Scared of Technology? Try This: ‘Pick One Thing to Learn’
A drone flies through the 2014 Journalism Interactive Conference in College Park, Md.
April 5, 2014

AJR is the publishing partner for the Journalism Interactive 2014 conference, held April 4 and 5 in College Park, Md.

Journalism instructors know that technology is at the heart of today’s newsgathering. But that doesn’t mean they know how to teach it.

For them, Matt Waite has a message:

“Stop trying to figure it all out – it’s impossible, no one can do it,” said Waite, who teaches reporting and digital product development at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Instead, take a class, learn one program, set a goal and find a way to get there.

“Pick one thing to learn, be stubborn and don’t quit until it’s done,” Waite said. “You can’t learn it all, but you can learn something.”

Waite was a panelist at a session of Saturday’s 2014 Journalism Interactive conference at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Managing Change panel at Journalism Interactive

(L. to R.) Gary Kebbel, Matt Waite, Brian Boyer and Lisa Williams discuss the challenges journalism educators face in managing change at Journalism Interactive 2014. By Joanna Nurmis/AJR.

Gary Kebbel, a professor and director of the Mobile Media Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, also on the panel, said journalism instructors have a duty to teach the freshest newsgathering technologies.

“If we’re still preparing them for jobs that don’t exist, are we acting ethically?” he asked.

Saturday’s session addressed issues raised Friday by Amy Webb, a digital media strategist.

At a conference session Friday, Webb said that journalism instructors need to revamp their curricula and infuse technology in every class they teach, to make “the degree matter more.”

“The problem is that journalism schools don’t make journalism sound very interesting,” in a technological world, Webb said.

At Saturday’s session, Kebbel acknowledged that the tech universe is intimidating.

He said he began taking a class in data visualization, only to find he couldn’t keep up.

“Part way through I realized, I can’t do this,” Kebbel said. But he added that he knows he has to learn the skills. “At the very least, I need to take the class again. And practice it more.”

Brian Boyer, a visuals editor at NPR, said that reporters who understand the tools of technology can speed up their reporting and avoid being bogged down.

Journalism instructors, he said, can teach their students how to use spreadsheets and the basics of Python, a programming language, to help them pull together the data they need for stories.

The students Boyer wants to hire are the ones who “understand how to use their computer to become a better reporter.”

Lisa Williams, a digital engagement editor at the Investigative News Network, had some tips to make learning new skills less frustrating.

“I don’t allow myself to remain stuck on anything for more than 20 minutes,” Williams said. “Don’t debug anything after 8 p.m.” And don’t be afraid to find help. “Ask questions really early.”

She advised trying to figure problems out by going on line for help, taking full advantage of sites such as, a question-and-answer site for programmers.

And Williams said that when it comes to acquiring new technological skills, there should be no excuses.

“I tell people that they’re not allowed to say they’re not technical people or computer people,” said Williams.

“It’s looks scary and you want to believe it’s hard,” Williams said.  “But it’s not as hard as people think it is.”



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