Rewards reflect improved quality

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 May, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 May, 1996, 12:00am

The South China Morning Post implemented its integrated journalism training and staff development programme in 1993.

Our needs analysis was based on the changing requirements of the Hong Kong environment as it moves towards 1997.

Since then we have been successful in developing a team of 'home-grown' talent which is committed to journalism in Hong Kong, and to the South China Morning Post, through a training and development programme unique to the territory.

The editorial department training staff include, training manager (liaises with management, implements programme, conducts workshops, co-ordinates use of internal and external expertise); systems development and training editor for technical training; staff with split duties (includes sub-editor/journalism lecturer now on exchange providing sub-editing training at the China Daily, and sub-editor/trainer training journalists in Vietnam.

In addition there are contract professional teachers for speed writing, English, Cantonese and Putonghua.

The objectives of the programme are - to develop a 'home-grown' team of journalists committed to Hong Kong; build a competent team able to cover the increasing number of day-to-day assignments in Cantonese and Putonghua, and satisfy demand for more China coverage.

The programme also aims to develop a competent trilingual team of journalists in preparation for 1997; establish a practical and ethical base for young journalists through cadetships; establish a structured career path for journalists, at least to middle management; provide staff opportunities for personal and professional development; boost staff morale and staff retention; speed up production through improved journalistic skills; promote the SCMP as a source of training for local staff, not just a workplace, and finally, contribute to the development of journalism in Hong Kong.

Goals were identified through reader surveys, community feedback to managers and industry liaison; executive-led development goals in view of SCMP and Hong Kong needs; section editors' feedback with regard to weaknesses and goals for skills improvement; consultation with new recruits, continued monitoring through appraisals and consultation.

We expect that the impact on the business will be - less staff turnover due to a defined career path and increased job satisfaction; more trilingual, competent journalists; more and better local editorial coverage; more staff committed to Hong Kong, rather than transient expatriate staff; faster production time due to improved skills and work quality; expanded number of middle-level managers and supervisors committed to Hong Kong, and recognition of SCMP as a provider of a professional product and training.

The editorial training programme is an integrated approach to attract and develop journalism skills for the company and the industry, starting with temporary and part-time opportunities for university students and extending to full-time journalists and managers.

The programme is implemented at four levels. The initial stage involves one-to two-month paid internships for students mostly from Hong Kong and also overseas universities, and cash scholarships for top achievers at local universities.

There are one-year cadetships with on-the-job training and later, chances to specialise. Exchanges with overseas newspapers are also available to staff.

Incentives are given for internal and external courses relevant to their job. A 50 per cent subsidy is granted. There are also study scholarships.

A few difficulties were encountered. Firstly, there is no local integrated journalism training programme to emulate. Material had to be developed in-house. Editors and section heads were consulted for a programme outline based on needs. And also, the training manager was sent overseas to learn from other newspapers. Skills weaknesses were another problem, in particular language weaknesses. These deficiencies were overcome through courses and workshops.

To gain staff commitment, financial incentives linked to specific goals are given.

The programme required external expertise as well in special skills and knowledge such as speed writing, law, Putonghua and newspaper design.

Various methods were used to evaluate the outcomes and benefits. These included criterion-referenced tests (speed writing, current affairs, English), simple diagnostic tests (used during individual English lessons), product evaluations (supervisors' feedback on work quality) and interviews.

The programme has been effective in improved staff retention and also the number of experienced, trilingual journalists.

This programme has also enhanced the reputation of the SCMP. Awards won by reporters and photographers are evidence of improvement in performance or output.

The programme contributes to SCMP business strategies in terms of preparing a larger team of professional multi-lingual journalists, more quality reporters and photographers, and enhanced reputation of our paper.

Excerpts from a presentation made by Beryl Cook, editorial training manager of the South China Morning Post