Off the job training for online journalists


Rebecca Froley*Hi! I’m Rebecca Froley, deputy web editor of, and the first of Adam’s guest posters this week… Finally… Sorry for posting so late in the day!

How do you learn? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself since last week’s lunchtime ‘BrainFood’ discussion session here at RBI, which touched on the question of how we should be reskilling
ourselves, and skilling up new trainees, to meet the needs of our B2B
publishing business for the (probably mostly online) future. Especially
given cuts to budgets are limiting the amount of traditional training that’s
available, so ‘research, deliver and attend new courses’ probably isn’t a practical answer…

The BrainFood format, certainly, is one option – for those outside the company, this is a monthly in-house seminar-style group where we get together for an hour to look at a video
or some other stimulus to get us thinking and talking about the future
of publishing and communications, in a more wide-ranging – and
democratic – manner than a traditional corporate training session. For me, this is exactly how I like to learn – through sharing a starting point with others that provides the opportunity for everyone to springboard off into some creative thinking and exploration of their own – and with a bit of a lateral approach.

The video in question this last week was Jeff Jarvis’ introduction to
journalist training at CUNY (part 1 and part 2 are both on YouTube), and it’s worth a watch if you’ve not seen it already, as it includes a useful list of the kinds of skills (round about 6:42 of part 2 or pictured here), and levels of skill (about 6:20), that Jarvis thinks today’s journalists need to acquire.

Sadly, I’m a little too far away to attend CUNY myself to find out exactly *how *they deliver that essential training (although I’m sure there’ll be plenty more of use on their YouTube channel once I get chance to trawl through it). But maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe, I’m thinking, we can create our own reading / viewing / exploring list that covers all these basics, right here, right now…

To kick it off, here’s my list of stuff that’s helped me think about information architecture and the way the web works as a medium, or ‘web structure – familiarity’ and ‘web pages – spec’ as Jarvis puts it, during my 10+ years in onscreen/online publishing. Given I prefer the lateral approach, the first couple of suggestions, are, I hope, a little bit offbeat and off-the-job, but might still inspire you as they have me. And with any luck, some of you will share your own suggestions for these and other online journalism essential skills too!

**Off the job training in ‘web structure’: a reading list**

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. This graphic novel about comics and graphic novels was recommended to me by the tutor on my Birkbeck College ‘Managing New Media’ course many years ago, and as well as being great fun to read – my brother stole my copy – is absolutely fantastic at opening your eyes to different ways of visualising information. It’s not about websites, but it *is *about finding the best ways to tell a story. And that’s what journalism’s all about, surely? I’d also recommend reading some of the really creative graphic novels out there, like Understanding Comics or Cancer Vixen, if you want to be challenged or inspired to think creatively about how images and text can sometimes work together to say much more than either can alone. (Ironically, something I’ve failed to attempt in this entry!)

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. Another recommendation from the Birkbeck new media course, it’s a great introduction to usability. It’s written from an engineering / product design perspective, rather than a website one, but I found it more thought-provoking as a result! Some great anecdotes that help to illustrate why you need to think through not just how you want things to work, but how people might *expect *them to work, too…

**Don’t Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug. **This is a much more practical book than the last, and if you’re after a very quick, focused read on usability on the web, it’s the best place to start. A great recommendation from one of our former product managers.

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites by Rosenfeld and Morville. Comprehensive, in-depth and reassuringly expensive! But excellent if you want to get to grips with stuff like why labelling, taxonomy, navigation, controlled vocabularies and the like matter. Particularly useful as we start to think more about providing data-driven information to our visitors, that benefits from a structured approach. Written by librarians (as far as I remember), and has a lovely picture of a polar bear on the front…

**HTML for the World Wide Web: with XHTML and CSS (Visual QuickStart Guides)by Elizabeth Castro. **Updated version of the book that taught me HTML, far more effectively than the course I once took, along with…

Webmonkey. Online web development resource, with tutorials, reference tables and checklists. Another great resource if you want to play around with HTML, even if only at a basic level. Constructing a couple of pages from scratch yourself helps you to understand how the basic building blocks of (non-Flash) websites work, and in the long-run that kind of knowledge makes it a lot easier to adapt and troubleshoot when things go wrong! Jakob Nielsen’s online databank of usability research now spans over ten years’ worth of material (it dates back to 1995, and on some issues it’s frightening to see how little progress we’ve made in really answering the questions raised). You can also sign up to receive the latest columns by email. The site isn’t pretty to look at, and you probably won’t want to follow all his rules, but given the amount of research behind most of what the Nielsen Norman Group publishes, it’s at least worth making sure you’re abandoning their guidelines for a good reason!

Over to you! BexUK

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