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February 14, 2008

Dreamweaver does not make an online journalist

By Dave Lee STD

When studying to be a print journalist, students will definitely spend considerable amounts of time in printhouses, learning to operate machinery that puts the ink to paper. After extensive training, we then must prepare to build our own printing presses.

I’m kidding. We’re not taught like that. All we, as print journalists, need to know about the printing presses is that they exist and they work. It would be a waste of time to think otherwise.

So why don’t we take the same approach to learning online journalism?

If you’re an online journalism student and find yourself aimlessly clicking away at Dreamweaver and wondering ‘What’s the point?”, you’re not alone. There are hundreds of us.

It’s an issue that has caused great concern for Amy Gahran, writing over on Poynter Online about the pointlessness of such an education:

“Dreamweaver is a decent Web design and development tool,” she writes. “However, it’s not very relevant to journalism, because it does not include a robust content management system!

“A working knowledge of real Content Management System (CMS) technology and how it integrates with the internet is what gives a journalist’s career legs these days,” she continues. “Requiring journalism students to use Dreamweaver is about as useful as requiring them to learn calligraphy. It makes your content looks really pretty — and it generally won’t be worth a damn on a real journo job or project.”

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I really couldn’t agree more. I myself have written about this on my own blog many moons ago, as I was astonished to find I was “studying” online journalism using software that was out of date before I’d even started my A-Levels.

Gahran mentions in her post that it isn’t just the fact that most courses use outdated versions of Dreamweaver. It’s more the fact that using Dreamweaver — or any other web design software, let’s not forget — promotes a certain mindset when it comes to publishing online.

A Dreamweaver site, unless very professionally executed, is so very static… so very Web 1.0. Web 1.0 just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Think of your favourite websites. Which do you visit most frequently? The one that changes every day, or the one that changes every minute? The new web — Web 2.0 — is all about live information. When you log onto the BBC’s homepage, you know that what you’re reading is the most up-to-date news possible. That’s how online works.

Poke your nose into any newsroom across the country and see what they’re doing with the web. Are local reporters sat in front of their computers wrestling with HTML table alignments? No! They’re writing news stories, whisking them off to the web-bods who then place them neatly into a pre-designed CMS. Who designs the CMS? Why, web designers of course…!

That’s not to say we don’t need to know how some of it works, but simply learning Dreamweaver doesn’t bring us any closer to that goal. What’s the use in studying a program that nobody uses? Teach a few basic tags like bold, italic and underline, and then get onto the important stuff: Journalism.

Online journalism courses should ask questions like: What’s different about an online audience to a print audience? What can we do with online that would couldn’t do with print? How can we make this news story as accessible to our audience as possible?

It’s the decisions that arise from quesitons like these which make online journalism the most fascinating medium in today’s media. But, instead, many students are finding themselves making decisions over whether to implement a 1997-esque scrolling marquee.

HTML, PHP, MySQL and all those other complicated acronyms are to the online world what ink is to the print world. As long as we know it’s there, then that’s good enough. It’s time for less coding, and more reporting.

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