New API chief backs preparedness

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By: Joe Strupp

Andrew B. Davis is not your typical press institute chief. He has run a weekly newspaper group ? and commanded U.S. Marines during the first Persian Gulf War. Still, for the 54-year-old Davis, who took over as executive director of the American Press Institute on Dec. 1, his unusual mix of military, journalism and business experience is perfect for today’s changing news landscape. “They are two wholly separate tribes,” Davis said of newspapers and the military. “But the crossover is in their leadership skills.”

Davis, a brigadier general in the Marine Corps reserve, was the man who launched the Pentagon’s journalism training program just over a year ago ? which eventually prepared hundreds of reporters and photographers who covered the war in Iraq as embedded journalists. That program occurred during Davis’ two-year stint as director of U.S. Marine Corps Public Affairs that ended last July. Prior to (and just after) that, he spent five years at Northwestern University, most recently as director of innovation and business development at the Media Management Center.

“It was an absolute home run,” Davis said of the military’s training and the embedding program. “I think it is here to stay.” But he points out that such training is better done by the Pentagon and not through organizations such as API.

Davis’ military career began following graduation from Princeton University in 1970, when he spent three years as a U.S. Marine Infantry officer before joining Copley Press as a reporter. After taking time off to earn a Master’s Degree from Northwestern, Davis spent two years at The Courier News in Elgin, Ill., and then joined the Chicago Suburban Newspaper Group, rising to editor of the weekly chain and then publisher in 1987. During that time he maintained his Marine reserve officer status and actually led a team of reservists for nine months during the first Persian Gulf War.

Davis sees API as an organization that has proven its ability to provide necessary training, especially in management and leadership, but also needs to grow. He expects to implement programs that will allow the training institute to raise more money, provide more courses, and extend training into other media areas. He also plans to expand API’s efforts overseas and link it more with other training grounds such as the Media Management Center and the Poynter Institute.

The first task is conducting an inventory of the current 35 annual seminars offered by API. Davis said some lack interest, while others are in great demand and need expanding. Programs on convergence have a waiting list, while a newsroom-management course is drawing about two-thirds of the expected crowd. “One of the luxuries we have is to be able to be flexible and try new things,” Davis said. “We have got to have things that are relevant.”

Most newspapers invest only 1% of their budgets for training, compared to an average of 6% for most other industries. “We take our best reporters and make them editors, but we don’t train them to be editors,” he added. In the military, he said, training is a constant no matter what the rank. “When a private joins the Marines, he goes to boot camp for three months and gets other training for more than a year before he hits the fleet,” said Davis. “Then he gets more training as he reaches every rank. It is a career-long commitment to training. That is a great lesson for newspapers.”

In the spending realm, Davis believes API’s $3 million annual budget could be boosted. In addition, Davis wants to add more cross-media emphasis. “We truly have newsrooms generating news across media platforms,” he said. “But there is no one [in the industry] to my knowledge who is training journalism managers to think and execute the work as both ink on paper and electrons on screen.”

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