Tag Archives: training

I become an übergeek

Spent part of the weekend installing Apache and mySQL on my laptop to turn it into a “web development platform”. If you’d have spoken to me even a year ago, I would never have believed I could have written such a thing. 

It was kind of easier than you’d think, given that most of my experience with computers has been of the cuddly Mac OS variety (apart from some possibly useful exposure to MS-DOS back in the 18th century late 1980s).

That’s largely due to the impeccably well-produced documentation for the XAMPP software that does the heavy lifting of the installation. But I did have a WTF? moment during the process.

  • Step 1 – “Simply click on the link below.” Yep, that’s fine.   
  • Step 2 – “Doubleclick to start the installation.” Mmm – with you so far. 
  • Step 3 – “After installing simply type in the following commands to start XAMPP for MacOS X:

Go to a Terminal shell and login as the system administrator root:sudo su
To start XAMPP simply call this command:/Applications/XAMPP/xamppfiles/mampp start

  • Step 4 – “uh…”

Thankfully we have the internet, and as long as you are  prepared to sit by the computer cursing for 15 minutes while you sift through the sluice of the web’s variable quality advice, you are almost bound to find the solution you need. 

So – after a bit of experimentation with Apple’s Terminal application [for which even the Wikipedia entry linked to here is nigh incomprehensible], I managed to get the web server up and running and then went crazy and installed Joomla, Drupal and, for a bit of light relief, the full WordPress software. 

I’ll probably migrate this blog to fully hosted WordPress in time, mainly to get control of the template and add some plugin goodness. First I get to learn how to create a site in one of the oh-so popular modular CMS systems around.

I had thought I’d start with Joomla, as it’s supposed to be easier to learn. But then, for that reason, I thought I’d actually try to crack Drupal first. It’s the system that publishing companies would probably opt for if they go for a non-custom CMS, which makes it more useful to know from a freelance perspective. 

I’ll update with progress reports as I start to make any…

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Teaching web audio and video

Just got my first sessional lecturing gig at Southampton Solent – teaching first-year journalism students about web audio and video. I’m pretty pleased about this, as it was the result of a spec email I sent to the course leader. Which goes to show it’s always worth punting for work – you never know who’ll take you up on it.

It’s also interesting because, of all the many, many things they could have asked me to teach – writing, subbing, layout, software etc etc – they went straight for Web 2.0 skills. Luckily I know Final Cut and Audacity through making animated films. Audacity – the standard low-end podcasting program – is free. But you don’t need to invest in high-end software when Macs come with iMovie as standard. Any journalist with their own machine can learn the basics of sound and movie editing easily. And given what appears to be a lack of suitable web A/V tutors at Southampton at least, it looks like it’s a worthwhile investment of time.

The moral? Get up to speed with everything interactive. It means learning a whole lot of new software tricks, made trickier by the fact that whether something works on the web or not can be affected by your browser, your software, the site you are dealing with and what the weather’s like.

Already I’ve learned that embedding video into a blog is really easy if it’s hosted on YouTube, and really tricky if it’s hosted somewhere else – such as Vimeo, when you have to work around using a site called VodPod. Why? I have no idea. All I know is I’ve been registering to join a hell of a lot of social networking/social media-type sites recently…

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Why Journalism shouldn’t be taught as a BA

I posted here about Paul Bradshaw’s interesting video touching on the inflexibility of journalism education.

I was surprised about this – until I started having more to do with journalism colleges. You’d think colleges and universities would be falling over themselves to offer what employers wanted. But it’s not quite so. Why should this be?

I think there are several reasons:

  • Students pay for courses, not employers. It’s a very competitive education market, and colleges need to keep student numbers up. This means teaching what students enjoy and are interested in [nice layouts, cool web sites], rather than tough, boring things like, say, how to sub-edit rigorously, or learning proof-reading marks.
  • Course format. Courses are taught in units, so whatever you teach has to fit into this. Units also need to produce something called a “learning artefact” that can be assessed. So a workshop on sub-editing skills might be useful, but it’s difficult to assess. It’s better for the college for students to produce a home page in Dreamweaver that can be handed in on CD. [A bit useless for employers though – no journalist I know has ever used Dreamweaver professionally.]
  • Academic inertia. Courses have to go through an academic approval process before they can go on the syllabus. You don’t want to endure this too often I suspect if you are a course leader. And of course journalism degrees last three years, so colleges don’t want to chop and change if they can help it.
  • Cultural differences. With the best will in the world, full-time academics get out of the loop about industry – what it needs and how fast it’s changing. For academia, six months may be a close deadline – in publishing it could be six hours.

Upshot: the interests of the media industry and colleges/universities are not aligned. Of course, the industry has itself to blame to some extent, as it used to train its new recruits internally [note: that would be training, not education, as journalism is a trade, not a profession. Much more appropriate]. But cost-cutting over the years has pushed it out to higher education, with all that this entails.

And you have to blame the government for thinking that one-size-fits-all degree-based education is what the UK needs to produce a skilled workforce. It isn’t of course – and making a degree the de facto qualification for journalists means young people have to spend something like £20,000 going through three years of college to enter a profession where the pay is generally pretty low, compared to real professions such as law or accountancy.

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Journalism skills gap

Saw this on the excellent Online Journalism Blog – a video taken at the Society of Editors 08 conference about the skills seen as desirable by media employers and by training and education providers.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

There’s a very interesting statistic at about 3m:30s in the video, which is the willingness of the different groups to compromise about their requirements. Guess who’s more flexible. Yep – employers. The education providers are noticeably more rigid about what they can and/or want to train. It’s another reason I think journalism training is not best handled in a university environment.

Why should this be so? Some thoughts here.

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Money, sex and power

That’s what we all want – and basically that’s what you won’t get as a freelance writer/journalist or sub-editor. Not directly, anyway. And in the case of money, not promptly.

So why bother? Why put in the hours of creative fervour and spend all that time parsing sentences correctly in order to turn in polished prose about a trade show you would crawl on your hands and knees on broken glass to avoid visiting in real life?

It’s called professionalism, people. And that’s what this is all about.

Freelance Unbound is all about that code – get the work done; get it done right, and get it done on time. Or earlier.

It aims to dissect the world of the freelance in publishing with forensic precision. To get under the skin of the business and look at how it works, why it works and how we, humble freelancers can exploit it for all its worth. Or at least blather about it.

I sort of know what I’m talking about. I’ve spent pretty much two decades in publishing – magazines mainly, trade and business press mostly – and most of that time has been freelance (or self-employed as I sometimes like to call it, though that definition has been disputed over the years as employers and the Inland Revenue try periodically to tax us at source as if we were – shudder – employees).

I’ve moved from subbing and layout to features writing and editing. And now, thanks to one too many encounters with young journalists fresh out of a journalism degree who can’t actually string a coherent article together, I’ve moved into training.

So Freelance Unbound will cover stuff to do with the mechanics of producing content profitably and competently, as well as ranting about the fact that yards of copy is produced for the national media without the writer once engaging their brain to think about what they’re saying, or researching the background. Have I done it too? Of course. There’s still no excuse.

Unbound is also an exercise in exploring the wonderful world of Web 2.0. That’s all that social networking malarkey the kids are into these days for anyone over about 30. As I’m starting to work on training material to help people rework printed editorial content for the web, blogging is a useful tool to understand the web as a medium better. There’s a heap of material online about writing for the web, but doing it is much better than reading it.

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