Once you’ve got a team of Deputies ready to go, you must train them to be effective links between their communities and your newsroom. This can also be done along the way as you work to recruit Deputies, especially if some of them live far from your newsroom or have busy schedules.
Targeted, efficient training is an essential part of the Deputy Program, as it helps ensure that the information, tips and questions Deputies submit is useable, relevant and accurate. Some folks already have the mindset and many of the skills needed to be effective members of the program, while for others the learning curve will be steeper.
The concepts and skills needed to be a Deputy are fairly basic, and should be able to be explained to someone in 10 to 20 minutes, depending on their baseline competencies. These skills are outlined below in detail, but they essentially break down to the following: familiarity with the program, understanding of their role within it, knowledge of what information you want, the basics of accuracy and relevancy, and acquaintance with the technology that drives the program.
The goal is to convey both the scope of the Deputy Program and what it means to be a Deputy in a short period of time, and in a way that requires little follow-up or remedial training. These trainings are best done face-to-face, but we’ve had success performing them via Skype or FaceTime, and even over the phone. In today’s hyper-connected world, the setting of the training is less important than its content and efficacy.
Here’s a breakdown of what to communicate to Deputies during a training session:
Familiarity with the Deputy Program: It is critical that every Deputy know the goal of your Deputy Program, and why they should care about it and choose to participate. Start out by explaining that the program provides a unique, free opportunity for them to connect directly with your newsroom via text message about what is going on in their communities.
Convey to them that your news organization tries its best to cover all the news relevant to its consumers, but that your hope is that Deputies will be able to help you keep better tabs on what’s going on in their specific spheres. Sometimes you may need to explain the mission of your publication, especially in cases where your company’s penetration or brand recognition are limited.
Be sure to make it clear that while your goal is to tell as many stories as possible, like every newsroom yours has limited resources and you will not be able to follow up on every area of inquiry that your Deputies suggest you pursue. This avoids setting up unrealistic expectations, which can diminish excitement about the program over time.
The Deputy’s role: In order to become a Deputy, a person must first know what Deputies are and what they are expected to do. A good Deputy is a member of the community with knowledge, a personal network and an ear to the ground.
Explain that their role is not to write stories or participate in hardcore, time-intensive reporting; that is still the purview of the professional journalist. They are instead intended to serve as conduits between their families, friends and neighbors and the journalists in your news organization who want to better represent their stories and concerns.
Then lay out what they will be expected to do as part of the program. They should be prepared to send text messages that include basic information about community news. They will occasionally receive text messages (it can be helpful to establish a loose expectation of how often to expect such communications) asking them questions and seeking information related to certain topics, which you will have the freedom to define and redefine on an ongoing basis.
And they will hopefully be willing and able to help distribute and share the stories you produce based off their ideas and tips to members of their communities, whether via social media, email or other means, though this is not an essential aspect of the role.
Accuracy and relevancy: While a Deputy is not expected to be a trained journalist, it is essential that they provide information that is both accurate and relevant. In many cases, it should also be thorough enough that a reporter can follow up on it without necessitating extensive further communication. This is especially true of basic information like event notifications and highly specific or localized concerns.
You need to convey the importance of providing information that is as accurate as possible or, alternatively, being clear about the fact that what they are sending you is rumor or hearsay. This can help reporters avoid major headaches and requires minimal effort on behalf of Deputies.
It is not possible to quickly teach all the nuances of sourcing or the ins and outs of how to verify the authenticity of information. Instead, explain that it is important that Deputies make their process of obtaining the information known when submitting via the program. If they heard it from a friend but do not know it firsthand, they should say that; if they read it in a document, they should say so and be prepared to make that document available if possible.
Relevancy is also highly important. One way that a Deputy Program can fail is if it becomes little more than a sounding board for people’s pet issues, unfounded rumors and complaints. So before you meet with your first potential Deputies, take a few minutes to define exactly what types of information you will want from them, and make conveying that expectation to them a key part of your training process.
Getting situated: The final piece of the training puzzle is to get all of your Deputies up to speed on the technical aspects of the program, and get them situated within the GroundSource system, which turns their SMS-enabled cellphones into simple reporting devices linked directly to your newsroom. Information about how to execute this part of the Deputy Program is provided in Step 3 of this implementation guide: