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Training Matters: The value of continuous professional development

Donald-MartinDonald Martin, editor of the Sunday Post, a director of the NCTJ, and chairman of the Society of Editors training committee, addressed the Society of Editors regional seminar yesterday as part of the panel session: journalism in the future – the digital revolution, video and the skills we need.

Drawing from his own experience, he explains that continuing professional development is much more than just formal courses and comes in many forms, including ‘chewing the fat’ in the pub.

Ladies and gentlemen, If I had a choice I would adjourn this session and discuss it over a few beers in the bar instead.

That would undoubtedly be more engaging, entertaining and possibly informative!

Sadly that’s not an option but rather than bore you with a lecture, please indulge me as I try to chat as if we were in the pub.

And there is a serious point to this because continuing professional development (CPD) needs to be seen as more than just formal courses.

The networking, be it in the bar or over a coffee, is equally important.

And many of today’s young editors and senior executives thrust into challenging roles are missing out.

I wouldn’t have had my career without CPD, even though I wouldn’t have recognised it as such at the time.

I would struggle to cope with the myriad of challenges without having gained a lot of shared knowledge and experience along the way.

So I worry about the new and future generations expected to do more without necessarily having much experience and without the support of their peers and industry mentors.

It’s not fair and it’s not right. And the Society of Editors wants to help address this in a number of ways.

One is by offering help, guidance and support from senior industry peers – we are happy to talk. There’s no embarrassment, no barriers, we are all learning together.

How many stories have we shared over a coffee, highlighting the strange situations we have had to deal with, the potential problems and brilliant solutions.

Getting out of the office, whether attending conferences or meeting your industry peers is all part of our development.

You don’t learn stuck in budget meetings and glued to your keyboard.

There needs to be a recognition that the time spent in the company of people who share the same challenges but may offer different experiences is not only valuable but necessary if you want to get better at doing your job.

CPD can be as simple as having a pint or a coffee with mentors and peers.

When I worked as Bob Satchwell’s deputy in Cambridge 25 years ago we used to finish work and head for the pub for an hour or so to chew the fat.

It took me a wee while to realise this was Bob offering me the chance to pick his brains. And I did, from dealing with demanding MD’s, handling budgets and the commercial pressures to people skills.

Yes, I learnt tact and diplomacy from Bob!

I was the young pretender coming in over the heads of two assistant editors 25 years my senior who had both been turned down for the job. I was nervous and a bit unsure how to play it with them.

Thankfully Bob came up with a cunning plan.

My very first day we toured the editorial floor and he pointed out the assistant editors joint office.

He told me that was now mine – – – before asking me to tell them they were now working out on the floor!
My second and third days involved taking them each out in turn for lunch to ask them where they thought their careers were going now I had arrived. You can imagine how that went.

Much as it still entertains me to this day there was method in the madness. Firstly by kicking them out of the office I was letting them know it was a changed world and I was now their boss.

And secondly, those conversations over a Ploughman’s and a pint may have been really difficult but I learnt quickly that an honest and frank chat is much easier and a damn sight more effective than skirting round the issues.

As my old pal and mentor Robin Thompson used to tell me, you can resolve a lot of differences over a bowl of spag bol and a bottle of red wine!

He and I used to ‘walk the sands’ down on the south coast mulling over the various issues, be it management of people or the management of change. I learnt more about different approaches and recognising what works and doesn’t in those chats than I did shut in my office trying to resolve them on my own.

The modern editorial executive faces many more challenges in a post-Leveson multi-media world.
They are expected to lead different editorial disciplines and have the management and commercial skills to handle fast-paced change.

And as commercial pressures bite, they need to balance the needs of rapidly diversifying newsrooms with tighter budgets and often fewer resources.

In addition, they are responsible for media ethics and IPSO compliance, as well as having strong knowledge of media law.

In other trades or professions continued development is expected and necessary – why should it be any different for journalists where regular training can decline rather than increase throughout an individual’s career?

CPD is about the maintenance, improvement and broadening of knowledge and skills, as well as the development of personal qualities necessary for the execution of professional and technical duties throughout an individual’s working life.

The Society of Editors aims to address this skills gap by endorsing and validating CPD for senior editorial executives and by encouraging and promoting training in the following key area

  • Management of people
  • Management of change
  • Legal – contempt, defamation, privacy, DPA and copyright
  • Ethics – IPSO, compliance, privacy, Bribery Act
  • Multi-media
  • Industry best practice
  • Financial and commercial understanding

It’s a scary list even for us dinosaurs but we have had the luxury of learning from our mistakes.

I still shudder remembering my first board meeting as a daily editor and threatening to wipe the f-ing smile off the ad director’s face!

In those days I didn’t have benefit of wise counsel and peer support.

To recognise the value of this kind of training the Society of Editors is looking to offer a CPD certificate where applicants would submit a brief portfolio of CPD work over a year. This could include courses, conference attendance, and as I have outlined, networking and peer discussions.

All applicants have to do is outline how it had helped them do their job more effectively and this would be validated by a panel of senior editors appointed by the Society of Editors.

It’s a simple but effective way to demonstrate to current and future employers a willingness and readiness to progress your own careers or to reward and recognise editorial executives and rising stars by inviting them to sign up to a CPD certificate.

Finally, having exposed the virtues of mentoring conversations in pubs, I leave you with a cautionary tale.

I have had the good fortune of working with a number of very talented execs, who despite my input, have gone on to become brilliant editors: Jonathon Lee, Damian Bates, Tony Carlin, Richard Prest and not least Darren Thwaites.

And it was Darren that decided to announce in the pub his offer of a fantastic group role with Trinity, working with Neil Benson leading editorial development and implementing best practice across all their titles.

I saw it as my duty to point out the difficulties of such a young whipper snapper telling old grizzled editors how best to run their papers.

Thus followed some serious role play over a few pints.

Hi I’m Darren says he and I have been looking over your brilliant newspaper and there are a few wee suggestions I would respectfully suggest, if you don’t mind, that I think could make your paper even better.

F off!

But I’m not trying to cause any problems or step on your toes. I’m only trying to help.

I’ve edited this paper perfectly well for 20 effing years without your help. Now f off!

Having made my feelings known I nipped to the loo only for a big nasty looking bloke to come over to Darren asking:

Is that prat bothering you and you do we want me to sort him out.

It is to this day Darren’s greatest regret that he took the non-aggressive option, telling him that yes I was a prat but this was all part of his continuous professional development!