Posted on February 2, 2009
Flash for journalists: Why?
My one-day Flash workshop on Friday for the Nieman Journalism Fellows went well, judging from the feedback I heard from the participants. I had two fantastic assistants, Chad Capellman and Jared Novack, both of whom are experienced journalists with skills in various Web technologies (check out their sites; they are available for hire).
To set realistic expectations at the beginning, I started by asking how many of those in the room had any background or training in design (print or online). With 22 participants in the room, only one hand went up. That’s what I anticipated — the Fellows are mostly reporters. Then I explained that probably no more than three of them would ever use Flash after the class. Unless they intend to go out and acquire a whole new skill set in graphic design, knowing Flash will not open any new doors for them.
“So why are we having this workshop?” someone asked. A fair question!
The simple answer: Reporters do not know what they need to learn. This goes across the board. They have an idea that they need “online skills.” They are not sure what that means, exactly. No disrespect to the Nieman Foundation or the Fellows — spending six hours learning about Flash (if I’m teaching you!) does give you an appreciation for techniques and workflow and a mode of thinking that you were likely unfamiliar with.
Six hours with Flash is akin to taking a six-hour cooking class about an exotic foreign cuisine that you have hardly ever tasted before, much less tried to re-create in your own kitchen. You are NOT going to know enough after six hours to go home and whip up a feast in the style of that cuisine. But you will be MUCH more savvy and smart the next time you look at a menu in a restaurant of that style.
With the help of a very good cookbook or two, and active trial-and-error in your kitchen (and some spectacular failures — like the time I used about 10 times too much fish sauce in my pad Thai noodles!), you could become pretty good at cooking in that style. It will not happen unless you put in the time actually cooking the stuff. If you invest sufficient time, you will likely become pretty good at it. But there are no shortcuts, no way to leap over the trial-and-error stage, no way to speed it up.
If the cooking analogy doesn’t resonate with you, think of learning to play the guitar, or becoming a high school varsity basketball player. I’m not talking about reaching the level of a Jimi Hendrix or a Michael Jordan. Just basic competence, the level where you would play a few songs at a party. That takes a lot of hours of practice.
Flash is like that. And if you do not have any background in graphic design (or alternatively, data-driven journalism — but that’s a different avenue), it’s not really the right thing for you.
I’m going to write a post, or maybe a series of posts, about what the right things for you — a reporter, especially a mid-career reporter — actually are. Stay tuned.
Update (Sept. 13, 2009): That series is complete — Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency.