Equipping yourself for journalism

Did you get any cool goodies from Santa this year? Sadly, I did not. But I have my eye on a new 15-inch MacBook Pro, which leads me to the topic of this post: In part, it’s the old debate of Mac vs. Windows — but also, the criteria you use for your purchases.

A graduating senior in our journalism program talked to me about this at the end of the fall semester. She had heard that our journalism department is discussing a possible laptop requirement for undergraduates, and the laptop we have in mind is a MacBook.

She gave some good arguments about why she thinks it would be better to let the students choose any laptop — the main one being that you can buy a Windows laptop for less than a MacBook. Her parents gave her a nicely loaded Dell laptop as a high school graduation present. They bought a great service contract and made sure it had enough memory and a sizable hard drive. She had not expected such a wonderful gift, and she felt very grateful. Part of her objection to our laptop requirement proposal was based on this: What if she came to college with her swell laptop and found out it was the wrong one?

I had a conversation about this with the parents of a current high school senior a few days ago, as we were sitting around stuffing ourselves with Christmas cookies and the kids were asleep. First I told them about the education discount on most big-name software (go to a site such as JourneyEd.com and check out the prices) — every college kid in the U.S. is eligible for these deep discounts, but only AFTER they are enrolled and can produce an official student ID. But more important, I put the brakes on their plan to buy their daughter a laptop as a graduation gift. She has a couple of admission offers, but she has not selected her school yet. Also, she’s not sure what her major will be. (Different majors do have different computer requirements.)

This post is not only about college students, though.

What about working journalists who are ready to buy a new laptop? Should they stick with Windows if that is what is used in their newsroom? Or should they get a Windows machine because it’s cheaper?

Here are my arguments in favor of the MacBook Pro:

  • 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 15.4-inch screen (1440×900), 2 GB memory, 250 GB hard drive, NVIDIA GeForce video card, iLife, Mac OS X v10.5, free shipping (Apple.com), $1,999 or “as low as $48 a month.”
  • Dell “Studio 15”: 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 15.4-inch screen (1280×800), 3 GB memory, 250 GB hard drive, Intel Graphics Media Accelerator, Microsoft Works, Windows Vista, free shipping (Dell.com), $699 or “as low as $21 a month.”

Now you think I’m nuts, right? I understand. The crucial difference between these two laptops, though, is not the hardware — it’s the software. The Mac OS X operating system and the iLife suite — iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb, and GarageBand — will make it easy for you to start producing multimedia stories. Windows Vista will not.

Let me return to my earnest student whose parents bought her that nice Windows laptop as a high school graduation gift. After explaining how great her laptop is, she said, “I mean, I only use it for e-mail, Web surfing, downloading, and MS Word.”

Now I’ll quote one of my colleagues, a non-tech-savvy guy who got his first-ever Mac about a year ago. One day he opened up iMovie and plugged in the family video camera. “It was so easy to edit the video,” he said. “I didn’t have to read instructions. It was intuitive.”

Finally, let me put the oldest worry to rest: “At work we use Windows. Will I be able to bring files home, or use files from my Mac at work?” Yes, and yes. I do this all the time, and I DO NOT have Windows installed on my current MacBook. MS Word, Excel, Photoshop, Flash, etc., are all compatible from Windows to Mac and from Mac to Windows. Just copy the file to a thumb drive or e-mail it to yourself — it will work identically on either operating system.

22 Comments on “Equipping yourself for journalism

  1. Personally, I’d always tend towards a PC over a Mac, both out of familiarity, and the fact there are more options available for most tasks.

    But in reality, the computer itself makes little difference with so much processing power available in the cloud – for instance, on my aging personal laptop I run Open Office and GIMP rather than Office and Photoshop.

    Personally, if I was setting myself up as a journalist again, my minimum set up would be a smartphone (N95 ideally), loaded with Qik for shooting video, and a netbook I could carry easily anywhere, fire up quickly, and use for accessing online-based apps (mainly Google docs, Twitter, Facebook, etc).

    Anything involving Multimedia would be handled by any laptop/desktop back at basecamp!

    Good examples of the smartphone usages in journalism come from http://jimmacmillan.net/ and http://ourmaninside.com/, including @documentally covering Reuters press conferences etc.

  2. Another case for the Macbook Pro: If you’re a nutcase like, um, this guy I know, you have your MacBook Pro with VMware Fusion, which allows you to install Vista, XP, Ubuntu or, ahem, all three. Best of all possible worlds, especially if you’re doing cross browser testing. So even if there’s this one program that you have to have that only runs on windows — I’m looking at you ArcGIS — that’s still no reason to get a Windows machine.

  3. “and the laptop we have in mind is a MacBook”

    You’re kidding, right? Do you have a deal with Apple? And if you do, are you passing those savings on to the students?

