Coaching At CNN - You Gotta Be Kidding Me!

My favorite and most exhausting coaching assignment is working with journalists from around the world at the CNN Fellowship

Through our partnership with The Coaching Company, we provide performance, editorial and technical skills training at CNN, TVA (Montreal) and at network affiliate stations in the U.S. The networks hire us to coach their newsrooms on topics ranging from visual image and voice coaching to training print reporters and producers how to use video cameras.

The emerging trend in journalism is All Platform Journalism, meaning print, broadcast and Internet reporting is slowly morphing into one person — someone who can shoot, write, edit and be the on-camera reporter. It is a controversial shift in the industry to say the least. But for us, it is a perfect match for our skill set.

 It is not unusual for me to be in Atlanta coaching at CNN while Kevin Spivey is at KGO in San Francisco coaching producers on camera operation and editing.

 My favorite and most exhausting coaching assignment is working with journalists from around the world at the CNN Fellowship which takes place several times a year at CNN headquarters in Atlanta.

 The Fellows are selected by CNN as rewards for outstanding performance by individual journalists from networks that are part of CNN's international affiliate family. Each session, 12 to 14 broadcast journalists come to Atlanta and learn all about CNN. The Fellowship is the personal pet project of CNN founder, Ted Turner. Ted, as he insists to be called, meets each of the Fellows that participate and they spend 3 weeks observing various divisions in action.

 Our role is to provide 3 days of comprehensive coaching for the Fellows.  We have group and individual sessions based on their priorities, ranging from how to produce compelling stories, including stand up and live shot coaching, to management coaching for news directors being asked to do more with fewer and fewer resources. In July 14, Fellows from Israel, Greece, Vietnam, Belgium, South Africa, Turkey and 8 additional countries met with me, sharing their demo tapes and seeking feedback on their personal agendas. We also sent the Fellows out to produce a news story utilizing the techniques we coached. After a few days in meetings you can tell the street reporters are dying to get out and report — its what they do best.

For me, coaching them is a lot harder than producing content myself. It takes every ounce of my energy and waning mental skills to provide deep coaching in every session. I feel there is a huge responsibility to give every person my A game. That means you have to be really focused for every session. I don't go into the one on one coaching with any real agenda and I don't provide any coaching until there is a real sense of trust with the person coming to me for help. So many times reporters are waiting for some sort of textbook list to help them. But what I've learned is that coaching from a textbook is never as helpful as specific and custom recommendations built around 30 years of experience.  And the key skill for me as it is for the journalists themselves is listening. If we will really listen before we coach we often find the hidden causes for improving performance. I enjoy these sessions, but I could not do them all the time — they just take so much focus and commitment. The feedback from the Fellows is very positive, so as long as I feel I am providing helpful recommendations, I hope to continue participating. And again, this is something I never thought I'd be doing when I began my broadcasting career as a weekend sports anchor at KOOL-TV (CBS) in Phoenix in 1979...