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    A Coder Practices Multimedia Journalism — with Open Source Tools

    by Rich Gordon
    April 23, 2008

    Ryan Mark and Brian Boyer, the first two programmer-journalists whose Medill education is being financed by Knight News Challenge scholarships, have begun their second academic quarter (of four). They are reporting in Medill’s Chicago newsroom and taking our introductory new media class, Interactive Techniques. For the new media class, they (like all the other students) are required to identify a topic that they will monitor and blog about it at least five times per week. All the students are required to set up and manage the technology underpinning the blog as well — using WordPress.

    Ryan’s blog is called Digital Divisions. He writes that the site will "aggregate news that relates to issues of Internet connectivity and technology education in the United States and throughout the world. I’ll take a look at and digest new, faster and cheaper technologies that help people get online, community activism and political movement that improves access and education and the effect on communities as they get access and start to use the Internet."

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    Brian’s blog is called "Sixth W: who what when where why WEB”:http://sixthw.com/”" and is billed as "Journalism-oriented discussion of emerging web technologies, by a programmer posing as a journalist."

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    At Medill, all of our students are now required to create multimedia stories and become proficient in digital photography, slideshow creation, audio and video production. They use their own laptops and software recommended by Medill, mostly the usual Adobe/Macromedia products. But Brian, on principle, is trying to do the work with open-source tools. Here’s his (cross-posted) guide to open-source tools available for the multimedia journalist:

     

    I use free and open source software, almost exclusively, when I practice journalism.

    Free and open source software is counter-intuitive to many, but the mantra of the free software movement uses terms that journalists should understand very well.

    Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer.

    It’s a philosophy. It’s about transparency, openness and honesty. You are encouraged to know the inner workings of your tools, and make them better when you find them lacking. There are no secrets, no magic, and no mysterious blue screens of death.

    The great thing is, it’s also free like “free beer.” Considering the financial mess this business is in, it should be clear that if journalism is to survive as a profession, it needs to cut costs. It needs to adopt free software.

    Off soap box.

    If you’re lucky, you work at an organization that already uses free and open source tools on the servers, but it’s unlikely that anyone you know uses them on the desktop. This is not because the tools are inferior. It’s because the geeks don’t have a marketing machine like Microsoft or Apple.

    Here’s my very short list of free and open source software for journalists.

    DesktopUbuntu Linux

    Ubuntu is the first really good free operating system. The best way to go free is to start with a solid foundation. It’s secure, virus-free, and best of all, easy to use. Apple’s OS X is prettier, and to be honest, easier to use, but it’s not free, and you’ve got to own a Mac to use it. Ubuntu runs great on any computer, even one that’s getting a little elderly – unlike Windows Vista, an operating system so bloated that computers for sale today don’t run it well.

    If you’re not ready to make the leap to Linux, every single one of the following applications will also work on Windows and OS X, so there’s no excuse to not try them out.

    Writing, spreadsheets, etc.OpenOffice.org

    monogram.orgOpenOffice.org is just like Microsoft Office, but free. It’s only drawback is that it doesn’t play nicely with Microsoft’s newest .docx, .xlsx, etc. file formats. But the older versions of Microsoft Word and Excel have the same problem, so you’ll be in the same boat as most Office users. It’s going to be a long time until those formats take hold, and by then OpenOffice.org will certainly have caught up.

    Image editingThe Gimp

    Unless you’re a professional graphic artist, all the of the image manipulation you might do in Adobe Photoshop can be done in The Gimp. It’s a brilliant tool.

    Web browsingMozilla Firefox

    At this point, you’ve probably heard of Firefox. Maybe you’ve even switched away from Internet Explorer. If you haven’t, give it a shot. It’s more secure, more extensible, and more pleasant to use. On this one, you’re not making any compromises. It’s better, flat-out.

    EmailMozilla Thunderbird

    Maybe I’m old-school, but I still like having an email client on my desktop. If you’re like me and you don’t yet live in Gmail, Thunderbird is an excellent choice.

    Sanity preservationSubversion

    This one deserves its own article. Subversion is what keeps me from freaking out every time I have to pull my laptop out to go through airport security. Everything I write, all of my notes, resources, and photographs – Subversion enables me to easily copy them out to a secure server online. It does a lot more than that, but I love it most because it makes my computer disposable. If someone ganks my gear at the airport (or if I spill my coffee on it), I know my work is out there, ready to pull down to another machine.

    For more on what Ubuntu can do for you, check out the docs at Ubuntu.com. If you dig it, you don’t need to install anything. You can boot up Ubuntu and give it a spin just by putting the disc in when you start your computer. So what’s stopping you? Try it out!

    If you love it and are ready for more, check out Lifehacker’s Ubuntu coverage for gobs more fun.

    Tagged: medill mozilla northwestern open source openoffice programmer-journalist ubuntu
    • I’m at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco today, where the makers of most of these tools are speaking or showing off new versions of their software. Marc Andreesen, co-founder of Netscape, gave a keynote talk this morning where he talked about the fast-changing landscape and how the media companies now understand that the Internet is the future of their business but they still haven’t changed their mindset or approach to embracing new ways of conducting business.

    • Mike R.

      While Ubuntu is a nice distribution, it is a long way from being the first really good operating system. Ubuntu is a distribution of linux. There are several different distributions. It’s a matter of clarification. Linux isn’t Ubuntu only. There are several distributions that equal or surpass Ubuntu. For ease of use, PClinuxOS is quite nice and very easy to install. There are others. It all depends on the users needs.

      Mike

    • Social Source Commons:
      http://socialsourcecommons.org/

      Is a great place to find out about software that people are using, free or not.

      NOSI, the Nonprofit Open Source Initiative (okay, so I’m on the steering committee) recently re-issued our free software primer: http://www.nosi.net/ which is a great resource if you’re looking for ways to incorporate free software into your work.

      While it is true that Ubuntu isn’t the first or the only good GNU/Linux operating system, it is one of the most straightforward for day to day use. The thing we most need a Windows machine for around here? Making sure that changes to our site work in Internet Explorer.

    • Social Source Commons:
      http://socialsourcecommons.org/

      Is a great place to find out about software that people are using, free or not.

      NOSI, the Nonprofit Open Source Initiative (okay, so I’m on the steering committee) recently re-issued our free software primer: http://www.nosi.net/ which is a great resource if you’re looking for ways to incorporate free software into your work.

      While it is true that Ubuntu isn’t the first or the only good GNU/Linux operating system, it is one of the most straightforward for day to day use. The thing we most need a Windows machine for around here? Making sure that changes to our site work in Internet Explorer.

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