    Why would you ever take a stance on something like that? Especially when it’s on the students’ tab. (As if tuition, and the lack of income, aren’t hard enough to handle already.)

    It’s like telling a carpenter, “Bring your own tools – just make sure they are Stanley.”

    What if I chose to buy the $700 PC and spend the spare $1300 on video editing software? What’s it to the college?

    And since when is video the be-all and end-all of online journalism? Show me the money.

  4. @Dan Thornton – Thanks for the cool links!

    As for the desktop “back at basecamp,” I’m gravitating toward having one laptop and one only. No need for a desktop anymore.

  5. Bit torrent is the great equalizer. WHAT? They’re freshmen. They haven’t taken ethics yet!!! Lol.

    In all seriousness it can all be accomplished on either. Get Audacity and GIMP free. iMovie comes with your Mac, and Microsoft Movie Maker, which comes with your PC, can get the job done too.

  6. I think this is a terrible irresponsible post, Mindy.

    FWIW, Windows Vista comes with Movie Maker, a DVD burner, a photo library, and Windows Media Player. They’re all perfectly fine programs with advantages and disadvantages compared to their Apple counterparts, but it’s disingenuous to pretend Windows can’t do all of the same things OS X can do out of the box. There’s plenty of free software out there as well — Picasa3 kicks iPhoto to the curb. Audacity is a darn good audio editor for the price.

    The real issue comes when it’s time to move on to real software. The $1,300 price difference between the Dell and the Mac buys a Canon HV30 with a decent microphone, Adobe CS4 suite, and some good HD video hosting to get your work seen.

    If I had only $2,000 to spend building a multimedia rig from scratch, I sure wouldn’t blow it all on a Mac.

  7. Excuse me — I intended to write “terribly irresponsible,” not “terrible.” The post isn’t terrible, it just misses the point of what’s best for a student on a budget.

  8. I used exclusively Windows machines from 1998 until late in 2006. I teach Windows Movie Maker and Audacity, both to undergrads and in workshops for professional journalists. So I do understand what you’re saying.

    It seems to me that Windows users rarely learn how to use these tools on their own, while Mac users seem likely to open their iLife apps and start producing work pretty easily. Sure, what can be done on a Mac can also be done on a Windows computer. Can be. But how much sweat and blood does the user have to put in?

  9. From an institutional perspective, requiring and supporting a single operating system makes absolute sense. Being a Mac guy, too, I would argue that the software is far superior—particularly for large-scale deployment in a potentially hostile environment (e.g. a college campus). Yes, the hardware is marginally more expensive (although your comparison does not fairly illustrate as much), but most agree that the total cost of ownership is lower for Macs.

  10. I used Windows both at home and work (at a TV News station) for over 15 years. When I began teaching journalism courses at a college I was told I had to switch to a Mac as the Journalism program is laptop-based and the students are equipped with Macs. I was told that the students are using Macs based on research on what the journalism industry is using.

    I wasn’t happy about the switch but I really had no choice in the matter. Lucky for me it was forced otherwise I probably would have never gone near a Mac in my lifetime. I had edited audio/video and designed websites with my Windows laptop but once I learned how to use the Mac I could clearly see the difference between the two systems. I teach a variety of courses (online journalism, magazine publishing, broadcast production) and I can’t imagine teaching these courses with a Windows machine.

  11. I know at Louisiana State University, they have mac laptops for journalism students with all the software. And I know LSU is a big school, but I think it’s wrong for a school require students, who already have little money, to get a new laptop.

    That said, I have been a PC for a while and started my multimedia with Movie Maker. Now that my six year old PC is dying, I am going to a mac because that is what i have been using at work.

    And Mindy, this blog has helped a lot.

  12. “total cost of ownership”

    A point lost on just about every Windoze user I’ve ever talked to… but oh so true.

  13. Pingback: Even my wife is a Mac now « Newsroom on my Back

  14. This is just OS fascism.

    Let me explain: I’ve run Windows networks, worked on FreeBSD, run data centers with 6-7 different OSes running, and I’m writing this on a 15″ Apple MBP.

    I would never, ever, *ever* tell somebody what OS they must use. It’s their choice. If they ask me for an opinion, fine. I’ll help them evaluate their needs, what they’re familiar with, and more importantly, what they can afford.

    Had you considered that $700 was a really, really big outlay for that student’s parents? That they simply couldn’t afford $2k for an Apple? Do you realise that you’ve taken the sheen off a special present and made her resent her parents for buying the “wrong” machine?

    The machine she has is fine. There is absolutely nothing she can not do with it that you are asking to be done. Is the Apple “better”? For you at an aesthetic level, maybe. For me in my line of work (development), definitely. For her? That’s for her to decide – she’s an adult after all.

