Raising computer literacy in newsrooms p. 15

By: Bruce Garrison A five-stage plan is offered sp.

A PLAN FOR the newsroom to raise the computer literacy levels of all reporters could be set up in five stages.
Several people have offered such ideas. The proposal below was influenced by discussions by Raleigh News & Observer computer-assisted reporting (CAR) editor Dan Woods at the 1993 Society of Professional Journalists meeting in Knoxville, and by Tom Johnson of San Francisco State University at a presentation in 1993 at the Poynter Institute.
Any sort of computer literacy, individual or newsroom level, depends on development of a hierarchy of skills that build on one another. CAR is no different. Computer literacy for most journalists can be accomplished in five distinct stages that build one on the other:

Stage One:
Basic Operational Mastery

Most newsroom people know how to power-up a personal computer and a printer. Unfortunately for some, this is almost all they know about their desktop computers. Another group, slightly further advanced than the first, uses the word processing software to write or edit. Some of these users feel they know enough. But these technologically innocent individuals just don't know what they don't know.
One of the most critical steps toward computer literacy in a newsroom is to learn the basics of operation of the existing hardware and software. This includes mastering the disk operating system, the basics of the operating environment, and a relatively simple application such as a word processor or desk organizer. For PCs and Macintoshes, this includes understanding the main features of DOS, 05/2, and the installed Macintosh system version. The first stage of personal computer mastery should include:
? Fully understand the user's own PC hardware configuration, its general operation, and its functions.
? Basic on-going maintenance.
? Develop troubleshooting skills.
? Learn to install and run existing software.
? Learn DOS or other appropriate operating system (e.g., Macintosh).
? Learn file/hard drive management.
? Use the computer for writing and editing.
? Use a computer application for more than writing and editing.
? Forego paper or "hard copy" dependency.

Stage Two:
Remote Access Capabilities

After mastering PC operation for the newsroom, journalists need to transfer their knowledge to remote reporting and editing situations. Of course, this is becoming easier because portable systems have recently become as fast and powerful as most desktop PC systems and adjustments to portable equipment shortcomings are less important than when first introduced.
The second level of this stage is to learn to access and use the newsroom system from a remote location, including the individual desktop system.
Remote literacy includes:
? Learn basics for using the newsroom's preferred telecommunications software package and file transfer protocol.
? Learn basics of fax/modem operation and/or PCMCIA card settings and operation.
? Learn procedures for connecting remote hardware and software to the newsroom system.
? Communicate with sources and with colleagues with e-mail.
? Work with online commercial services such as CompuServe, Nexis/Lexis or Dialog.
? Conduct online news story research out of the newsroom.
? Learn to set up automatic log-on script files.
? Explore and regularly use bulletin board systems.
? Access and use the Internet.
? Create an online source network for reporting and editing specialties.

Stage Three:
Intermediate Personal
Computer Skills

The third stage is an intermediate level of computer literacy. This is a stage where journalists are becoming more sophisticated in their use of computing tools and are beginning to branch out to specialized applications:
? Learn advanced use of a graphical user interface system such as Windows, 0S/2, or the Macintosh system.
? Work with a pointing device.
? Learn to transfer information between applications.
? Learn to use GUI programs to generate graphics for help in analysis of data for stories.
? Develop extended knowledge of spreadsheets.
? Use data and information stored on a compact disc.

State Four:
Database Creation
And Analysis Skills

The fourth stage of growth is in the areas of advanced database development, advanced statistical analysis, and geographic information systems database analysis.
This stage includes the following abilities:
? Learn minimal skills for free-form text database managers.
? Learn minimal skills for relational database management systems.
? Analyze databases from other data sources.
? Convert a database from a nine-track tape to a PC system.
? Create and analyze an original database within a newsroom DBMS.
? Master database editing/cleaning techniques.
? Learn to use database query languages and how to prepare customized database reports.
? Conduct advanced original statistical analysis using spreadsheets and statistical packages.
? Develop skills in using geographic information systems.

Stage Five:
Computer Skills

By this point in evolution of a journalist's computer literacy, most newsroom users will feel confident and have a wide range of highly useful computing skills.
However, the ultimate stage in literacy includes the addition of application development and programming capabilities. This stage includes the following user abilities:
? Build minimal programming language skills.
? Develop new applications for database analysis where they do not exist, using commercial programs for application development.
? Learn BASIC.
? Learn an advanced compiler programming language.


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