Teaching Examples

Which OS for journalism students?
September 29, 2006, 7:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Mac-vs.-PC argument is as old as … well, as 1984. I have not owned a Mac since 1997, so don’t count me in the “Mac fanatics” category (although I do have a MacBook Pro on order, after living a Windows-only life for seven years). But the argument is at least worth listening to, especially today, when Macs come standard with software such as iMovie and GarageBand that makes it easy to create multimedia content.

In The Mystery Of Medill’s Missing Macs, reporter Janessa Goldbeck writes about the OS preferences of two online journalists — Kevin Sites of “Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone” and Tim Richardson of the Naples Daily News. Goldbeck’s inquiries were inspired by the switch from Macs to PCs by Medill, one of the most highly regarded journalism schools in the United States.

According to this page, the recommended computer for new Medill students is a Lenovo ThinkPad Z61m with “2.0GHz Intel Core Duo Processor T2500, 1.5GB RAM, 100GB hard drive, DVD±RW, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, WiFi802.11a/b/g, fingerprint reader, Microsoft® Windows® XP Professional [and] 15.4-in. WSXGA+ display” for the low educational price of $2,572.49. Mm-hmm.

The Missouri School of Journalism — another very well regarded U.S. j-school — now requires all of its students to BYOM (bring your own Mac):

The minimum recommended configuration is a wireless laptop computer with the Microsoft Office suite of software. … Students are encouraged to acquire wireless laptop technology from Apple, which the School has designated as its preferred provider, but students also will have a choice of a Windows-based alternative. Last year, 99.5 percent of incoming students chose the Apple option. …

Q. What if I prefer a Windows-based machine?
A. That’s an option, but it’s one we do not recommend unless you plan to make a career of computer-assisted reporting. By the time you purchase photo, audio and video software for a PC, you probably will have spent more than you would if buying a comparable Apple Computer. Buy a PC if you prefer to do so, but make sure it is wireless and has Microsoft Office. Almost 100 percent of last year’s freshmen chose Apple computers.

The Missouri page gives the estimated price of the recommended laptop, including software, as “$1,400 or less.”

At my university, we are still primarily Windows and Dell, which has been the case for a number of years. Certain students in our program have access to special Mac labs, but most of our students have Windows computers at present.

Update (Sept. 30): Very informative comments have been posted here from working journalists. Check them out!

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4 Comments so far
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The sad truth of the matter is, once students enter the “real world” they will more than likely be using PCs.

My employer, and many related properties, have switched to PCs within the past two years. This includes those units used for video and audio editing.

I personally use a now-dated Apple iBook G4, and plan to replace it with a Macbook when it dies (why not with the Bootcamp option).

Honestly, reporters (writers and multimedia sets) or anyone else in journalism should be used to both environments by now. And I think the younger set will have enough intuitive computer knowledge to do just that.

Comment by Patrick Beeson

At my newspaper, the editorial front-end system (except for graphics and photo) are all PC’s. Now, instead of PC laptops, many are requesting Mac Books and Mac Book Pro’s– all with Windows installed as their computer upgrade. The interesting thing I found is that once these former PC users start using OS X they rarely boot into Windows.

I have a iMac computer at home that has never crashed in a year of daily operation. I have never had a virus, or a spyware problem. I have no virus protection software. My pro apps are elegant and are intuitive to learn and use. For multimedia production at work, I use Final Cut Studio, with its suite of programs. It is the bomb. I’m trying not to sound like a Mac zealot, but damn, they just work.

Comment by Colin Mulvany

How about all three (yes, three)?

It depends on what these kids are going to do. For “straight journalism” work, the XP and OS X platforms are roughly equivalent. But I’d prefer that new hires have at least general familiarity with both Mac and PC platforms and an understanding of a/v editing on both.

(Five minutes with Garageband will probably sell them on the Mac. I’d require an hour of watching Zefrank and a written analysis of how you could produce his program using Garageband, iMovie, and video clips submitted by viewers.)

Beyond a general familiarity with HTML and stylesheets, there’s little real need to be a technical wizard.

On the other hand, we need bright creative people to push the state of the art, not just practice the state of the art.

Anyone who’s going to do serious creative work in this field needs to be familiar with the server side as well, able to maneuver around in a Linux/Unix SYSV filesystem without getting lost.

I’d throw in a general understanding of how database tools (SQL) work and an overview of how scripting languages, templating systems, AJAX and frameworks (Rails, Django, Cake) are being used to quickly create data-driven presentations. Maybe in the process you’ll create another Adrian Holovaty.

The nice thing about the Mac is that, with a little work, it can double as a Unix-like environment. You do have to untangle Apple’s brain-damaged filesystem layout first, though.

A true newsgeek-in-training would buy the cheapest fast laptop possible and install Ubuntu Linux.

Comment by Steve Yelvington

Patrick and Colin, thank you so much for sharing that info here! I agree that in most newsrooms I visit, the reporters are all using Windows computers. But I also see that almost every photojournalist has a Mac laptop, and almost every designer (online or print) uses a Mac.

Steve, do you think your operation might be more technologically advanced than most? When you say “Anyone who’s going to do serious creative work in this field needs to be familiar with the server side as well, able to maneuver around in a Linux/Unix SYSV filesystem without getting lost,” does that apply to more than a handful of employees at HQ?

Comment by Mindy McAdams

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