Untrained cubs and gaffes

February 18th, 2011

An interesting conversation took place with an old friend last week. Lets call him Mr X.

So Mr X asked me if I had noticed the increase in correction(s) newspapers carry these days and the mistakes they make.

I honestly had no clue. I did notice the corrections (I guess, almost every day) but never paid attention to their increasing numbers.

He said on some days there are more than two corrections–beginning from the front page, of course.

Mr X has spent a good 25 years in journalism and is a consulting editor with various publications. So when he tells me something, I sit up and notice.

I asked him what the reason could be. He said, lack of training.

According to him, most journalism school passouts are recruited and assigned beats. They are never trained, because the senior reporters/ editors are too busy doing other things. “So if you are not taught how to know your subject, how will you ask the right questions?” he asked.

I agreed and remembered an earlier discussion with another senior journalist. Lets call her Ms Y.

So Ms Y is one of the best corporate reporters I have ever known. She told me how her Resident Editor would have hourly morning training sessions with cub reporters (including her) during which they would discuss the day’s news developments and understand the same. This made her understand and report on any sector, confidently.

Honestly, I have never heard of such training before in a newspaper organisation. And the best thing is, she practices the same with cub reporters in her organisation.

I wonder, if companies can put new recruits on a year’s training, why can’t media organisations put their reporters or desk on training? They recruit reporters as trainees but ask them to fend for themselves.

So how do you make a reporter understand that when covering a murder case, a constable cannot be a reliable source! That the clerk in a certain university department cannot tell you much beyond his profile.

Media organisations think journalism schools should have taught us this. And journalism schools think the students will learn it all on the job!

A few days ago I knocked my boss’ door to discuss a story. An otherwise patient gentleman, he snapped at me saying he had been trying to email someone for the last 30 minutes and was not able to do so. My boss had just finished advising a colleague on her story.

I reminded him that since my immediate boss was on a sabbatical, he was the only one I could discuss the idea with. He gave me a patient hearing, as always.

This made me think, if after putting in over five years in journalism, I still need guidance and advice for my stories, how clueless would a cub reporter be?

But what about the mistakes senior reporters make?

An editor of a weekly magazine says many are in such a hurry to finish their stories, that checking facts takes a back seat.

So Mr X’s logic of training does hold a lot of water. Because the seniors were also cub reporters at one point of time.

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