A couple of months ago I wrote an article for Wannabehacks asking if it was time for journalism students to ditch short hand and learn to code instead. I’m still keen to gather more responses (do take part in the survey below if you’re a student journalist or just starting out in journalism). But in the meantime, here are a few follow-up thoughts and responses to questions people asked me.
cnorthwood left a comment on the article. He’s a developer and is wondering if he should be doing more journalism (he’s already worked on some interesting-looking projects). He raised a valid point about journalists learning to code:
It’s a very useful skill to have in their arsenal – making tools to help you do your job better, ability to analyse information in a new way (particularly large amounts of data coming available under the open data movement), but maybe the best way to do it is to team up with a developer and do it that way. It seems the way journalism is going is to make journos a jack of all trades – you’re now expected to have camera skills, editing skills, and lots of other things that would previously have been handled by specialists. Coding just seems another piece of that puzzle.
My response would be to say that some “trades” are in danger of becoming obsolete in newsrooms and are instead becoming “skills” that all journalists need to possess. It’s an organic evolution. A “jack-of-all-trades” is just a pejorative word for a multi skilled member of staff who’s a boon on any news team! But I do agree that journalists – who understand a bit about what code does – working alongside developers is a good way to go.
One participant in my survey said they weren’t sure what programming could do for journalism. A good way to answer that is to ask why would a programmer/developer want to work in a newsroom. Daniel Sinker gives a great response to that question. He leads the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project for Mozilla. From 2008-2011 he taught in the journalism department at Columbia College Chicago where he focused on entrepreneurial journalism and the mobile web. He’s recorded some really interesting video testimony from developers working in newsrooms in New York in the “news apps community” as one of the interviewees describes it. You can see all six videos here but here are a couple of examples I’ve pulled out.
I got these from Knight-Mozilla Open News which organisers Fellowships (the deadline for 2013 has just ended) which:
embed developers and technologists in newsrooms around the world to spend a year writing code in collaboration with reporters, designers, and newsroom developers. Fellows work in the open by sharing their code and their discoveries on the web, helping to strengthen and build journalism’s toolbox.
So I think the news apps community sounds like a pretty exciting place to be and one which the current batch of student journalists AND computer scientists should really think about.
Chris Hutchinson got in touch after reading my article on Wannabehacks. He’s a student journalist at Birmingham University and online editor for the student news site, Redbrick. He seems a really good example of a new generation of journocoders – self-taught because he understood the way journalism was going and the way code could really connect stories to their communities. So he wrote this follow-up article on his own blog which develops some of the points I made but, more impressively, he describes his own experience and insight as a genuine journalist who codes (I’m just an impostor, remember)
lolitician got in touch to say she’d have LOVED to do a journalism/comp sci degree had such a thing existed –
Perfect vocational combination of arts and science, and I would have rocked at it! Currently doing distance NCTJ and CodeYear.
I’m still interested in hearing from student journalists and wannabe hacks about this subject so please comment or tweet me. And, if you haven’t already done so, please take part in the survey!
If you answered yes, please describe your level of knowledge and where you learnt to code.