What We Can Do For You

“Michael and Murdoch delivered invaluable training on rights reporting and investigative journalism in the classrooms and newsrooms of Accra, soaked up by budding reporters hungry to expose injustices and by media managers eager to boost bottom lines on the back of hard-hitting journalism. Their training no doubt left an indelible mark on the journalists they met in Ghana, one of Africa’s most thriving press environments, in an age where honest, ethical and gutsy journalism is more important than ever — just the kind of work Michael and Murdoch stand for.”

— Jenny Vaughan, Vietnam Bureau Chief, Agency France-Presse and former JHR Program Director in Africa

We work with reporters and other news-gathering journalists to refresh, polish and build their skills. We work with publishers, editors-in-chief, line managers, sub-editors, reporters and other journalists to sharpen strategy and boost the business.We work with editors who want to make their newsrooms more intrepid, more agile, more efficient, to pursue excellence.We work with publishers and their teams to build success and establish sustainable operations.

We have worked as publishers, editorial VPs, editors-in-chief and managing editors, department editors, sub-editors and reporters. We have learned from some of the best, and we combine our experience with the foremost ideas of other top journalists to provide effective training and sharp, practical advice and business plans.

Our experience extends from selling press units and building revenue to re-organizing newsrooms, transforming organizations, reducing costs, building news-gathering capacity, re-evaluating and defining staff roles for greater efficiency, building effective and nimble workflows, and our favorite — coaching and training on traditional and new journalism skills.
We customize our work to suit clients. Whether you want help moving a traditional organization away from stodgy print work habits to an agile digital approach, or launching or building a new operation, we’ll work with you to achieve success. 

We love working with journalists, building skills and engaging in discussion about what works and what doesn’t, dos and don’ts, tricks of the trade. We have established training sessions in several areas, which we regularly update (see below). We will prepare custom training sessions on any topic requested.

Here is a summary of our training programs. Most take 1-3 hours, so a training day can be built around two or three sessions. Or we can develop a deeper training program on any topic, to be covered over a full day, or multiple topics on multiple days — whatever is most effective for a client.

Training Sessions

(more details, and customization, are available on request)

Strategy/culture training (aimed at newsroom leaders, and frontline journalists)

  • The elements of an investigative story

To us, “enterprise” journalism means work that goes beyond straightforward reporting of events or “he said/she said” accounts. “Investigative Journalism” means a specific type of enterprise work. In this session we develop our audience’s sense of that. We also delve into effective ways of identifying topics to investigate, and how to focus such efforts. Starting small or going big, this training adds jet fuel to your efforts.

This session requires roughly 2 hours*

  • Building a “watchdog” culture or an enterprising/investigative journalism culture throughout a newsroom

An investigative reporter or a team of them can be magnificent in producing impactful work. But impactful work need not – should not – be limited to such reporters. In this session we explore how to build an enterprise approach into beats and everyday news reporting. This session prepares individuals and organizations to produce work that distinguishes them from competitors. 

This session takes roughly 2 hours*

  • Ethics challenges in enterprising journalism

Challenging ethical conundrums are far more likely to arise during investigative and enterprise work than during routine work. In this session we examine why. We look at examples to help journalists reflect on this reality and prepare to address such difficult issues. We also aim to stimulate discussion and add some fun to the training day. 

This session requires approximately 90 minutes*

  • Newsroom structure to support enterprising work (focusing on the critical editor/reporter relationship)

Investigative and enterprise work rely on a different editor/reporter relationship than does routine work. It’s not a “make the trains run on time” focus, but a “work together in good faith to do our best work” relationship. This session explores the thinking behind that reality, and presents ideas and techniques to increase the likelihood of success.

This session requires approximately 90 minutes*

  • Leadership

Sure, some people are natural leaders. Some don’t sink in the sink-or-swim world (though the damaging failures are far too many.) But leadership is a learned skill. We have learned by not sinking (not too often, at least…) and by training under and working under some of the best in the business. Drawing on our experience, and tips and wisdom gathered from others, this session helps equip a leader at any stage of his or her career with some excellent dos and don’ts, new tools, new ideas, new inspiration.

How to lead from the front, leading with the unique challenges of digital and social media, how to actively listen, how to prepare for and conduct difficult discussions, and more practical and inspirational guidance.

This session requires approximately 90 minutes*

  • Organizing for the digital present, and future

We have no magic beans. We don’t have all the answers for media engaged in shifting from print (where the future is known…alas) to digital (where the future is unknown, but we know that’s where the public, the audience and readers, will be, and where the business will have to be.) Anyone who tells you they have all the answers is a charlatan, or worse. We don’t believe a one-size-suits-all approach works, either. No newsroom can succeed by taking the plan and approach of another in its entirety. We do believe we have a plan that will help you develop a plan. And that given 2-3 months we can help any organization do the hard work needed to have its own plan. We can’t do it in a day (or even a week.) No one can. But in this session we can help you see how to start work on your plan.

