Teaching Examples

Learn multimedia skills, online, on your own
May 7, 2007, 7:44 pm
Filed under: journalism, multimedia, online, teaching, training

Paul Conley provides a lovely list — with proper links — telling us where to go “to learn the skills of multimedia journalism.”

My emphasis [is] on free or inexpensive resources that allowed journalists to teach themselves…. a quick and updated list of resources for multimedia 101.

He left out one great one: Make Internet TV.

And while I used to sing the praises of Bloglines, I have pretty much abandoned that; I switched to Google Reader instead.

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If 37 percent say they want more training, what training do they need?
April 9, 2007, 2:28 pm
Filed under: education, jobs, journalism, multimedia, newspapers, online, teaching, training

In a survey of 435 managing editors and editors-in-chief of regional, local, national and international newspapers (conducted by the World Editors Forum), 37 percent of respondents said they would train journalists in new media skills; 23 percent would recruit more journalists; 19 percent would retrain in traditional skills.

Being in the journalism education business, this is not big news to me. But something new has recently started to sink in: These managing editors and editors-in-chief don’t know where to start.

I’m sometimes contacted by editors and journalism organizations who would like me to come and do some training for them. As I’m busy with my day job, my first question is always, “What do you want?” If I were a full-time trainer, I suppose I would have a take-out menu and they could choose one from column A, one from column B, etc.

Last year, people were replying to my question this way: Come and do 90 minutes, or three hours, and give us kind of an overview of multimedia.

This year is different. They’re replying: Everything. Anything. What should we do? You tell us.

I’ve been a little bit thrown for a loop by this. I don’t know what YOU need, because every newsroom is different.

When I press them, many of these folks ask me to come and teach them Flash. Now, nothing makes me happier than teaching Flash. But most newspapers do not need more than one person who’s good at Flash. Let’s say maybe you want to have three or four people doing Flash … you want to fly me somewhere to do training for four people? What are you thinking?

Like Koci says:

Soundslides or Flash? Put it this way, if you don’t know what Soundslides is, then there’s no need to even think about Flash. And if you haven’t mastered Soundslides (meaning, brought someone to tears with your two minute Soundslide) there there is no reason to be thinking about Flash.

He is so right — with one exception. Your news graphics desk. Those people should be learning Flash. They should not learn Soundslides. Your photographers should learn Soundslides (like, yesterday). But your news graphics artists — you do have more than ONE, don’t you? Don’t you? — should start learning Flash today.

And there’s the biggest problem: The newsroom does not know what it needs. Why not? I think it’s because everyone is so busy with work overloads brought on by staff cuts, they don’t have time to look at the great stuff people are producing online. They hear that the photographers should start learning video, but how much online video — video that was really produced for online, and for journalism — have they looked at? If you were looking at what’s out there, you’d have such a better idea of what training you really do need in your newsroom.

You do need training in your newsroom — you’re right. And you should spend some money to get it — that’s a fact. But before you go throwing money at a perceived problem, please first take a closer look at what your problems are.

You need at least one good full-time staff artist. For heaven’s sake, if you have no original information graphics in your newspaper, no wonder circulation is falling. How do you explain anything nowadays without graphics?

You need to get audio equipment and Soundslides for your photographers.

You need to train the reporters in how to shoot video and WHAT to shoot — if you’re giving them cameras.

You need to fix your pathetic content management system so that your online people can do nice work for your Web site instead of spending hours cleaning up the mess made by the lousy CMS.

Yes, I know, you DO NEED training. But all the training in the world won’t improve your news organization if you don’t even understand what kind of training you need — and what kind of staffing you need — and what kind of equipment and software your people need. And yes, you can hire a consultant to come in and help you with that. (That’s not what I do — that’s a little longer-term than I have time for. But there are people out there who can help you figure out what you need, and how to go about getting it!)

Let’s get our ducks in a row. Training — yes, absolutely. Which training, and for whom? You need to work on that answer.

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The changing skill set for journalists
March 26, 2007, 5:02 pm
Filed under: business, education, journalism, teaching

Poached and condensed from Larry Dignan, writing at ZDNet (“How journalism education should change“):

Teach entrepreneurship: I can’t emphasize this point enough…. Most journalists will ultimately wind up working for themselves. Why not teach them how? Why can’t journalism schools offer seed money to content startups? [Does he think we have money? Has he seen what a j-school pays its adjuncts?] …

Embed online tools throughout the curriculum: Scoble’s argument that no journalists are being trained for online is complete bunk. However, most schools still segment folks — magazine focus, TV focus, newspapers etc. All of those specialties should be infused with online learning.

Get real pros to teach you: … Many J-school profs are way removed from reality. Even worse, many of them haven’t been real journalists in a while — ask them to write a story in 5 minutes with frequent updates and they’d crack….

Remember the basics: … Talking to real humans is important. Interviewing techniques matter. Court documents matter….

