the best and brightest stars on your team is making sure everyone feels fulfilled and like they are improving.

However, newsrooms are busy places and it can be hard to prioritise this amongst all the other fires to put out. Here are some ideas you can use to help gain, train and retain the most talented journalists.

E-learning and simulated newsrooms

During the pandemic, CNN started up its e-learning platform CNN Academy. It realised that as the world shifted to digital, it needed to follow suit with its training arm.

The Academy partners with universities and media entities around the world, where participants enrol for online training, live masterclasses with CNN pros and, more recently, a simulated newsroom experience.

The e-learning platform has a short-term, ten-course syllabus that yields a CNN qualification on completion. Those courses cover the staples of journalism ethics, breaking news on social media, and an array of storytelling techniques. The essentials to work in the frenzy of 24/7 news.

Just before Christmas 2023, CNN trialled a simulation of a rolling breaking news story, where 88 participants took part in a game over five days. Each day, the story moved on, and journalists had to chase new information, grill mock press officers, navigate a custom-made social media platform and come up with new ways to report the story.

It took place in Abu Dhabi, in the UAE, and it was designed by gaming experts as well as CNN journalists, mirroring the fast-paced dynamic of the newsroom in a "safe to fail" environment. As in, where mistakes would not prove dire or costly.

Six teams went to a final day round with a full day of editing and producing with a CNN editor, with one team coming out as a winner.

Director of CNN Academy, Alireza Haji Hosseini, said on the podcast that this helps participants discover what their best attributes are, the true demands of the job and, ultimately, what career path to pursue.

Of the 250 academy graduates, one now works with CNN full-time, whereas others have gained internships at the broadcaster, returned to their old jobs upskilled, or even launched their own YouTube channels.

"It gives us an opportunity to spot and recruit talent from around the world," says Haji Hosseini.

"It also means that people go out into the world and do amazing things with the CNN ethos and guiding principles providing them with a path forward when it comes to factual, effective storytelling."

Progression frameworks

The goal of developing talent should not always be retaining talent, argues Amy Lewin, editor of the European startup news website Sifted, on the podcast. In fact, it can be beneficial to be realistic about helping journalists move on in their careers.

"We know people aren’t going to be at Sifted their whole career. Lots of our journalists are 28, it would be madness to assume they would," she says.

"Plus, we’d like to be able to say previous people who have worked here - and this has happened - now works with Reuters in Mexico. That probably helps us attract more talent in the future.

"It’s being realistic about people not being here forever, but if we can get two to four amazing years out of them, and help them get a really good start or next step in their career - that’s beneficial for both of us."

To that end, Lewin has been inspired by the clever startups Sifted reports on. Well-known consumer tech companies like Monzo realise that their best employees perform better when they are unshackled from the burdens of leadership. The equivalent for newsrooms is not to steer star reporters into the usual ascension of editor roles.

Instead, Sifted has a 'progression framework' to constantly monitor their skills and keep them developing where they need to. The framework lives in a shared document for the whole editorial team to see what others need help with.

Currently, there are three tracks for editorial assistants, reporters and senior reporters. It is like a school report on six key skills: writing, ideas, network and sources, sector expertise, responsibility and behaviours. It is developing another track for editors.

This shows the areas where staff are thriving, where they need improvement, how to get to the next level, and how long it may take to get a promotion.

The framework is pulled up for biannual and annual reviews, which provide agreed goals for salary increase but there are no quantitative targets for the performance of their articles.

Lewin has one-to-one meetings to ensure progress is constantly being made and can assign custom tasks, like specific original stories to dig into, or ways to widen networks. She says the framework must be reviewed regularly to account for new team members and editors should be flexible where possible.

Bridge roles

A busy editor might not have time to spare. That is where dedicated roles in training can be useful.

Jon Yarker is an experienced financial journalist working for business content agency Rhotic Media. That was until he was given a new position as head of editorial development at the start of the year.

It is a bridge role that ensures that multiple departments can work together on a shared objective. In this case, HR, editorial and senior management are all plugged into editorial training.

It is now built into his job description and time management to oversee training, mentor graduates, design internship programmes and manage degree apprenticeships.

Yarker was speaking on the podcast about the challenges of getting adjusted to the blurring lines between editorial and corporate financial writing.

It is similar in that there are one-to-one meetings with staff, where he can introduce actions to improve their performance, like getting them to more industry events or collaborating with different colleagues. It is a role where he is looking for signs of improvement, like whether the copy is filed quicker and they can act more independently.

"This is as vocational as it gets," says Yarker. He wants to capitalise on the enthusiasm of young reporters which is seldom explored by newsrooms that do not have the capacity or proper vision for work experience students.

"You're brimming with motivation and they get you doing something arbitrary and harmless.

"We're not going to give them the keys to everything and set them up on the expensive accounts. But we want to get them stuck in, sleeves rolled up and ready to go."

Rhotic now has two offices in London and Essex but is offering remote work and flexibility around studies to appeal to a broader remit of young journalists. As Yarker says: "if they can log on, they can learn."

Conferences and training

There is nothing quite like hands-on training from media industry experts. If you are looking to send reporters out for a day of training, look no further than our upcoming Newsrewired conference on 23 May 2023.

We have workshops on hostile environment training with VR and generating innovative ideas, plus plenty of panel discussions on live blogging, artificial intelligence and more. Check out the full agenda here and be sure to grab your tickets here.

Alternatively, check out our range of open training sessions on mobile journalism, SEO, media law, interviewing and much more.

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