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JWF Fellowships to the Poynter Institute for Print, Broadcast and Online News Journalists

Poynter Experience

Reports from:Cale Cowan | Bhinder Sajan | Barry Link | Eric Szeto


Cale CowanCale Cowan
Victoria Times Colonist

After 24 years in the newspaper business, I thought I was pretty well educated. After six days at the Poynter Institute, it was clear how much more there was to learn.

The intense, inspirational and transformative How to Wear Five Hats and Succeed course was a revelation in my professional life. It awoke me from a professional slumber I wasn't aware I was in. It reminded me of the good work I had done and the possibilities that were still before me.

The other 15 members of the Five Hats program and I were treated to three of the best professional instructors you could hope for, covering everything from time management to people management to story management. It was practical and surprising and fun. During a time when the mood in our newsrooms can be a little gloomy, it was great to spend time with people who are optimistic about our craft.

The talent of the Poynter faculty is that they don't simply stand up front and lecture. They have a great knack for involving the participants in the discussion and encouraging us to talk and learn from each other. With a group that had people from all corners of the United States, our corner of Canada, and even Denmark, there was no shortage of perspective.

There were brand-new editors in our group and others who had been on the job for decades. Together, we discovered our common ground and also shared the skills and experiences that complemented what we already knew.

I left with better skills for editing copy, coaching writers, generating ideas, dealing with tough conversations and creating guiding principles for our newsroom. All of the learning comes together on that final day when you stand before the group and present your "Great Boss Plan."

I returned to the newsroom inspired and ready to get to work. I recommend the Five Hats course to any editor in any newsroom.

The work of the the Jack Webster Foundation fellowship program to make this kind of professional development available to B.C. journalists is invaluable and I encourage anyone to take advantage of the opportunity.




Bhinder SajanBhinder Sajan
CTV BC

I attended the TV Power Reporting seminar at Poynter in April. It is an intensive course that looks at what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.

The course started with an examination of the kinds of stories we think we tell, versus the kinds of stories that we most often see or remember on TV. Through a simple exercise, our instructor Al Tompkins really opened our eyes to the things we often miss when working on deadline. Then he challenged us to do better.

That learning continued through different workshops within the seminar. As journalists we tell stories, but we also need to be effective employees. The workshops on managing time and stress, dealing with difficult people, and creating online visibility were all thoughtful, relevant, and essential to what we do.
We worked through high-level ideas, to practical solutions. We covered a variety of topics, which were tailored by the participants in the class. Some of the issues we discussed include: live reporting; sentence and story structure; ethics; honesty; lighting; framing; dealing with interview subjects; and our role as journalists and community members.

Much of the week was spent dissecting stories and seeing what works and what doesn't. An added benefit was having Les Rose in the classroom. His insight ensured we always pushed past the words and thought about the pictures and sounds we needed to make our stories truly powerful. We also had an opportunity to present our work and have colleagues and our instructors give honest, and sometimes tough, feedback.

The conversations continued from the classroom to our outings. There was excitement and anxiety about how to implement some of these changes when we returned to work. On our last day, Al provided us a tip-sheet so we could implement change without scaring our coworkers. This was a critical step.
All the instructors were willing to help, and what I enjoyed most is they held us accountable for what we said in class and didn't just answer questions. Each question became an opportunity to discuss. Truly, what you get out of it depends on participation.

I'm working on a more thorough and in-depth report to share with my colleagues, and discussing how that information is best shared. It will likely be a combination of workshops, informal discussions, and sharing some tips via a shared drive. One of the great things is that Al Tompkins pointed us to workshop materials we are free to use.

One thing that could perhaps add to this learning is a formal follow up plan. We created goals during the seminar, and while we are accountable to others in our group, I think some sort of a formal follow up would help. Maybe part of that is sharing knowledge through the Jack Webster foundation - a seminar night, where past Poynter attendees can get together and share tips on how to use the information. Perhaps this is even a Facebook page? While we have this for those who were in our class, it would be great to hear this from others who are here and in the same industry and market. I think there would need to clear rules - we don't want to hear anyone trash talking about their employer or sharing information, but maybe it's a forum to say - hey, in this story, I used this technique I learned and then get some feedback.

All in all, this is a great workshop for journalists who are looking for inspiration, clarity, and who want to hone their craft. Once again, thank you to the Jack Webster Foundation for choosing me for this fellowship. It was an amazing experience.




Barry LinkBarry Link
Vancouver Courier

My week at Poynter

I attended the Great Bosses seminar Oct. 14 to 20, 2012 at the Poynter Institute on a Jack Webster Foundation fellowship. It was an excellent experience thanks to Poynter's intensive course offering, the professionalism of the instructors and the seriousness with which Poynter regards our profession.

