Friday, November 30, 2012

Mastering Leadership: A conversation with Daily Post editor Alison Gow

Wednesday, 5 December 2013, is a milestone for the Journalism Leaders Programme.

It's been almost seven years since we welcomed the first cohort to Preston. Since then, we've engaged with hundreds of editors and senior journalists from around the world through a wide variety of  activities - from non-academic workshops, conferences, seminars and training courses, to postgraduate certificates and diplomas.

But the five editors from Bulgaria, South Africa and the UK who earn their Master of Arts in Journalism Leadership awards next week, will be the first cohort who have pressed through to the end.

We wanted to find out about just why they invested in the experience. Here's what Alison Gow, editor of the Daily Post in North  Wales, had to say:

Traditionally, journalists have moved up the career ladder by learning all they can from the person on the rung above. Why did you choose to participate in the Journalism Leaders Programme?
Daily Post editor Alison Gow
I joined the Leaders Programme in 2007 under a Trinity Mirror initiative, along with 12 other colleagues from the regional editorial teams. The course made me ask myself a lot of hard questions about my perceptions of journalism, storytelling, audience, management and - not least - where I wanted to go in my career. I also emerged with a post-graduate qualification, but I really felt that I wanted to be pushed further in my thinking, so when François [Nel, founding director of the programme] said there was an opportunity to continue, and work towards an MA, I knew I wanted to do it.

It's very easy to get complacent when you've been doing something for a long time. I like being out of my comfort zone and having what I might consider accepted norms challenged, but learning new things (including quite practical things, like financial planning) it also helped me frame and articulate my own ideas around Journalism. It was like having a tool-kit of practical and theoretical methods, and that has been invaluable.

Balancing the demands of editing a newspaper with the academic activities - residential weeks in Preston and applied projects - could not have been easy. What kept you going? 

Practically, there is a lot of support from tutors during the residential weeks and via distance learning, so that network was vital. I'm indebted to them all for their assistance. I also enjoyed a lot of the readings (less so the ones about budgeting...)

My course-mates were brilliant, funny and clever - I consider them my friends now, so that was a rewarding aspect. I also had great support from Alan Edmunds, my editor-in-chief while I was at Media Wales, who was unexpectedly cool with the idea of me heading off to Preston in work time to do academic 'stuff'.

But mostly I think what kept me going was that I enjoyed learning new things, sharing and getting feedback on ideas with likeminded people,learning from amazing guest lecturers, talking through industry disruption, innovation, people management - things that impact on us working in the Press every day.

 The Journalism Leaders Programme offers non-academic routes for those who just want to attend residential sessions, as well as an academic route with exit points at postgraduate certificate, post graduate diploma and Master of Arts levels. Why did you keep going to the end – including writing a research dissertation?

 I went straight into local newspapers from school, aged 18, and my last qualification was the NCE. So although that was right for me then, I had reached the stage where I wanted to learn more. I would never have had the discipline to do it on my own, but I also wouldn't have wanted a career break to achieve a qualification - the Leaders Programme was the perfect fit. The MA gave me a goal to aim for, and focused my attention on investigating something that really mattered to me as an editor - namely, how was the role changing, and what was it becoming.

How do you think your company benefitted from your participation?

 Without the original leaders course I would never have specialised in digital journalism, and I think the knowledge, enthusiasm and - probably - blinkered fixation on online storytelling I gained as a result of that - benefited TM.

Although I self-funded my MA aspect of the course, TM continued to support me in practical ways, and the benefit for the company is, I think, that I am a more effective leader and manager as a result. My studies helped me gain a better understanding of Journalism, innovation, industry disruption, strategy - and practical things such as project management, financial planning and marketing. It sounds simplistic but I interviewed a lot of editors for my dissertation research and the overwhelming feedback from them was that they wanted and needed more training and development to do their jobs more effectively.

What advice do you have for companies and individuals considering investing in further professional education?

It involves time, commitment, money and determination, but the rewards are immense.

I verbally signed up for the leaders course as I drove back from a job interview for an editorship - 2 weeks later I was in charge of my first newspaper and website, and on a study programme working towards an MA. It would have been easy to say I had too much on and back out, but there never is a good time, is there? If you feel it's important, you just have to jump.

Most of the people TM put forward for the first J-Leaders Programme back in 2007 have now significantly advanced their careers, either within the company or externally, and I don't think that's a coincidence.

Can you summarise your JLP experience?

Rewarding, exhausting, challenging, essential, fun. I laughed a lot, learned a lot, made good friends and got to know all the good pubs in Preston. Plus next Wednesday I graduate - something I would have thought completely beyond my grasp as an 18-year-old trainee journalist. It's been life-changing.

  • Also graduating with MA degrees will be Paddi Clay, Dilyan Damyanov, Steve Matthewson and Laurice Taitz-Buntman. We plan to post conversations with each of them over the coming weeks. 
  • The first and only programme of its kind in the UK, the Journalism Leaders Programme continues to work with leading publishers from around the world, such as News International, to provide custom courses that help equip exceptional talent for leadership. For more information, contact François  Nel at FPNel @ .