The Must-Have Tools for Studying Multimedia Journalism

Here’s just some of the tools students need if they’re going to be relevant in multimedia journalism. (Photo: Michael Dorausch, flickr and Creative Commons

Let’s start with a stipulation: We don’t live in a perfect world.

In that perfect world, students would be able to afford higher education without bankrupting themselves or their dreams. They’d be hungry for what their professors teach them. And they’d have no problems getting the tools they need to get that education.

So, in accepting that we don’t have that perfect world, what nonetheless are the tools in which multimedia journalism students should invest as they pursue a multimedia education?

Loads of students want to go into multimedia, but they’re trying to do it with gear their parents bought on the cheap the summer before shipping them off to college. The number of students I see in class who wield entry-level cellphones and $800 HP or Dell laptops bought on sale at Best Buy is staggering. Far from being the creatively wired digital natives that pop culture portrays them to be, many undergraduates and their parents live by the credo that “price sells gear.” (Only once has a father called to ask me what I thought his daughter should have for tech gear in college.)

I know what it’s like. I’ve just had one son graduate from university, and another is in his junior year. But the old adage of “garbage in, garbage out” applies as much in multimedia education as anywhere.

So here’s the fact, folks: If you’re wanting to be a mutlimedia journalist, you need to personally invest in the software and hardware tools of the trade. Only by doing that will you have the mobile tools and the control you’ll need to get stories done at the pace the industry demands.

And here’s the hardware I think you need:

  • Apple MacBook Pro laptop computer equipped with at least the iLife suite of software and, better yet, with Final Cut for video editing and Adobe Creative Suite.
  • Access to mobile video, either through a Flip video camera or through high-quality smartphone video.
  • I guess that means you’d need a smartphone, such as an iPhone too. To show I’m not an Apple slave, any Android phone will meet the test.
  • A tablet device, preferably an iPad. Though any tablet device will due.
  • Digital SLR photography gear.
  • USB digital voice recorder, preferably in mp3 format.

That’s a lot of money, I know (what — $5,000 or so before getting into voice and data plans?). But these are investments, rather than merely expenses, and many students (not all, mind you) will spend at least that much money on spring breaks, multiple study abroads, social involvements, more. It’s a matter of setting priorities.

My senior students understand this.

Kelsey Knutson is a senior at Simpson, editor in chief of The Simpsonian student newspaper, a past intern at the Washington Times and the force behind The Back Story, a great new blog journalistically documenting her mother’s battle with breast cancer.

“I’d get all those things, even as a graduating senior,” Kelsey told me today during a seminar discussion, where she’s the only student with a Mac laptop. “I don’t have a smartphone, but I’m going to get one for social media.”

Sarah Keller, another multimedia student at Simpson who’s developing a blog designed to encourage beginning artists (she’s also an art major), is trying to limp by to graduation on the self-described “crappy” second computer of her college years — an HP Pavilion Entertainment laptop whose screen barely functions — before she gets a MacBookPro on graduation.

Still, Sarah’s not sure how she feels about schools requiring a certain gear list: “I understand it’s kind of necessary for today’s field, but I think I’d still feel rather angry about it.”

Another of our seniors, Peter Kaspari, also knows that he needs the gear, but he’s still hesitant: “If I told my parents that I wanted a Mac, they’d probably kill me,” he said today, adding that his mother and father own a small business that was rocked by the recession of recent years.

Upshot: It’s not easy to stay up to date on the latest gear. But our students need to be trying.

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