Saturday, February 20, 2010

RIP Training Magazine

I apologize for the length of this, but eulogies bring out the wordiness in me. Tuesday morning brought the sad, but not surprising, news that 41-year-old Training Magazine will cease publication with its March 2010 issue. From my view, the magazine had been in a downward spiral since its sale by Lakewood Publications to VNU Business Media and then again to Nielsen Business Media. Every sale saw new staff, less and less knowledgeable about (or, as far as I could tell, interested in) workplace training and learning. The struggle was evident: Those who subscribed to the print edition over the past few years can attest to its shrinkage from magazine to something more akin to newsletter. I don't know how it held on for as long as it did.

Since Tuesday's news many people, familiar with my 10-year participation as a member of the "In Print" book review column team and my other sundry contributions, have reached out to express surprise, conjecture about the reasons for the closing, and sympathy for the loss of work. Magazine work is just an add-on for me; I am among the fortunate in the training/learning business to have good, full-time employment complete with retirement plan and health insurance. The shutdown will have no effect on my livelihood, but I am sad to say some friends are now out of work. I hope that among the many supporters I've heard from will be someone in a position to help these folks find new employment.

I owe Training Magazine a great deal. As a new trainer, armed with an undergraduate English degree and assigned to a training department led by a former registered nurse who broke out in hives when she had to speak in public (no, I am not kidding), I had no one to help me learn how to do this. My coworkers taught canned programs like CPR and First Aid, and all came from the third-grade-teacher approach to training adults, so weren't much help when I was assigned things like developing supervisory training. I was fortunate that we had an office subscription to Training (and I'm pretty sure I'm the only one there who read it). Jack Gordon and Ron Zemke were still in the house then, and the magazine was about training. It's the first place I heard about things like adult learning theory, ISD, and ADDIE; it's the first place I saw someone question venerated training idols like the MBTI; it's where I first saw someone try to pull back the curtain on high-priced consultants peddling "packages" (as I recall, this was a piece titled "Ship of Charlatans"). The magazine then had heart and a sense of humor: One of the funniest things I've ever read was a piece by Zemke (or was it Gordon?) about frustrations with personal computers. Among the points made: "When I am driving along at 60 miles and hour and the car sounds funny, I don't just shut the ignition off." The help Training provided in the early days of my career is so significant that I discussed it in my doctoral dissertation.

Back then the magazine had a final page, "My Turn", open to 1000-word contributions from readers. The first national piece I ever published was a "My Turn" column on problems with customer service training (the gist: Smiling does not make make up for utter incompetence). I did a couple of these, and when the magazine was looking for people to staff its new book review column, editor Martin Delahoussaye recruited me to help. The book review column was a great gig, giving me piles of new books every year and putting my name and picture in a national publication every month. Martin left the magazine for Pfeiffer publications, where he became the push behind my first book. And when that book came out in 2005, new Training editor Holly Dolezalek ran a feature article about it, along with a banner on the magazine's cover.

Apart from the magazine proper, I want to note that I especially loved the Training conferences (ending with a year: "Training 2004", 2005, and so on) and the people who organized them! Leah Nelson, Julie Groshens, and Kris Stokes were fun to work with, competent at what they did, and adept at turning a lot of spinning plates into a well-oiled machine. In addition to giving me a lot of exposure and letting me try new things, the events are where I met in person people like Susan Boyd, Thiagi, Bob Mosher, Patti Shank, The Hortons, and my dear friend and valued colleague Jennifer Hofmann. These gigs, in turn, led to Training's online certificate programs and webinar work. (Those are still on, by the way, as is the online community.)

The magazine seemed to slip away under its latest ownership. The field was changing, with much emphasis shifting from training in specific to learning in general, but that wasn't all. Content seemed less and less focused on anything related to training and learning, some of the freelance contributors clearly knew little about what they were discussing, and there seemed to be a widening disconnect between the interests of readers, who paid for the subscriptions, and the content catered to the advertisers, who paid the big bucks. I was rarely sent anything training-related to review. (Heck , they wouldn't even review my books. I mean, seriously, what's a girl gotta do?) In earlier years I reviewed works by people like Mark Rosenberg, Mel Silberman, Alison Rossett, Patti Shank, and Michael Allen. Along the way there were occasional leadership books, including the dreaded Little Animal or Dairy Product Metaphors, but the books mostly were one way or another tied to learning. The last book I read for Training was something called Jenga, which was really quite interesting -- all about getting a product manufactured, trademarked, and distributed for sale -- but had not one thing to do with training or workplace learning. Yes, in considering the magazine's demise, there were lots of red flags. While I don't know all the details, I do know that the problems weren't all connected to the economy.

I'm sad to see Training go and am sure other industry publications are taking heed. It has brought me back to the reality that the shift from training to learning, and the proliferation of content via free Web 2.0 means, are going to bring big changes for all of us, some of them perhaps painful.

I will be back in print soon in another publication, likely with both book reviews as well as a new training/learning related column, so stay tuned for news of that. Thanks to all who have expressed their interest and concern, and reached out with offers of new opportunities.