Kudos for J-Learning

There is a saying in the martial arts: when the student is ready the teacher appears. In that spirit, last week I came across a desperately needed resource: an easy-to-read guide on how to build websites for online community journalism. The site is J-Learning.org, and it’s a free offshoot of the University of Maryland’s J-Lab. Let me tell you a little about both.

The blurb publicizing the J-Learning site is succinct: “This how-to digital handbook offers 20 chapters and 60 subsections of basic skills training on how to plan a community news site, build it, use the latest off-the-shelf software to add online features, and then market it and track users. It was created for citizens’ media projects, small-market news organizations and journalism new-media programs.”

The J-Lab is an interesting outfit, a group of university folks with do-good money to spur community journalism in new media formats. I’ve mentioned them in past blogs, such as when I noted their October 24th “Citizens’ Media Summit, and on another occasion, some prizes they’ve handed out to reward novel experiments in community media.

This latest project, a collaborative effort with some folks out here in California, could not have arrived at a better time for me. I’m planning a real web page to allow me to practice some of what I’ve been observing and preaching about new media. I’ve never been terribly swift on the technical uptake. But in the new age, to be a publisher means having HTML running in your veins. The J-Learning material is written for people like me — communicators forced to learn some Internet plumbing.

Having now gushed without artifice or reservation let me now make some suggestions that might make the site even more useful. (If any of these are things that have already been implemented and I have simply been too stupid to notice them, please point that out to me and I will point that out here.)

Would it be possible to create a PDF version of the entire site? Or to otherwise enable folks to print out entire sections? (I find it easier to read paper than LCDs, and also want it as reference to share with others.) As for print outs, a page format designed for a 3-ring binder seems the way to go. Office supply stores sell pre-punched paper. I got some last week and manually printed out the sections of interest so I could read on the train, etcetera. Finally, a 3-ring format takes into account that stuff will change and pages will be updated, and since the J-Learning site is creating a newsletter, there is already a built-in system for alerting users of new information — and an easy way for them to insert the new page.

Let me pass on two other references, written for non-tech types, while I’m at it. “The Unusually Useful Web Book,” by former HotWired executive June Cohen lives up to its name. It’s not meant to be read so much as referenced but things I’ve looked up I’ve been able to grasp.

Finally in the free-AND-fabulous category, let me steer you to The Internet Digest, an e-zine created by Florida publisher Mario Sanchez. I’ve never met Mario and know zilch about him — other than that he seems to have much to teach, and concisely, on subjects such as web design, search engine optimization, and so on. Visit his archives and download to your heart’s content.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media