Simple mentorship strategies for news organisations

In busy newsrooms, coaching and mentoring are often put on the back burner. This means that for many journalists operating in the fast-paced, resource-limited news industry, finding a mentor may be accidental or a matter of luck. Even if it does happen, mentoring is often inconsistent. This is partly because news managers have a lot on their plate – tight deadlines, financial constraints and sustainability worries leave little time for dedicated mentoring. For some, mentoring might never have been a regular thing in their workplace, so the idea can be a bit overwhelming.

It goes without saying that mentoring is vital for the long-term success of journalism. It sets the stage for nurturing a new generation of journalists who will maintain the standard of quality reporting and storytelling.

Establishing a mentoring or coaching initiative may seem daunting, but it is both achievable and necessary. Here are practical approaches to incorporate mentorship that won’t strain limited resources, and will hopefully give you the inspiration and motivation to consider establishing a mentoring or coaching initiative in your organisation.

Why mentoring maters

  • It facilitates a culture of continuous learning. This process ensures that journalists are equipped to navigate the complexities of the modern media landscape. Mentorship empowers individual journalists and contributes to the collective dynamism of the newsroom.
  • It empowers journalists to navigate industry challenges. Mentors offer support by providing practical life lessons, both within and outside the newsroom. They serve as sounding boards, offering a safe space to discuss ethical dilemmas and professional challenges.
  • It provides space for new voices and perspectives. Inclusive mentoring empowers all journalists, including female journalists, those with disabilities and historically marginalised groups. This leads to a richer tapestry of stories that better reflect diverse communities.
  • It creates a pipeline of capable media leaders. Mentoring plays a pivotal role in nurturing the next generation of media leaders. Seasoned journalists have the unique opportunity to impart critical leadership skills. Through personalised guidance, they can share insights on effective decision-making, team management and strategic thinking. Mentors can actively involve their mentees in high-level editorial discussions, providing exposure to the broader workings of media organisations.

The blueprint

Create a mentorship committee: Form a dedicated group of three to five people responsible for overseeing mentorship initiatives. This committee should include a diverse mix of individuals from various departments and experience levels. It may consist of senior journalists, editors, human resources personnel, and representatives from different teams like multimedia, digital and print. The committee’s main tasks should include pairing mentors with mentees, tracking progress, addressing challenges and gathering feedback to improve the program.

Pair experienced journalists with newcomers: Begin by assessing the skills, interests and goals of both mentors and mentees. Clearly outline the specific areas of focus for each pairing. Regular check-ins, like weekly or bi-weekly meetings, provide opportunities for mentors to offer personalized guidance, share insights and address any challenges or questions that arise.

Encourage cross-departmental mentoring: Foster knowledge-sharing and mentorship across different departments within the newsroom. A senior video journalist from the multimedia team might, for instance, partner with a junior reporter from the print team. This pairing allows the junior reporter to learn about video storytelling techniques, while the senior journalist gains insights into print reporting. Alternatively, the newsroom can create a platform, like a shared digital space, where employees can easily communicate and exchange ideas.

Establish peer-to-peer mentoring cycles: Colleagues at similar skill or experience levels can provide empathetic insights and practical advice. This level playing field fosters a comfortable environment for open discussion and constructive critique, where everyone feels heard and valued. Peer mentoring encourages a spirit of camaraderie and teamwork, as each member of the group becomes invested in each other’s growth and success.

Integrate mentorship into performance evaluations: Set clear mentorship objectives for each journalist, aligning them with their specific roles and career development goals. Integrate the mentorship component into the existing performance evaluation framework. This reinforces the importance of mentorship and creates a tangible link between mentorship efforts and individual career advancement.

Utilise external mentors or coaches: Seek out experienced professionals from other newsrooms, organisations or freelance journalists to act as external mentors or coaches. They offer a fresh set of eyes and a different approach to problem-solving, enriching the learning experience for mentees. To implement this, newsrooms can establish partnerships or networks with neighbouring media outlets, journalism associations or professional organizations. These connections can serve as a pool of potential mentors or coaches. Additionally, freelance journalists or experts in specific fields can be approached for their valuable insights.  This diversity ensures mentees have access to a wide array of knowledge and skills that can significantly enhance their professional development. They can provide fresh perspectives and insights.

ACME Mwalimu

The African Centre for Media Excellence's training unit, known as ACME Mwalimu, scours news platforms and online resources to curate the best training tips and resources for journalists and media organisations, empowering them to become impactful contributors to public debate and development. If you have a training tip or question, you can reach out to ACME Mwalimu at training[at]acme-ug.org.

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