Summer is the perfect time to learn for j-school students.
So, I’m providing you with a summer reading list to make you a bona-fide new media journalist. Luckily for all of you, this summer reading list is more than just text (there’s reading too, for you print people).
You’ll need it too, since most of you aren’t learning what you need to know from j-school, and if you do have a robust and modern program, there is probably a thing or two more you can learn.
Here is the perfect place to start. An overview of new media, what it is and what you need to know to get with the program: Poynter Online.
Now you know why you need to get with the program. Here is the program:
You won’t want to do something on your own, especially when it’s not for credit or money, without some incentive.
Go to these sites and check out how awesome these projects are. New media rocks.
Not Just Another Number: 49th parallel productions and the Oakland Tribune combined to make one of the most powerful pieces of new media journalism chronicling the loss of life in the Bay Area due to homicides. They used an interactive Flash presentation to make it all happen.
The Bay Area witnessed a spike in homicides the last few years, but the impact of that increase was hard to convey to readers. Instead of just writing more stories, they came up with one of the most engaging special features I have ever seen.
The site has a map of every single homicide and where they occur. You can click on the locations of the map to find out who was murdered, how old the person was, how the crime was committed, the status of the case, etc.
The feature gets really powerful when you select a homicide that has audio interviews with family members and friends (it’s not possible to get this for every person). These clips really make you feel the enormity of the loss.
The site is much more than that. It also lists risk/resilience factors, has an area for people to comment on the situation, has voices from community leaders and encourages people to take action.
It’s community journalism at its finest.
Chicagocrime.org: A must see for any Chicago resident. It breaks down every crime that has happened in Chicago by crime type, location (whether it be by street, area of city, zip code), etc.
You can find out how many assaults occurred on the city block you live or work on. What makes this site so awesome is its integration with Google maps. Pins show you were each crime occurred (each crime type has a different color pin). You can easily see which areas or streets have more crime and what type of crime.
I would never buy or rent a home in Chicago without checking this site first. Now, that’s serving the community.
onBeing: onBeing is one of those incredibly quirky, crazy ideas that turned out to be a smashing success. It’s one of the most popular sections of www.washingtonpost.com, and it’s engrossing. What makes it even crazier is that a main-stream media company like The Washington Post signed off on it.
It’s just random, interesting people in D.C. sharing their thoughts on life and various topics. It doesn’t sound that riveting, but click the link. You won’t be disappointed. The interviews are great, but the onBeing site itself rocks.
It might be the best Flash video player I have ever seen. It’s this incredible visual way to scroll between recent interviews. You can also see a preview of each clip by mousing over the videos.
It’s a special section of the site dedicated to connecting with people. That’s something journalism needs more of.
Every journalist should at least know what HTML is. Every j-school student and recent grad should know some HTML. You really don’t build sites anymore with HTML, but HTML tags are always your friend.
The perfect place to start for all things Web related is the W3C School. The World Wide Web Consortium is the governing body that sets the standards for Web code. There is no better place to learn standards compliant Web design.
The best part is that it is all free.
Start with the HTML Tutorial. It will help you understand and learn the basics of HTML. You may never actual need to know how to code anything intricate, but having an understanding of HTML will only help.
I would suggest clicking the start learning now link and then later doing some of the examples. Finish up with a quiz after you get a hang of HTML. You could honestly learn HTML pretty well in a day, if you really put your mind to it.
It’s an easy language to learn.
You need to learn HTML before you can learn CSS, but make no mistake about it, CSS is what you really want to learn.
CSS and HTML work together, but CSS gives you much more power and flexibility. With CSS you can do a lot of cool effects on your site. But it’s not all about fancy effects or advanced typography (HTML only supports very basic typography).
CSS requires less code to build a site. Once you get the hang of CSS (it has a much steeper learning curve) you will be able to develop sites much more rapidly. Plus, CSS frees you from those blocky table-based designs that used to be all over the Web.
The final reason CSS rocks is that you can easily change the look of your whole site by changing one file (your main .css file). If I want to change the font size, weight and color on my blog, I only need to change a few lines of code in one file. If my blog was built in HTML, I would have to change every single <font> tag on the site. A single page could have dozens of tags.
That simple task could take me hours, whereas it would take under a minute in CSS.
Again, as a journalist you don’t need to be a CSS master, but knowing CSS and how it works will allow you to work better with dedicated developers. In addition, you’ll have a much in demand skill for the future.
An excellent place to start again is the W3C school. Do the exact protocol as last time with the three parts.