Next up, a summary of what journalism students should know now, from the CMA conventions in New York (via Bryan Murley Ralph Braseth):

  • A new skills set is demanded for the best jobs and for leadership positions.
  • The days of five clips getting a student a good job are over at major media outlets.
  • The best jobs out there require a strong knowledge of journalism and technology.
  • A digital portfolio will become commonplace.
  • Students who can shoot photos, video, collect audio, edit and post to the Web will have employers knocking on their door.
  • Students must have a better sense of the economics and business of media.
  • Media must embrace the computer science/engineering and business disciplines.
  • Every student should be a serious blogger.
  • The pace of change is quickening.
  • New media is not a fad, but a fact.
  • Entrepreneurship in media is needed desperately.
  • Marketing, advertising and PR are way ahead of journalism in adopting innovation.

I realize this should all be obvious, but is it obvious to all students — and all journalism educators — even now?

If it’s so obvious, why are these skills and practices absent from so many journalism classes in a typical university program?

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Multimedia for beginners
March 9, 2007, 2:57 pm
Filed under: education, journalism, multimedia, online, teaching, training

If you are the person sitting in the newsroom and thinking, “I’ve got to learn this multimedia stuff!” — your big question is, “Where do I begin?”

This post is designed to help you make a decision and get started.

First, what is your main skillset? Are you a print reporter, a print photographer or a news graphic artist? (I have to admit, I don’t know enough about TV journalism jobs to help you if that’s where you are. Maybe I’ll interview some folks and put that in a later post.)

Reporters and Photojournalists

Both reporters and photojournalists should begin with audio.

Step 1: First get yourself an inexpensive kit. Then take it out and practice. You don’t have to put your first efforts online for the whole world to hear. Just practice.

Step 2: Open up any audio editing program and start editing that audio. Save it in the MP3 file format. Listen to it with headphones.

Step 3: Take your kit out again and bring back something better! Repeat.

The Video Question

Why not start with video? Maybe you don’t have the choice where you work — someone shoved a video camera into your hand and said, “Take this and use it!”

Well, if that’s what you’ve got to do, make the best of it by learning something about what makes good video online and why. I think the best way to do that would be to put a couple of blogs on your daily must-read list: Angela Grant’s In the Circle and Cyndy Green’s VideoJournalism. You will learn a ton if you do.

If you’re already a photographer, you will be shooting interesting video pretty quickly. If you’re a reporter with no photo background, you really need to do some homework so that you understand the grammar of the medium and are able to improve the visual content of your work.

What About Editing the Video?

The photojournalists should start editing immediately. For them, it will enhance the experience and improve their work in ways that make the time spent very worthwhile.

The reporters might never edit their own video. Why? Because if they are not visually adept to begin with, the outcome will be lots of time spent and very little gained. The bottom line: Stories that should have been covered did not get covered, because the reporter wasted hours cursing at an editing program when he or she could have been out in the field.

However — and this is an important “however”! — anyone who shoots video should sit down with an editor and watch (and listen to the complaints) to learn how to shoot better video next time.

Of course, some reporters will take to video editing — but most reporters should not be required to edit video. In most cases, it is an inefficient allocation of resources.

Soundslides or Flash?

The photojournalists should start using Soundslides either simultaneously with audio gathering or very soon afterward. Soundslides is incredibly simple to learn and to use — anyone can do it.

There’s been a bit of talk about bad Soundslides. I agree, there’s a lot of mediocre and boring work out there right now. But people are still learning. Don’t let the negativity stop you. Soundslides is your easiest entry into online storytelling. You’re working with a photo story, which you already understand. Now you will add audio and learn a new form of pacing.

If you have been using Soundslides for a while and you’re starting to feel constrained by the limitations, then it’s time to start learning Flash to enhance your own storytelling.

But not before that.

Should reporters learn Soundslides? I think they ought to at least try it. But don’t make your photographers angry by allowing a non-visual person to ruin their work in a bad Soundslides, okay? Be nice to one another. You’re blazing a new trail together.

The News Graphic Artist

This is the person who has the least time to learn Flash and the biggest reason to learn it. If this is you, stop putting it off and start now. You don’t need to learn audio, and you don’t need to ever touch Soundslides — the very first thing you need to do is start using the one program that can animate, enhance and expand your own special journalism work.

The good news is, it will take only a couple of days to teach yourself enough to do work like this Boston homicides graphic. Make that your No. 1 goal — a simple collection of information graphics that uses buttons for navigation. You need to learn (a) the drawing tools in Flash; (b) how to put a stop() action on the Timeline and use frame labels; and (c) how to make and script a button.

I know you can do this, because I see a new crop of journalism students do it every year — it takes them two weeks (or less) to get to the point where they can make exactly that type of online graphic on their own. (It’s not going to take you two weeks — because you don’t have homework due in three other courses!) Yes, my students do use my book — but there are plenty of other resources too.


There is absolutely no reason to sit around being afraid you’re going to get fired because you’re “not an online person.”

