Journalists, HTML, and Dreamweaver
Martin Stabe zeroes in on a conundrum that journalism educators face:
… teaching journalism students to build simple static websites is a bit odd: For most journalists, it is a pretty useless skill because no site they will ever work on will demand this of them. And for those who want to build or maintain the sorts of highly complex, CMS-driven websites they are likely to encounter professionally, it’s barely scratching the surface of what they’ll need to know to be employable.
Steve Yelvington counters:
I don’t use Dreamweaver. Never have, never will. But it seems to me to be a fine tool for exploring how information can fit together visually in a hypermedia presentation. In the real world, those students are going to be locked into heinously inflexible content management systems. There will be time for learning about them later. Classroom time should be devoted to illuminating the range of possibilities.
I’d also introduce journalism students to HTML and CSS, by the way — not because they’ll ever need to write HTML on a daily basis, but because they need to know something about the wires holding everything together under the hood.
Dave Lee wastes no words on how a little Dreamweaver might be a good thing:
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.
I wrote about this general idea two weeks ago, but I thought it would be worthwhile to link to these three well-reasoned arguments. I’m a firm believer that a couple of weeks spent on HTML and CSS will come in handy somewhere down the road for many journalism students who go on to a career in journalism. But Dreamweaver? If you’re teaching a Web design course, it will be useful after the drills in HTML and CSS, but not before. If it’s not a full-semester class about Web design, though, I don’t see a need for Dreamweaver.
You can learn a lot from solving the puzzles of Web standards-compliant Web page design, but if you’re not going into design or production, you should ask how useful that know-how will be.
I hate to see a journalist who has no clue what an A HREF is (that is, what makes a link work?) or how a document’s structure is a flexible container that can be reconfigured instantly via a CSS file. In the old days, the reporter didn’t know how to run the printing press, but at least she knew that paper and ink (and at one time, hot lead) were involved in the process.
Update (Feb. 17): Mark Comerford (in Sweden) intelligently noted:
… the problem is not Dreamweaver per se but the way we tend to concentrate on particular pieces of software instead of the underlying structures the software addresses.
Thanks to Andy Dickinson for the link. I like to think that how we teach something has a lot to do with what we want the students to learn. Do you really want them to learn how to use Dreamweaver (or Photoshop, or Flash) — or do you want them to learn how to design and produce a particular format for journalism?