I’m fortunate enough to be involved, albeit part-time, with the recently re-established Independent Newspapers Cadet School. Three years ago the group, which publishes titles such as The Star, Cape Times, Argus and Pretoria News, decided to revive the cadet school which had been closed down many years before because of financial constraints and a changing media environment.
In February we took in our third set of cadets, nine in total. All of them have some form of tertiary training although having a journalism degree was not a pre-requisite. In fact very few of the candidates we interviewed had been anywhere near a journalism school. What we looked for instead were raw talent, a desire to learn and a sense of news. We completed that process at the end of November last year and in February the nine cadets selected began their nine-month on-the-job training.
The media is undergoing a massive transition and the days of simply printing words on paper and distributing it are long over. Today the internet and mobile devices are pushing news provision into new arenas, many of which we as old-school journalists are still uncomfortable with. Nonetheless, there is little value in teaching cadets exclusively old school skills while the world around them is moving rapidly towards the new.
An understanding of digital and social media is today an important part of the journalist’s toolbox and in order to promote these skills in a practical way we have tried to integrate a number of popular online tools into our daily work with cadets. We use a Facebook group for basic communication with cadets such as listing timetables for the week and so on. We also have a WordPress-based blog which we use to publish cadet work online. We have also insisted that cadets set up and manage their own blogs. Not personal ones but the cadets from each region (Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal) jointly manage a blog for each region. These are linked from the main cadet school blog.
It’s still early days and we’re less than a month into this year’s training and we no doubt have many lessons still to learn. But in this period of transition there is not a lot of time to waste making sure absolutely everything works properly and exactly as need be. It’s a time for learning on the job, even for us.