When I took my first journalism classes back in the early 1990s, it was the thing you HAD to know. At that point, desktop publishing was in its infancy as a journalism skill, and students who knew Pagemaker had the keys to the Kingdom. Rumors spread throughout the J-school of people getting rich job offers and tons of perks simply for knowing the BASICS of how the program worked.
By the time I graduated, Pagemaker was out and Quark was in. EVERYBODY who was ANYBODY had to know and use Quark. Instructors were scrambling to revamp lesson plans to make their design courses Quark-friendly. Editing classes were taught in computer labs, where the few precious copies of this incredible program resided. People hung tight to the idea that Quark and Quark alone would be the program of the future. In fact, when we decided to convert our newsroom from Quark to InDesign in the early 2000s, we almost had a revolt.
Fortunately for me, we had a design professor who told the students the most important thing about journalism education: InDesign is basically Quark with different quick-cut keys. We didn’t teach you how to use software. We taught you how to be designers.
This thought came to mind this morning when I saw that Adobe planned to finally kill Flash no later than 2020. In the mid-2000s, Flash became the web-version of Quark and Pagemaker: The “it” program that would guarantee fortune and glory. I remember sitting in my basement, teaching it to myself from Mindy McAdams’ incredible tutorial text. I feared that if I didn’t know it, I would be a homeless, unemployed faculty member with a little cardboard sign:
Turns out, it was like those “it” programs in another key way: It will soon cease to be.
This is one of the main reasons why journalism education is crucial. We don’t teach you how to run a program or use software simply as an end. We teach you how to do quality journalistic work, whether it be in writing, reporting, public relations, photography, video, graphics or design. We teach you the underlying aspects of what makes for a good piece and what makes for a bad piece. We then teach you how to critically think about your own work as you seek to improve it and your skills.
The software matters, don’t get me wrong, but the software programs are tools to use once you master the ideas behind how to use them in furthering a process toward an end goal. In other words, you wouldn’t take a class called, “Hammer 101” or “Saw 242.” You might, however, take a carpentry course, where you learn how best to build something and how each tool can help you in that regard.