NZME cultivates, retains journalists with its People Programme

By Laura Franklin

New Zealand Herald

Auckland, New Zealand

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Developing and retaining the most talented journalists in New Zealand is a primary component supporting New Zealand Media and Entertainment’s key strategic objective to lead the future of news and journalism in New Zealand. 

To ensure our newsrooms continue to deliver world class journalism to audiences — whether they engage in our print reporting, digital storytelling, or video coverage — requires dedicated teams of storytellers. As an employer, we must provide an environment that supports and fosters learning and development so our teams can stay ahead of our fast-moving industry.

The extraordinary news events in New Zealand during 2019 and then the impact of the worldwide pandemic in the early part of 2020 highlighted how a people programme premised on care and evolution pays dividends in reducing staff churn and maintaining engagement, especially when teams face some of their toughest challenges of their careers.

The new programme was designed to provide a supportive environment for journalists.
The new programme was designed to provide a supportive environment for journalists.

Taking a new approach

We took a flexible, modern, and personalised approach to training and mentoring to motivate, inspire, and upskill editorial staff.

We also looked internally to our senior editors, internal experts, and experienced journalists to champion and deliver the programme. Working peer to peer, with training and insights delivered by leaders with hands-on experience, ensured a greater level of engagement than if we had relied on external providers.

Mentors provided training on a variety of technical skills.
Mentors provided training on a variety of technical skills.

Our in-house experts and leaders offered short, engaging, and effective training many times a week to 350-plus journalists in our newsrooms across New Zealand, plus longer immersive sessions such as full-day workshops and one-on-one mentoring and coaching.

A small team coordinated training and insight sessions using digital tools from Slack messaging to Zoom video meetings focusing on five themes:

  • Journalism fundamentals.
  • Technical skills.
  • Understanding digital.
  • New storytelling (such as podcasts and data journalism).
  • Leadership and personal skills.

Stepping up efforts

That commitment to personal wellbeing was brought into sharp relief on March 15, 2019, when New Zealand was rocked by the Christchurch mosque attacks which killed 51 people and injured 49.

Our journalists found themselves covering an event the likes of which New Zealand had never seen.  People from all parts of our operation needed help in working through the complex after-effects.

We developed materials using learnings from the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia. The message conveyed is that, in our newsrooms, it’s safe and encouraged to speak up about mental wellbeing.

After the Christchurch mosque attacks, NZME developed learning materials based on content from the Dart Centre for Journalism & Trauma at Columbia.
After the Christchurch mosque attacks, NZME developed learning materials based on content from the Dart Centre for Journalism & Trauma at Columbia.

Our managers received extra training on ways to support their teams and themselves — and how to have sensitive conversations about stress and trauma.

In 2019, our People Programme delivered more than 1,100 hours of workshops and training sessions across 26 newsrooms, plus untold hours of one-on-one coaching, mentoring, and counselling. 

Measuring success

We’ve looked at some specific metrics in terms of measuring the impact of the programme.

During 2019, the number of reporters who chose to leave the NZ Herald (NZME’s flagship news brand) reduced by 50% from 2018.

Engagement remained healthy. Nearly 80% of editorial staff agreed with the statement, “this organisation strongly supports learning and development” — 26% ahead of the Australia-New Zealand average for media companies. 

That high score was also recorded by our community-based newsrooms — some in remote parts of New Zealand —indicating the Zoom and Slack methods of training have enabled them to take part effectively.

Delivering mentoring in an informal and flexible way has also proved popular with younger staff. More than 50 mentors shared their expertise in 2019.

The People Programme helped our teams to survive and thrive in a challenging year, and the scheme will continue to adapt to an ever-changing environment to ensure our people flourish and choose to remain with NZME. 

About Laura Franklin

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