But you need more than the W3C for CSS. I recommend a great book for beginners by Eric Meyer. CSS Web Site Design Hands on Training will give you everything you need to know to become proficient at CSS in a short period of time.
What makes this book so good is that it has an intro section that explains HTML and CSS. Then after you understand what exactly it is and why it is important, it gives you hands on lessons. There is no better way to learn new Web techniques than hands on experience.
Do every lesson in the book. If you do that you should be as good as many Web designers out there. If you have any questions while doing the lessons, the W3C site is a great place to start. And, you can always ask me for advice on CSS.
But the best advice I can ever give you is read anything you can by Eric Meyer. I learned CSS inside and out from two of his previous books (they are intermediate-advanced, however, while this book is for beginners-intermediate).
Get a blog
All of these are free, and they can be your first Web site. It’s a great way to get your feet wet with the Web, and I’m sure it might impress a few potential employers. I prefer Word Press strongly over Blogger because there are so many templates and plug ins you can use to customize your site. And you can create a custom design like I did with my site with all those fancy CSS skills you learned.
Better yet, get your own Web site. A Small Orange has accounts for as low as $5 a month. You and a few j-school friends can sign up for an account to test out your new HTML and CSS skills. A Small Orange has a service that will automatically install you a custom blog of your choice, which you can play around with and customize heavily.
You can’t learn unless you are willing to test the waters. You’ll be amazed at some of the things you can do.
Just get out there already and don’t be afraid to fail.
Audio and video
You’re probably think what do HTML and CSS have to do with journalism? Well, if you want to develop cool features, a lot. HTML and CSS are like desktop publishing for the Web. And isn’t desktop publishing part of journalism?
But I know all of you want to be reporters. The Web will always need writers, but you can be more than a writer on the Web. You can take audio and video clips. Certain stories lend themselves well to audio, while others lend themselves to video. It’s great to be able to combine a written piece with photos and then audio or video.
If you’re j-school doesn’t have an audio recorder or video camera to borrow (this would be terrible news), then try to find a friend with one. The best way to learn is to fool around with the equipment. Next time you interview someone, tape record it.
If you can get a hold of a camera, interview someone.
Most j-school students have summer internships. If your job won’t let you use their equipment (or they don’t have any), go rent some. For less than $100 for a day, you can get some quality video equipment. Take it with you on your next assignment.
Don’t be afraid of failure.
You’ll need to edit your clips. A great program to start with is Apple’s iMovie. It’s probably the best beginner level editing program out there. Programs like iMovie are great because they are drag and drop, which is easy to do. Also, they are fun to use with cool effects.
iMovie is also great because it has tight integration with Garageband for audio editing and iDVD for making a DVD of your movie. If you get good at iMovie you can eventually consider upgrading to Final Cut Express HD or even Final Cut Pro Studio. All these applications are made by Apple. It’s usually easiest to stay within one companies family of products.
If you happen to be a Windows user, don’t use Windows Movie Maker. Get Avid Free DV. It’s a pretty good free movie editing software. It’s not quite in the same league as iMovie, especially when you combine it with the other iApps, but it’s very good for being free.
What makes Avid a good choice for PC users is that you can upgrade to one of many Avid products down the line. Avid has long been THE name in video editing. Apple has made some inroads, but Avid is still the most used professional software.
I know what you’re thinking. I don’t know how to use any of this software! First, both are pretty easy to learn without any real documentation. Second, I got you covered. Check out UC Berkeley’s multimedia training Web site.
You’ll find plenty of tutorials to get you started. Remember this training isn’t about becoming an expert. It’s about getting your feet wet, finding out what you can do and setting the stage for further learning.
The best way to learn is always to jump right in and start creating something.
Why would you want to learn something as complicated and idiosyncratic as Flash?
Because it’s good for slide shows, and what you need to learn is pretty basic Flash. If you enjoy the basic stuff, you can learn more to do some really cool things.
For those of you who want to jump straight into a slide show or an audio slide show, there is a neat little program called Sound Slides that creates audio slide shows. You don’t even need to know Flash (but I encourage you to) to use this program. You just drag and drop photos in there, select transitions and place audio on the timeline. It’s really easy, and you have no excuse for not at least trying it out.
Now you’ve got skills
Follow this simple plan, and you should be a new media journalist in no time. I encourage you to use this as a basic primer. After this, select a few areas to really hone in on. My specialty is CSS and Web development. Your specialty could be video, while someone else will really like Flash.
The best way to learn is by going out there and getting your hands dirty. There is no better time than now to learn, and if you follow this simple program, you’ll be primed to get a journalism job in the 21st century.
And I guarantee you’ll have fun doing it.