This session takes between two and three hours, depending on the group’s willingness to engage on the difficult realities they face*

Fake news

It’s everywhere and it’s everything. Real journalism is under attack, not only from the powerful who want to destroy our credibility and influence but from bad players who want to spread lies and disinformation for monetary gain or to sow division. The new challenges of verification, finding trusted sources, chasing down the truth, maintaining credibility, avoiding being duped…the world is almost upside down as far as how journalists have to deal with information today compared to as little as 10 years ago. And it will get worse, as insidious deep fakes pervade the flow of information. This sessions aims to outline the challenges and provide tools and strategies for coping.

This session takes approximately 90 minutes.

Working with robots (readying for the world of artificial intelligence)

It’s already here, it can’t be avoided and it’s going to progress at an unimagined pace. Is your newsroom ready? There are respected news agencies today producing a third or more of their written content through artificial intelligence programs, crafting stories from data. Software that can translate a speech and then generate a news story about it already exist. Soon the long-respected craft skill of cutting a 700-word story to 450 words will be assigned to programs, not people. So, too, with many headlines and other aspects of presentation. Is this going to be just another technical development to justify cutting jobs? Or will the best newsrooms see it as opportunity to deploy resources to work that distinguishes them from competitors?

This session takes approximately 90 minutes

  • A brief history of free speech.

We believe in the human right of free expression. We believe the healthiest societies allow speech unhindered by authority unless someone directly advocates violence. We believe these value underpin journalism.

Increasingly, media houses and newsrooms work in environments that challenge these beliefs – from the USA, where the president decries as “fake” any news he doesn’t like or that doesn’t reflect positively on him, to dozen of places where authoritarian regimes or supposedly well-meaning autocrats seek to “protect” the citizenry from ideas. 

In this session we examine the history of free speech going back a couple of millennia or more, reflecting that as Martin Luther King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Or more pedantically, sometimes our societies take steps forward, sometimes back; we must hope for a net result forward. For those struggling with how to maintain faith in the face of demagogic attacks on free speech and media, and draconian anti-speech and anti-journalism laws, this sessions aims to provide perspective, and hope.

This session requires approximately 90 minutes*

Skills training (aimed primarily at frontline journalists, and those who supervise and coach them)

  • Preparing for and conducting effective interviews.

Some journalists are naturally better at interviewing than others. But there are many aspects of this vital part of our work that can be critically assessed, and that can be learned. In this session we explore why this is, and how and why to better prepare for interviews, and how to do interviews — how to develop an interview game plan, how to frame questions, how to follow up, how to get answers not obfuscation, how to listen, how to not to burn your interview subject (at least not too soon!) and how not get burned yourself.

This session requires approximately one hour*

  • Finding, developing and maintaining sources.

A journalist who thinks of sources as people he or she contacts only when needed, or thinks that finding sources is something best or mostly done when as a source is needed, is aiming low. This session looks at the finding and the care and feeding of sources, with creative ideas and effective techniques for identifying possible sources and tapping them before they’re needed – so that when needed they’re more likely to be responsive.

This session requires approximately one hour*

  • The elements of an investigative story or project.

Once in a long while, a journalist stumbles onto a great story. Once in an even longer while, a great story stumbles into your newsroom, begging to be had. Take it when it happens, and don’t brush it away (we’ll cite a couple of infamous examples of that happening…) Alas, though, depending on that sort of serendipity is not a path to success. In this session we explore what makes a great investigative or enterprise project, how to identify possibilities, how to define them, how to avoid pitfalls in pursuit of them, how to succeed.

This session requires approximately two hours*

  • Clarity in writing (or, how to avoid writing English mush…)

Write what you mean, mean what you write. Write powerfully. Write to stand out, to make an impact. It always mattered. It matters more than ever in writing for digital platforms.

Too often, journalists simply regurgitate what a newsmaker or official says, without understanding it, without trying to help readers understand it. Too often we use words because we’re familiar with hearing them or seeing them in writing, but we don’t fully know what they mean. Too often we repeat bureaucratic nonsense. Too often we write mushy, slushy stuff that makes a reader’s head hurt.

In this session, we show how insidious this is, and how to avoid it. We look at how to spur one’s own creativity to write in original ways. We have fun looking at examples, good and bad. We don’t aim to be (just) pedantic, but to show how dull writing or imprecise writing can fail the objectives of journalism.

This session requires approximately one and a half hours*

* Our session times are estimates because we don’t work by standing in front of people and droning on. We seek to impart some of what we’ve learned through a combined 90 years in journalism, and what we have garnered from others among the best in their field. But we mostly seek to engage our audience and stimulate participation and interaction. Some of the best moments in our sessions come when the participants start leading one another in discussion and debate and sharing of experiences and ideas, and we can simply be listeners and learners too. The actual time taken for any of our training depends on the extent of participation by and interaction with the journalists present, which we regard as an essential part of how we work, and especially because we work best as a team.

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