J-Schools: Don’t waste precious time on Dreamweaver!

Axel Rouvin, via Flickr (CC license)
Dreamweaver class for journalists? Might as well be…

A colleague is teaching an interactive storytelling course at a big-name and very, very expensive journalism school. I asked him which tool they’ll use to build the class project, a webzine (really a package of online feature stories, it sounds like, not a periodical). His answer: Dreamweaver.

This stuns me. Why, why, why use Dreamweaver for a journalism project?

I’m serious. Look over the feature list on the Dreamweaver site. Dreamweaver is a great Web design and development tool. It’s fine if you want to create a slick corporate site, or a site to support an ad or advocacy campaign, or a free-standing, fairly static micro-site.

But Dreamweaver is NOT a content management system. From what I understand it doesn’t even play nicely with content management systems. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s almost totally irrelevant to the practice of journalism. Here’s why…

The vast majority of content that news orgs and independent news venues publish online are not the kind of thing you’d ever touch Dreamweaver for. Yes, news orgs do sometimes run slick multimedia online features packaged more or less as micro-sites — but that’s rare. And, I’d say, those projects are primarily bids for journalism awards. (Read: attempts to impress colleagues and competition.)

Content management systems have become the core tech tool of the journo trade. These days, journalists absolutely need to know how to use a CMS — not just to file stories, but how to set them up for projects, integrate stylesheets and themes with them, choose the right CMS tool for the job, integrate content from a variety of sources (including feeds, databases, and XML), and creatively distribute and promote their stories.

In short, a working knowledge of CMS technology and how it integrates with the internet is what gives a journalist’s career legs these days.

But teaching journalists Dreamweaver? You might as well teach them calligraphy. It makes your content looks really pretty — and it generally won’t be worth a damn on a real journo job or project.

…Oh, and it’s not just me who’s appalled by this ridiculous tool choice. When I mentioned this on Twitter earlier today, Here are the responses I received:

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7 thoughts on J-Schools: Don’t waste precious time on Dreamweaver!

  1. All j-school should be teaching robust CMSes. The best way to teach this is to require that they work on the student newspaper. Make sure that paper has a great CMS that allows students to learn about the Web and how to update a Web site.

    Now, I’m not saying that students shouldn’t learn Dreamweaver, because some newspapers do make micro-sites. I build one for my newspaper every few months. I hand code everything, but some people might be able to do the same with Dreamweaver. I think ,however, having a strong knowledge of html/css is a better option.

    There are plenty of times when I have used both at my job. CSS should be an optional online journalism class, but it’s a tool that many journalists could learn.

    Back to CMSes, all students should be encouraged to get a WordPress blog. It’s a great way to learn a simple CMS. Combine that with a robust CMS for a student newspaper, and students should be prepared to work in modern journalism.

  2. Thanks, Pat.

    You wrote: “Now, I’m not saying that students shouldn’t learn Dreamweaver, because some newspapers do make micro-sites. I build one for my newspaper every few months.”

    Now, ideally a micro-site should integrate somehow with the main site. What’s been your experience for trying to achieve that integration between a dreamweaver site and the CMS backing the main site?

    Also, could you link to an example of on of your dreamweaver micro-sites?

    – Amy Gahran

  3. Here is an example of a micro-site that I built dedicated to the Army-Navy football game, which is a huge event for my paper: http://www.stripes.com/armynavy

    Ideally, I’d like to build micro -sites like the Post does (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/metro/interactives/blackmen/blackmen.html?wpisrc=600014), where the micro-site is still within the overall site and CMS, but our current CMS doesn’t allow for this. So, we do what we can. It works fine though for big special features.

    We also have all of our normal stat tracking on the micro-sites.

    I like using micro-sites for packages that run for several days and combine a lot of content. Plus, they are fun to build.

    I don’t believe, however, you can teach a journalist how to build a good micro-site in one journalism class. Perhaps the best use of teaching students Dreamweaver is so they can learn how to build digital resumes. If they are good at that, maybe they can look into making micro-sites.

    I have been building Web sites for years, however, and it’s hard to teach good Web design in a short period of time.

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  6. Amy, you are absolutely right. I teach Digital Design as part of a Communication carreer here in Colombia, and I do think exactly like you do.

    Teaching Dream in an university, depending the audience, it’s like teaching writers how to build a typewriter (or program a word processor!) to begin writing!

    This time should be used in developing their skills to use media in their benefit to tell a story…

  7. Dreamweaver is a great tool to use to learn and understand HTML & CSS. The code view is ideal for this purpose.

    I therefore can’t see the harm in learning HTML & CSS with the help of Dreamweaver.

    When you are unleashed on a CMS these skills should come in handy.

    I’m sure there are too many types of CMS used in journalism to be able to teach them all in J-School so why not learn about the underlying technology (HMTL & CSS)?

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