Review: Producing for Web 2.0 – A Student Guide

Review: Whittaker, J, (2009), Producing for Web 2.0: A Student Guide, Routledge
Whittaker, J (2009) Producing for Web 2.0 (Media Skills)

I’m on the hunt for a core textbook that I can recommend to students who take my Web Production units. The ideal book would provide an overview of the key skills in the creation, editing and production of interactive multimedia content. It would also discuss content management, design theory, usability, social media, online business strategy and legal and ethical issues. Is this too much to ask for?

I used to recommend Foust, J, (2005) Online Journalism: Principles And Practices Of News For The Web. It covers the key areas of what is online journalism?, HTML, writing for online, and opportunities and challenges. The book is well designed and the students find it easy to navigate.

But five years is a long time in dog (and web) years. Of course , Foust makes no mention of social media. Any advice regarding audio/video content is dispensed in just a few pages. It also slightly falls into the trap of assuming that online journalists would be doing their web authoring in Dreamweaver.

Quinn, S Filak, V (2005), Convergent Journalism: A Introduction and Quinn (2005) Convergent Journalism: The Fundamentals of Multimedia Reporting make a useful double act – the former is a practical guide and the latter looks at theory.

But whilst Quinn & Filak’s text has much to recommend it, they look like they were written at a time of massive change. The discussion of blogs and online writing is particularly weak and falls into the classic trap of confusing the ‘medium with the message’. It fails to understand the importance of such issues as audience talkback and interactivity.

If you’re going to write a book that covers this kind of area you need to know what to call it – ‘online journalism’ just doesn’t really cut it. I am also not that happy with that phrase – ‘convergence’. I’m not entirely convinced that the industry is using this anymore. Number one rule – give your book a title that people will find on Amazon! I’ve thought about this quite a bit and it isn’t easy.

So a gap in the market exists for a textbook about modern web production methods and Whittaker’s book seems to have learned from and addressed the mistakes made by others. Unlike the other texts, it takes into account the importance of social media for marketing and community building.

Its general structure is pretty straightforward: pre-production, production/design and post-production. It also provides the best balance of editorial and technical skills of any of the texts. It looks at MySQL, PHP, CSS and Javascript, but only in just enough depth. Whittaker knows his audience and it is not computer science students.

Modern production outputs are well-covered – social media, wikis and mashups. Content management is discussed using Joomla! as the example. There is a huge amount of software out there and it does a good job in informing tutors about the best technology to teach. The good news is that most of the software is open source and free (or very cheap) to deploy.

It sometimes feels (normally on a cold Monday morning!) that as tutors we’re simply training students to be ‘widget cutters’. Whittaker could improve the book by highlighting the transferable nature of the skills taught. The textbooks biggest let down is its weird two column layout and tiny font size – it just doesn’t work.

But Whittaker’s book has appeared at precisely the right time and fills an important hole in the market. Where it particularly succeeds is its near-perfect balance of ‘technical’ and ‘editorial skills’.

Whittaker, J (2009) Producing for Web 2.0 (Media Skills)

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