Reporters Sans Machines

August 15, 2011

Cover of one of the student's traditionally-published editionsOr what happens to a room full of journalism students when you start handing out typewriters.

All on Paper was a project at Florida Atlantic University, and it involved a handful of 20-something trainee journalists turning off their iMacs and getting out the typewriters, TippEx, and photo-developing chemicals.

This was technology older than they were, going through processes which seemed ridiculous with thirty years’ hind sight. But these kids learnt something (and so did their teachers).

Newspapers the old-fashioned way

When you haven’t got machines to do everything for you, it comes down to maths, to typing (very) carefully, to minimizing the use of expensive and finite materials, and to really considering every step of the way. And that was just assembling the pieces. For editing, paragraphs had to be hand-cut, re-arranged on the page, and made to fit the paper. As one commenter, Zephir, says:

Bravo! Nothing disciplines your writing like the need to think in terms of column-inches. And the old-school production reminds us that journalism is best practiced meticulously, as a craft, not with the attitude that anything can be redone with a few clicks.

And one of the main things they found different was a sense of humanity – they had to work together, to overcome dodgy equipment, to play their part in the workflow. Just having more steps in the photography process brought people together. They had to work in teams, and in concert with each other. They know that little bit more about what went into the work of their forebears, and had a bit of fun too.

Concluded Gideon…

After looking at a finished page – a page that took us half a day to finish – we felt so content and satisfied. I’ll compare it to the difference between buying a McNugget and hunting down your own chicken, gutting it, deboning it, and cutting it into nuggets.

Is there anything you can do in your own work which would take you back to basics like this lot?