A TRADESMAN, it is said, is only as good as his tools. As true as that cliche may be, the reverse carries even more weight. The best of tools in untrained hands can not be expected to produce optimum results. With the economics of that firmly in mind, the training of editorial staff for the new Atex EdPage system was given a high priority. The conversion to full 'on-screen' production of the South China Morning Post was always going to be a road fraught with stumbling blocks and a comprehensive training programme was seen as one way to complete the journey. The immediate need was to find teachers. With editorial systems editor Richard Simmons immersed in research, development and adaption of the system to the SCMP's particular needs, it became obvious that there would be a need for other teachers to be found. That left the choice of importing teaching consultants with no special knowledge of the newspaper's requirements, style or personalities - or training up members of the SCMP staff to teach their fellows. The decision was made to pursue the second option and Mary-Ellen Hepworth from the sub-editors' desk was one of those handed the brief. While she had worked on a variety of computer systems during her journalistic career, Hepworth had neither experienced the EdPage system nor had any teaching background. 'When David Armstrong [the editor-in-chief] first suggested the position, I have to admit it wasn't something that I felt I wanted to jump at,' Hepworth said. 'However, while there was a reluctance to move away from what I saw as 'real' journalism, the opportunity to learn so much more about the systems' side of production held a lot of attraction. 'As David explained it at the time, the thinking was that using staff journalists to teach would short-circuit some of the more obvious problems associated with the change-over in that we were already aware of what journalists needed out of the system and could, therefore, teach other people the best ways to achieve those ends.' The first priority, however, was to teach the teachers. 'As we were beginners in what we were expected to be teaching to other people in little over a month, the prospect of learning enough to be able to pass on the learning certainly was a bit daunting,' Hepworth said. That learning process started with an intensive three-week course under the guidance of Atex's computer system's Boston-based trouble-shooter, Charlie Brown. During that time, Hepworth had not only to learn the raw techniques and information to be passed on, she had to formulate a teaching programme that would set the course for full EdPage utilisation. The early recognition that an effective training programme would more likely translate to effective implementation of the EdPage system to editorial daily production meant the classes would be small with intensive, repetitive programmes. At a time when EdPage terminals were a scarcity, four were set aside for the training room where the trainees were to spend two weeks assimilating and formalising their own relationship with the new system. 'Some people took to it like a duck to water, while, for others, the transition was, well, not so easy,' Hepworth said. 'What we tried to provide was one week of familiarisation in a fairly structured classroom environment where people were guided around the hardware and basically introduced to what the system could do. 'With the four trainees having a terminal to themselves, there was always the opportunity to offer a bit more help to those having trouble coming to terms with what really was a new work environment,' Hepworth said. The second week of training belonged to practical application and practice. Members of the first class took their seats towards the end of October last year and the first production run of an EdPage page followed just three weeks later. 'Of course there were some problems with the early runs - mainly associated with changes to copy flow and handling that the sub-editors had yet to be trained for - but all in all it went very well,' Hepworth said. 'As more people were trained and the technical and formatting problems were ironed out, the production became smoother.' Hepworth continued to keep in touch with training but her role allowed her to expand into a wider field of EdPage application, with format writing and trouble-shooting, through the introduction of the Morning Post Centre operation. 'Staying in touch with production requirements and people you have trained at both Tai Po and Dorset House [in Quarry Bay] can be trying at times, but it is also very satisfying.'