    You’ve also completely ignored the students who wish to use FLOSS by bringing in a laptop with Linux installed. Would you let them do that if it was on a MacBook?

    Here’s what you do: say they need to have a laptop and it should be capable, as they bring it into the classroom, to be able to do the things you want to do. It’s their responsibility to know the software, not yours. Point them to FLOSS, Windows and OS X suggestions, but tell them to research. You trust them to research, right? They’re going to be journalists, right? You’re not teaching them to be computer operators, you’re teaching them to use the tools they’ve bought after research to produce a story.

    Frankly, your MacBook-only attitude (and I say this as an Apple user), is plain stupid.

  15. @Paul Robinson – If I saw a big percentage of Windows-using students embracing more applications than MS Word, I would agree with you. But what I see is, kids who have MacBooks learn and do all kinds of things that the Windows kids do not. I know Windows can do all the same stuff — but for the average non-geek, apparently one OS encourages exploration and experimentation and the other does not. (And Linux encourages a different kind of exploration and experimentation.)

  16. What about small equipment like a voice recorder, (video)camera etc? 🙂

    Any tips and/or advice? 🙂

  17. I have to agree with Paul on this issue.

    I’ve worked with several OS’s and sure, if you can afford a MAC than be my guest – but IMO, you ARE buying the worlds largest dongle for apps that require you to jump through alot of hoops just to edit video – or audio for that matter. Same goes for Avid Media Composer – they both use an antiquated workflow methodology that isn’t conducive to working efficiently.

    One challenge I read constantly about on the Yahoo NewspaperVideo newsgroup is how shooters have to perform multiple somersaults just to accomplish a given task – things that SONY’s Vegas Pro has had way before the other big names were even remotely capable of.

    For editing multimedia content in the 21st century, SONY Vegas Pro is so far ahead in features and ease of use for newspaper content I shake my head at the MAC snobbery around video editing. IMO, newspapers should be teaching Vegas to shooters – it’s easy to learn and can handle multple formats on the timeline with no conforming.

    I recently switched to Vista 64 recently on both my Dell D620 laptop and custom built Quad core desktop and haven’t had a single issue since the release of Vista SP1. Combined with SONY’s stable of apps, I can edit faster and in ways MAC users would have their mouths drop to the floor. You still can’t natively burn a blu-ray disc on a MAC – that’s real innovation (sarcasm mine). Install Windows Defender and Comodo Firewall and Vista is more secure than OSX for those who feel compelled to raise that argument.

    Sure, if you work in a collaborative environment, then one of the triple AAA suites is the way to go – but most newspaper shooters aren’t – especially if they’re editing out in the field on a laptop.

    MAC users have been sold an expensive bill of goods by Steve Jobs and his spin doctoring ad wizards.

  18. There’s also the $600 Mac Mini available for those students on a budget:

    ..actually cheaper than that with the educational discount.

    Granted, it doesn’t have the speed or mobility of the Macbook Pro, but it’s still a viable alternative for those on a budget.

  19. In the post and comments, there are repeated references to observations that students on Macs seem to be more innovative and play with the tools more than those on PCs. The conclusion seems to be that this is because the Mac is more intuitive and accessible than the PC.

    I’d posit the following, though, based on my experience as a high school teacher (in one low-income, high minority school and another giant high school serving an equal number of rich and poor) and a college adviser. Students who have Macs may be better at these tools and more gungho about them because they have more experience with computers and technology in general. Students with Macs tend to come from higher-income homes with better-educated parents. Economically, this makes sense, with Macs costing more than PCs. In a home on a tight budget, it really doesn’t matter that over a 3-5 year period the Mac might cost less; you either have the money to spend or you don’t.

    So perhaps those Mac-owning students are better with these programs not only because the Mac OS is better, but because they have: a) parents who are better at computers and so have taught them more; b) more experience with computers because they’ve grown up with more money and, most likely, more exposure to computers; and c) less fear about experimentation, etc., because of a & b above.

    IMHO, it’s not just about the OS. It’s also about those students’ experiences and background. This is based solely on my observations, so I could be completely off-base. But I think it is an important consideration.

  20. I will preface this by saying that I posted an enormous amount of content onto a Web site for six years using a PC in my office and a PC laptop in the field. But you have to be very careful when you buy a PC if you want to do multimedia. For starters, most PCs, especially laptops, do not come with Firewire ports — a must for serious video editing. (I hope that the introduction of USB 3 later this year may make this less of an issue). Second, a user must be proactive about installing and constantly updating virus software on a PC. If a user isn’t disciplined enough to check for updates and run virus scans every week, a Mac is a better investment. Third, off-the-shelf PC-formatted external hard drives won’t handle files greater than 4.0 MB. In the world of HD video capture, this can be a huge limitation.

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