This is the news

At television news provider ITN,
Martyn Hurd oversees both the HR function and production studios. Now he has
just completed a skills and technology revolution – without a training
department. By Lucie Carrington

ITN, the news provider for ITV, is
just about to complete a massive technological overhaul that will shift news
production from traditional videotape to a browser-based system. As a result,
any journalists with a PC can now access and edit stories on their desktops,
while production staff on different programmes can share the same pictures.

But this has been more than a
technical revolution for the company. It has also involved massive structural
changes, plus a rethink of how ITN serves its clients – terrestrial TV
companies – and secures its business future.

New departments have been created,
extra staff recruited (up from 787 to 955 in 12 months), working hours
restructured and a new union agreement thrashed out.

In addition to implementing a
massive technical training programme, the process has forced ITN to rethink its
approach to management training, succession planning and staff development.

Director of resources Martyn Hurd,
who heads up both HR and the production studios, has been in an ideal position
to steer the project. He brings together both the people and the technology and
equipment they use.

According to Hurd, ITN had no option
but to introduce some radically alternative technology to the business. The
technology it was using was old – between 10 and 20 years – and needed
replacing. In addition, the pressures on the media business meant ITN had to
come up with some serious expansion plans. “Because of the way ITN is
structured, we have no ways of increasing income by more than the retail prices
index, unless we diversify,” Hurd says.

As a result, ITN is involved in a
number of growing businesses including a news archive service New Media
(, and ITN News Channel – a 24-hour news service launched on 1 August
2000. Both of these have demanded changes in technology and working patterns.

Radical thinking

The immediate pressure was to get
staff up to speed with the technology – journalists had to be skilled in using
the revamped computer system in the newsroom and production staff needed to get
to grips with the Inspirations editing system that was replacing traditional
videotape. It was a hefty training project that required some radical thinking.

ITN has no formal training
department,  having got rid of it some
years ago. Senior managers assess company-wide training needs and departments
and managers work out their own specific needs. They use a training
coordinator, who is based in the HR department – to help source and deliver
that training. “We now, as a company, identify our training needs and bring in
the people we need to deliver them,” Hurd says.

But ITN decided that buying in
training skills wasn’t the whole answer in this case. It decided instead to use
existing staff to train their colleagues and embarked on a training the
trainers programme. It wasn’t hard to identify potential trainers.

The Inspirations system has a lot in
common with traditional cut and paste film editing, only it uses a light pen
and screen. There were still people in ITN who remembered the pre-video days
and were keen to pass some of this on to colleagues.

“We took a number of senior editors
– not necessarily managers of people – who had expressed an interest and
trained them as trainers,” Hurd says.

Tip of the iceberg

ITN had realised some time before
introducing Inspirations, that when it comes to technical skills, formal
courses are just the tip of the training iceberg. People really learn by doing
it, Hurd maintains, and on-the-job support is vital.

For example, when it came to
introducing newsroom journalists – some of whom had never used a mouse – to
their new PCs, ITN used the keener journalists to help bed the system down.
“The more on-the-job support we can give, the more successful [training] is,”
Hurd says. “So we identified people who really took to the system and used them
a lot to provide on the job support.”

ITN didn’t just second staff as
trainers. Hurd also picked out a resources manager from the production studios
– and seconded him to oversee the training programme and liaise with the
technology department and system suppliers.

Inadvertently, this has helped
revitalise middle management structures and establish an embryonic succession
plan. Someone had to be appointed to carry on the manager’s day job and an
assistant manager was appointed internally to step in. It was a big break with
ITN’s existing management structure. “In the past there have been supervisors
who’ve tended to be staff reps,” Hurd says. “But not any more.”

It worked so well that Hurd decided
to appoint deputies for four other resources managers. Again they were internal
appointments and they received basic management training, such as accountancy
for non-accountants and staff management courses.

Now ITN has a group of people ready
to be promoted when the opportunities arise. And so successful have these
assistant manager posts been that other departments at ITN are thinking of
following suit.

Structural changes in the business
have had serious implications for management training further up the line. The
major challenges managers have had to cope with have been changes in working
hours – everyone is now expected to work nights – and the demands for a greater
pooling of resources and information.

Upgrade training

In an employee attitude survey
carried out last year, managers themselves identified the need to upgrade some
of their training, Hurd says. They especially wanted more help with softer,
communication skills.

But Hurd wanted to take it further
than just a simple management skills programme. He and the rest of the
executive committee recognised that structural changes in the company required
a different leadership style. “We believe as a company that we are open and we
believe in discussion and managers discussing issues with their staff,” he says.

However, he recognises that there is
a conflict between managers listening to their staff and acting on what they
hear, while also meeting the demands of deadlines and budgets.

So Hurd has turned to the Leadership
Trust’s public programme to help resolve it. “The Leadership Trust’s style is
to be open, honest, free with praise and free with constructive criticism and
debate,” he says.

Not all of the dozen or so managers
who have participated in the programme liked this. Some find it hard to have
their self image challenged in this way, although most agreed some months later
that it had been useful. Nor is Hurd convinced that the company as a whole has
seriously bought into this consensual approach to management.

Perhaps this is why Hurd and his
colleagues have found it hard to convince all those who should take part to do
so. Hurd prefers to think that it’s because as journalists they simply don’t
like being away from the action.

He hopes that if a member of the
executive committee takes part it might give the Leadership Trust programme
more internal credibility and he is looking for a volunteer. Hurd himself has
not taken part yet. “But I will,” he insists.

Spotting stars of the future

Now that the technology is in place,
Hurd says it’s time to focus on the organisation’s skills needs in a broader
sense. An internal attitude survey has shown that staff want to know what’s in
it for them and their careers.

So ITN has embarked on a
talent-spotting exercise. It’s understandable that ITN, with a staff of less
than 1,000, cannot satisfy all the career needs of its workers, but it can try
and identify tomorrow’s stars, in all disciplines, before the BBC or Sky poach

There are several strands to ITN’s
talent-spotting campaign. It is expanding its trainee scheme. In addition to
the half dozen editorial graduate trainees, ITN last year took on four
production trainees and three outside camera trainees.

It tried to recruit three
engineering trainees too, but the standard of applicants was not high enough,
Hurd says. As a result it is considering sponsoring some engineering
undergraduates through their degree courses.

The editorial training scheme is
about to undergo a radical overhaul too. Its recruitment criteria in the past
have favoured young people who have done some form of post-graduate

But, Hurd says, this has limited the
intake to those who could afford what is fast becoming the luxury of continuing
their studies. This meant ITN was missing out on a huge pool of talent.

Now ITN intends taking people
straight from their undergraduate degree courses and building post
graduate-type studies into the training scheme.

There are plans afoot to spot and
nurture talent already in the organisation, for example, through the company’s
secondment scheme. It’s not a new idea – but needs new life breathing into it.

“The current approach is best
characterised as dumping or squirrelling,” Hurd says. Departments either dump
the people they don’t want or squirrel away out of site the people they want to
hang on to. It’s madness, he says.

Finally, he intends developing ITN’s
mentoring scheme. All trainees have a mentor assigned to them from further up
the organisation, but this can be extended.

“We don’t make enough use of the
vast experience we have within the organisation,” Hurd says.

“There area number of people with a
massive amount of experience who are coming to the end of their careers. We
want to make sure these people who are close to retirement don’t take all their
information with them.”

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