Journalism in Canada sometimes feels like a hobby. In the U.S., it's a religion, and Poynter is one of its seminaries. Or perhaps a boot camp. The week was busy, with a combination of large and small group sessions and individual work assignments each day. We were challenged right from the very keynote on two things: 1. the industry is changing and needs new business models -- what are you going to do about it; 2. you are a boss now and everyone who works with you is watching every move you make -- what are you going to do about *that.* My thinking was challenged on both fronts.

On the industry front, we were challenged to think about the fundamental ways in which we cover the news and how the news stories we tell reveal the values we hold as journalists. We were also told, if not warned, that journalists have to get in on the ground floor in creating new business models for revenue. That was a shock, but if we don't, the people on the sales side of the industry will create these models, and we won't like what they come up with. (We never do.)

The leadership front was more daunting. I learned about my personality type compared to others. I learned through previously done surveys what my colleagues thought about my ability as a manager. I learned techniques for handling difficult conversations. I had to develop a "boss plan" to take back to the Vancouver Courier and present the plan to my colleagues at the seminar. It was both humbling and clarifying.

A couple of criticisms, neither of them fatal. The group attending the seminar was too large by about five to 10 students. The larger size didn't diminish my ability to learn, but I didn't get a chance to get to know everyone as well as I'd liked. Poynter, like everyone else in media, has fallen on harder times and can't afford smaller sessions as it used to. That's the way it goes.

Some of the sessions were also more attuned to what's going in American culture and U.S. media, and that focus is to be expected considering it's an American school. A session on covering diversity, for example, was very much about the problems U.S. media has in telling stories about race in America. The discussion was interesting to observe, but the dynamic we face in Canada about race and culture is very different than what's going on the U.S. In some ways we're miles ahead of them in being more inclusive. But we also like to pretend problems with diversity and culture don't exist and hope they'll go away. We need more courage there.

Did I become a better newspaper editor after returning from Poynter? Yes. I applied the lessons learned in Florida on my first week back at the job at the Courier, including implementing my boss plan. Changes in staff assignments, better planning, and changes in the Courier's focus have all been influenced by those lessons. Several months later, I'm still applying those lessons and continuing to learn. I'd recommend Poynter to any journalist eager to elevate their game.




Eric SzetoEric Szeto
Global Okanagan

The Poynter Institute was an eye-opening experience. The course I took "TV Power Reporting" reminded me just how powerful and moving TV news can be when it's done right.

You can only learn so much in j-school and in the field so getting a chance to getaway for a week of professional development has been invaluable. Since Poynter I've learned and tried applying many of the new skills and techniques like building suspense in a story, reaction shots and even how to shoot creative standups. It's about taking stories to a higher level and Poynter gave me the tools.

By far the most important thing I took away from Poynter was how to focus my stories using three words. By having a rule of "who did what" before I write a story, it's been so much easier to keep scripts tight, concise and in many ways, more effective.

I've also been trying to use to aim for people's emotions when writing stories. People remember stories they feel more than the facts they learn in a story and I've been actively trying to write with that in mind since.

Of the 17 people taking part in the course, I was one of two Canadians. Most of the journalists were American and I felt that made the Poynter experience even more unique. I really learned how different US news markets are compared to Canada. Americans on average are given a minute 30 seconds for a story, I'm given 2 minutes. But watching their stories showed how I could shorten and make my own stories quick hitting and to the point.

The instructors Al Tompkins and Les Rose were so kind and receptive and made it an environment where anyone could say anything without judgement. To show their commitment, Les stayed with us until 10pm just to go over stories, just to show us how a little tweak here or there could take stories up a notch.

While I was looking forward to the "30 mins of Fame" session where we got critiques of our stories, I found it at times not as effective as I hoped. I found the discussion got off-topic, and feedback was sometimes irrelevant since many of the factors contributing to how the story was aired were out of our control.

Poynter has already been beneficial to my newsroom in an immediate sense. I work in a bureau in the South Okanagan so it's just me and a camerman working together five days a week. After I got back, we discussed different techniques we could use for standups. We've already applied some of that with success.

I also offered to give seminars or talk to anyone who is interested in learning what I learned at Poynter. In some ways, I feel like a Poynter disciple imparting their message to everyone because I have only praise for the school and the instructors.

As for the Jack Webster Fellowship, I feel there isn't much that needs to change. Managing to get a week off for professional development in a tropical locale, and having meals and accommodations paid for really allowed me to concentrate on improving my skills. It also energized and inspired me to always want to improve as a journalist.




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