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3 tips for newsroom training programs from Dow Jones News Fund managing director

Linda Shockley speaking at Florida A&M University. Photo by Christian J. Whitaker, from Dow Jones News Fund

In her 32 years as managing director of the Dow Jones News Fund, Linda Shockley has received numerous honors and helped countless student journalists advance their careers in news. 

This summer, the Fund secured virtual internships for nearly all its 78 interns, despite the pandemic. 

As Shockley nears retirement next month, the Institute reached out to her by email to discuss trends in emerging journalists, what’s next for the Fund, and her legacy.

You’ve had a front-row seat in the development of high school and college journalists for more than three decades. What are some of the more recent trends you’ve seen in workshop and internship program planning? 

Shockley: We found using virtual training for interns this year had lots of positive benefits. For example, Erin Ailworth of The Wall Street Journal spoke to interns about covering disasters and trauma from the streets of Minneapolis in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. That would not have been possible without the technology. 

Even before the pandemic, we used webinars to “visit” campuses, classrooms and journalism programs and to bring in speakers interns might not ordinarily see. The connections have been shaky at times, in fact, hampering communication with frozen screens and the inability to accurately “read” the audience.

Training participants are clamoring for hands-on experiences. People want to leave knowing how to do something they didn’t know before. Skills delivery is the biggest trend I see. Add that as people need to listen and be heard, virtual tough conversations will become more frequent. 

This year has challenged many to pivot their operations in response to the pandemic. How did DJNF respond in order to connect interns with host organizations? 

Shockley: We started with the premise that interns selected for the 2020 programs were still Dow Jones News Fund interns whether they could go to work in a newsroom or not. Interns who worked, we agreed, must be paid at least $450 per week or $15 per hour. These students were entitled to the benefits of selection including year-end scholarships, professional memberships and free subscriptions. 

Our board of directors decided in March that traditional pre-internship training as well as the internships could only be done remotely for safety’s sake. We notified the students and the media partners of that decision. Companies were already dropping their summer plans so we had to reconfirm all 78 internships with employers and interns. We also worked with j-school placement offices.

To replace 15 internships, we appealed to our alumni network, which resulted in jobs with the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and Voice of America. Answering a stream of requests from members of the Institute for Nonprofit News, we wound up with 78 paid positions. Some employers and interns agreed to defer until the fall, next spring or summer.

What advice would you have for newsroom leaders exploring how to make remote or in-person internship opportunities meaningful as this pandemic wears on? 

Shockley: I like what my colleagues at The Wall Street Journal said about the need to “triple-down.” Interns need technological resources, mentors, tuned-in supervision and newsroom coaches, even if the news staff is dispersed around the country.

The tumult of the pandemic, demonstrations and unrest make it imperative for managers to gauge how people are coping – emotionally and physically. Without technology and internet access from employers, some students, whether urban, rural or suburban, won’t be able to work at their fullest capability.

If editors are serious about covering communities of color, they must do so understanding how our society’s systems are underpinned by race as a major determinant of where we live, attend school, shop, access government officials and services, receive medical care, work, worship and vote (or can’t vote). Without this kind of introspective, fact-based training, newsrooms will find themselves re-litigating past debates over inequity.

The DJNF program is known for its rigorous, energetic training workshops. What are three tips for editors who want to create training programs in their newsrooms? 

Shockley: First, find out what employees want (as well as need) to be effective at their jobs. Listen to and value input from staff.

Second, engage external or staff experts who can help them learn by doing (whether virtual or in-person).

Third, have employees use those skills or new methods right away. If they don’t use them, they will lose them and the training will have been wasted.

Under your leadership, the DJNF has evolved to meet the needs of quickly changing newsrooms. How do you stay on the pulse of what should be next? 

Shockley: I read a lot about the industry, attend a wide range of media and educator conferences, and belong to a host of journalism groups. 

The professors who operate our pre-internship training were already teaching virtually, which worked to the Fund’s advantage. They are among some of the smartest people in the news industry and like others have been generous with their advice and answers to my questions. 

The Dow Jones News Fund’s board is packed with innovative thinkers including its former executive director, the deputy editor in chief and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, foundation leaders, corporate executives and college educators. I have benefited from their guidance.

What are you most looking forward to in retirement? 

Shockley: I’m most looking forward to spending more time with my grandchildren. I expect to help journalism organizations, do some historical research, and focus on preservation work in my local community.


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