Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mastering Leadership: A Conversation with Times Media's Paddi Clay

This much is clear: Paddi Clay is a master of journalism.

Journalism Leaders graduate Paddi Clay
But just why, after three decades working across the industry in roles ranging from African correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, to award-winning columnist for The Herald, to managing editor of a leading South African news website TimesLive, did Clay enrol in the Journalism Leaders Programme at UCLan?
Since the programme was established in 2006, we've engaged with hundreds of editors and senior journalists from many of the UK's leading media houses, including Johnston Press, Trinity Mirror, Guardian Media Group and Cumbrian Newspapers, as well as others around the world through a wide variety of activities - from non-academic workshops, conferences, seminars and training courses, to postgraduate certificates and diplomas.
But last December Clay was amongst a group of five talented editors from South Africa, Bulgaria and the UK who became the first to earn the Master of Arts in Journalism Leadership award from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, home the UK's oldest journalism programme. Others who also pressed through to the end were Alison Gow,  Dilyan Damyanov, LauriceTaitz-Buntman and Steve Matthewson.
In this, the last in a series of conversations with the graduates, we wanted to find out about just why Clay, who is head of training at Times Media and a long-standing South African National Editors Forum council member, invested in the experience - and what advice she had for other journalists (and their organisations) who want to keep learning about leadership.  

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?  

I was working in a newspaper company (although my most of my working career as a journalist was in electronic media) and starting to feel the pressure being exerted by digital media. I was eager to add another platform to my belt and overcome my fear that this latest wave of new technology would leave me behind. After all, I began my career in an era with telexes and no cell phones.  

I was keen to find out how, why and where, digital differed from print or electronic as far as journalism, and especially news, was concerned, as well as what it would require of managers of the process in the future. As a trainer of young journalists I also needed to know what digital media was all about and how to prepare them for a future that was starting to look very different from our past.There was no one directly above me I could learn from. In fact, very few older or more experienced people seemed to be paying much attention to digital developments in the company, but I knew that I had to keep track of  this new terrain if I was to remain relevant as a trainer and to our new recruits. A few South African universities were going digital in their journalism departments but were very focussed on the technical creation of sites and multimedia, or the "democracy" of citizen journalism. I wanted to find out how this new medium would affect the business of media and news and our relationship with our target market - our readers, listeners and users. The Uclan programme's combination of journalism and business expertise  impressed me and I thought it could be useful for many of our newspaper editors as we started dealing  with the digital future, not only to have access to people with expertise but also colleagues in the newspaper and media world outside of  South Africa.

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?

After more than 30 years  journalism, and never having formally studied media or journalism,   I really enjoyed the readings in the programme  and the thinking. debate and discussion that was provoked by the lecturers and presenters, and in our groups. I did not want the modules to end - and the Masters dissertation was one way of  extending my learning. I would get to read, think and debate, talk more on the issues I was interested in with other people, clarify my thoughts.  Looking at it now I realise it was  really like producing  and gathering information for a very long feature piece, with as many quotes as possible, by deadline. Of course, the academic disciplines were a bit of a challenge - but we all have to learn to write in a different style now and then.

How did  your company Times Media (formerly Avusa) benefit from your participation? 

I started the programme as the company I worked for  embarked on its digital voyage and I was able to draw on what I was learning in the Programme to make input into the process and projects underway at work. I also was able to change the focus of our training of intern journalists to make them far more marketable and employable in the future. But mostly I think I was enabled to bridge the gap between experienced old hacks and enthusiastic, young digital media acolytes, and demonstrate that it was possible to be part of. and contribute to, this new journalism world even as a "mature" journalist and media manager.

While I was doing  the programme I  was given the role of Content Director to help move our fairly static website to a breaking news site and I was later appointed Managing Editor on the website which became the focus for my Master's dissertation.

How would you summarise your JLP experience? 

Challenging, stimulating, eye-opening and hard work. It was wonderful to be able to  reflect on the role of journalism in society and the business of journalism, to be pushed to be innovative and to be given access to knowledge and tools  that would help me understand the new digital media terrain, as well as  devise ways to manage people and projects through this radical  period of change. I had done a Certificate in Management a couple of years before starting on the Programme but the JLP was in another league; totally customised to practitioners in media and specific to our needs,  awash with visitors  on the cutting edge of digital media  and  given substance by excellent teaching staff and the energy and dedication of Programme Director François Nel .

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 @ .

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