You can start learning on your own. Take charge of your own skills and the direction of your career. Quit waiting for somebody to write you a check so you can go to a workshop. Everything you need is online already. Open up Google and just look for what you need.

The most important advice I can offer: You don’t have to know everything. Pick something manageable and practical, and just go ahead and learn it.

That’s the first step.

Have fun!

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Learning Flash
March 6, 2007, 2:16 pm
Filed under: education, Flash, journalism, online, teaching, training

An awful lot of people have asked me, “How long does it take to learn Flash?” It’s a fair question — I mean, I understand why they want to know — but it’s almost impossible to answer.

I think there are highly motivated people who are already fluent in a complex program, such as Photoshop or Final Cut Pro, who could learn it pretty adequately in a marathon three-day weekend. But that would be exceptional.

There are probably some well-meaning people who could never learn it. That would be exceptional too — not very likely.

Flash presentation

I have been teaching Flash to journalism students (and others) since 2003. In that time I guess I’ve taught about 100 college students. Only one failed to learn Flash at the rudimentary level. About half a dozen took to Flash like birds to the air. Everyone else? Somewhere in between.

Years ago when I learned to play Go (an Asian board game said to be harder than Western chess), my first teacher had two Zen-like statements he liked to repeat when students felt frustrated. The first was:

“Go is a hard game.”

That doesn’t mean you can’t learn it. But it’s not a quick or simple process. Hard things take time. Hard things offer great rewards. Learning a hard thing is more mind-expanding than learning an easy thing.

The other thing my Go teacher said often:

“Go is a long game.”

This is kind of amusing, because people can and do play “speed Go” and complete a game in as little as 10 minutes (it makes your heart pound!). But an artful game, a graceful game — a game for the books, in a sense (there are many books containing the great games of Go, dating back centuries) — that takes many hours. Even days. There’s a novel about such a game, The Master of Go.

It took me about three years to learn Flash well enough to write about it. But I was starting in 2001, and not only was Flash different then (version 5, whereas now we are on version 8) — the Web was different too. And most of the books about Flash were — and still are — atrociously bad for beginners. They make all kinds of assumptions about your prior knowledge, or your reasons for learning, that often do not fit journalists and journalism students at all.

In the end, it was not my teacher’s fault that I did not become a Go master. The reason lies partly in a lack of study and partly in a lack of talent, I think — and maybe also in a lack of will. I was not determined to become great at Go. I played for fun. I didn’t spend hours studying it, as some of my friends did. I didn’t play out the same tesuji again and again to teach my hand to remember so that my brain could forget.

In the East they say it takes your whole lifetime to learn Go. Yet there have been 8-year-old children who are so great at Go, they can beat everyone except a handful of middle-aged masters of the game. So how can it take a lifetime, if a child can be so brilliant at it? Both things are true.

How long does it take to learn Flash?

More than a weekend. Less than a lifetime. You’ll see.

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Your lowest-cost audio kit
March 5, 2007, 1:27 pm
Filed under: audio, education, multimedia, online, photojournalism, teaching

Mark Johnson teaches photojournalism at the University of Georgia, and let me tell you, he and his students are ON FIRE. Last October, they were not doing any multimedia in his classes. Now they’re gathering and editing their own audio, making Soundslides and just basically drinking all the Kool-Aid they can get their hands on. Next up: Photo blogging. Stay tuned.

So Mark sent this e-mail to the Listserv for this week’s Poynter seminar, and I asked if I could copy and paste it here. He said yes. I have added the links.

One key thing is that Mark personally tested the Electro-Voice 635 series mics (my choice) against the insanely cheap Nady models (also recommended by Richard Koci Hernandez), and Mark swears the quality is equal. Okay, $10 or $100 — which would YOU buy?

A short list of stuff to get …

Recorder — the Olympus WS-300M is what we have here. Runs about $80 online, has separate mic and earphone jacks (so you can listen to exactly what you’re recording — very important).

Microphone — Nady SP-4C, $10 (special deal for a six-pack). Includes the (XLR-to-mini) cable, but you’ll need an adapter from Radio Shack (or some other electronic retailer) to convert the 1/4 inch plug to a 1/8 inch plug, which is what’s on most recorders. The adapter is about $3.

Add in Audacity, Soundslides and EasyWMA (the WMA file converter we use here) and you’re good to get started.

Thanks, Mark!

Update (9:59 a.m.): Oh, that Mark! He just launched his PJ teacher’s blog. He wrote: “Because while the world doesn’t really need another blog, my students do. And maybe yours do, too. Share at will, updated randomly.”

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Tips for new journalists
March 2, 2007, 4:31 pm
Filed under: education, journalism, teaching, training

For all the young’uns out there — the Society of Professional Journalists recently created a new section at its Web site just for you: Generation J. You don’t have to be a member to read the tips and resources. For example:

This site appears to be pretty new, so I’m expecting there will be more stuff added in the coming months. If there’s something you want to know about the journalism field, why not shoot them a question? (For that, you must be a member.)

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