The Key to Journalism Success: Learn to Fiddle

Posted on February 18, 2012


Unlike a lot of more classically focused professors, just about all of my training has been on the job, as opposed to in a classroom.

To be a reporter, I decided to skip my college paper and head straight for our community’s chain of weekly newspapers, which gave me my own beat for 10 hours a week. Within two years I was covering the biggest beat in our chain and was arts editor of the biggest paper we published.

When my first full-time newspaper job converted to desktop publishing with the program Quark, we didn’t have training–we were pretty much told to figure it out and get the pages produced  by the time our next deadline rolled around.

When another newspaper job converted to Quark, I was the one training everyone else.

When I first learned HTML in 1996, the magazine I had worked for had sold advertisements for our brand new website, and there was no one to produce and place them but me. Searching through the source code of various pages, combined with trial, error and some dismal failures, eventually produced the result.

I used the same tactic when PhotoShop, and with InDesign when it ate Quark and became the industry standard for desktop publishing. It was the same with video and audio editing, social media and blogging–seek, find, execute, and ask for guidance along the way.

At Ohio State we have equipment and training of which I could have only dreamed when I was in college. The journalistic world is changing fast and furious, and every quarter it is exciting to be changing with it to get our students ready for their future (we didn’t even know the word Pinterst last quarter and I will be teaching it next quarter!).

But cutting-edge education can also means less individual exploration–less fiddling (as I call it) to seek solutions on your own terms for your own needs and your own discoveries.

We can teach you how to shoot video and how to edit it with clips we provide, but only once you have shot your own and seen what works and what doesn’t will you truly think like a videographer.

We can take you step by step through a Google map with data we provide, but making one that applies to your life or your project will make that map come to life for you.

We can send you to cover a meeting, but you won’t really learn to decipher what readers want to know until you can think like a resident of your community, or go to a meeting that actually discusses topics relevant to you.

We can sculpt Tweets and blog posts all day, but a key way to discover how you will Tweet and blog successfully is to follow–and emulate–those who interest you.

We can teach the skills. What we can’t teach is curiosity, or exploration or fiddling.

Fiddle, my friends. Fiddle.

What have you learned from fiddling? How has a program or skill become clearer to you by doing., not just learning? Let us know!

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