I strolled across this advert on The Guardian‘s website:
Think you might want to start a blog, but baffled by the jargon and stuck on where to start? This Masterclass may well be for you.
A blog is a website where you can easily publish text, images, video and audio. During this weekend course, you’ll build a new blog from scratch – learning how to change the design and styling, upload your content, and maintain the site yourself rather than relying on somebody else.
The course will be be taught using WordPress. This is a free to use piece of software – which means everything you learn on the course can be used later, without any expensive software.
The Masterclass is for beginners, so no prior knowledge is required.
The description of the curriculum is not detailed, but the advertising copy suggests that the following topics will be covered:
– Jargon and terminology
– Twitter, Facebook and social media basics
– Creating a new website with a custom domain name
– Publishing text, images and multimedia
– Changing the style and design of your site
The course is being run on a weekend. The advert seems to suggest that it’s a two day course, although part of me wonders if it’s actually a one day course being offered twice on consecutive days; I don’t see how that course could be padded out to fill up 7 hours, let alone 14. The ‘masterclass’ (a masterclass for beginners is oxymoronic, surely?) is being conducted at The Guardian‘s headquarters in London, and is being taught by a ‘Senior UX designer’ with a wealth of hugely impressive web design experience…
…whose only qualification that’s actually relevant to the content of the course would seem to be that he blogs using WordPress. Big whoop. Lots of us blog using WordPress.
You may be wondering if this is a free course, part of The Guardian‘s commitment to enable the ‘replying, taking part in journalism’ that the editor, Alan Rusbridger, considers to be such an important part of his possibly-just-a-smidgeon-vague concept of ‘Open Journalism’. You would be sadly mistaken – the course is offered for ‘£400 (inclusive of VAT, booking fees, lunch and refreshments)’.
This is outrageous.
First, it’s outrageous because it’s a huge amount of money – assuming it’s a two day course, it works out as a little under £28.60 per hour, per person.
Second, it’s outrageous because it represents such appalling value for money. Search online for ‘wordpress tutorial’ and (once you’ve got passed the adverts) you’ll find a host of sites giving this information away for free, most with simple step-by-step guides, some with free videos. If you feel you absolutely, positively have to have a course taught by a real-life person then a search will show you companies offering an equivalent course for a fraction of the price. Within seconds I had found details of companies offering courses in several locations around the country (so fewer travelling costs), with smaller class sizes, and for around a quarter of what The Guardian is charging.
Third, it’s outrageous because it’s so unnecessary. If someone can sign up for an online shopping account and they can write and send an email then they already have all the technical skills they need to blog. Seriously, that’s all you need to be able to do to blog – navigate to a website, open an account, type text in a box, and click on a button (though it’ll be marked ‘publish’ rather than ‘send’). True, that’s only the simplest kind of a blog. If you want to add links to things elsewhere on the web, or you want to make your blog look prettier, or you want to include other kinds of content besides text (pictures, videos, audio etc.), or you want to host your blog yourself then that’s a little bit more challenging – but there are dozens of free online guides to help you, and you can learn to do those things a bit at a time as you gain in confidence. And when I say ‘a little bit more challenging’ I really do mean a little bit – it’s not at all hard to do, it just involves a slightly longer sequence of simple steps.
Fourth, it’s outrageous because it only tells people part of what they need to know. Read this advert and you might come away with the idea that by the end of the course you’ll know everything you need to know to run a successful blog. In fact, you’ll know how to set up your blog, and you’ll know how to feature different kinds of content on it, but all the really difficult stuff won’t be included. The mechanics of creating and maintaining a blog are relatively easy; what’s hard is producing the content to put on it. You’d think that this pseudo-journalistic side of blogging – how to pick topics, how to research them, how to write them up – might feature in a blogging course run by a newspaper, but no. (It turns out that’s another ‘Masterclass’ altogether – one that’s a relative bargain at ‘only’ £299.)
Maybe I’m silly to be outraged by this. Maybe this is just a question of lightening the pockets of people with more money than sense, something that is way too common for me to be outraged by it (think anyone who buys ‘fashion label’ clothes, anyone who shops at Waitrose, anyone who buys a piece of technology within a year of it being released…). Maybe the people who attend this course will do so knowing fine well that they’re not learning anything particularly useful; maybe they’ll pay up for the vicarious thrill of learning to blog at The Guardian. Maybe they’ll do it for the bragging rights – “When I was getting tips on blogging at a national newspaper…”.
But let’s face it: making money by manipulating the manipulable and gulling the gullible isn’t exactly ethical, is it?