December 1996

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Computers for Technophobes

by Christopher Harper

Literature Survey / Findings / Discussion

Marianne Nardone was a bonafide technophobe who willing admitted it. "I knew force-feeding myself to learn about the Internet would be the only way to do it as I was dragged kicking and screaming to my Macintosh when I first started working," says the former graduate student from New York University who works for Money Magazine. After only a few weeks in a new class, "Computers in the Modern Newsroom," Nardone found the Internet much easier to learn than she had expected. "I got over my fear of using the Net."

At NYU, a variety of short courses are offered on the use of Dialog, the World Wide Web, and the Internet. Within the Department of Journalism, courses exist for computer design and computer-assisted reporting with a module of computer-related materials in several reporting classes. Unfortunately, many students fall between the Internet cracks. The students -- both undergraduate and graduate -- have a general sense of how to use the Internet and Nexis-Lexis, but the ability to take these systems and use them for journalism is haphazard at best. There is a wide gulf between those who excel and those who do not. So I devised a trial course during the summer of 1996 in an effort to encourage students without extensive computer skills to learn how to use a variety of systems, including the Internet, the World Wide Web, Nexis-Lexis, Excel and HTML.

In an effort to make the students familiar with the Internet, they joined and monitored newsgroups. An electronic syllabus allowed access to a variety of articles, sources, and destinations. All work, including a weekly diary about the course, was done via email.

A survey determined that most students found the course useful and wanted to learn more about digital journalism.


Christopher Harper ( is an associate professor at New York University's Department of Journalism. His book, And That's The Way It Will Be: News in the Digital Age, will be published by NYU Press in September 1997.

Copyright © 1996 by Christopher Harper. All Rights Reserved.

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