Journalism nerds

  1. So we all know that journalists of the future will be flying round MediaCity on their jetpacks whilst wearing their silver space suits.  But what will they actually be learning on journalism courses?  
  2. The New Year seems to encourage people to gaze into their non-existent crystal balls.  I shan’t be doing that but I am interested in the recent trend to encourage journalists to be programmers – or vice versa.  Is it the future?  More to the point, I’m wondering whether I should learn some basic coding.  It’s hovering in the vicinity of my “2012 To Do” list.  Apparently, coding is the new Latin.  I quite liked Latin at school.  (It’s not quite on the 2012 To Do list yet.  Should it be?  What do you think?  Codecademy looks like it’s the in thing at the moment.)  So what do the clever people say about “hacker journalists?”
    5. The Rise of the Journo-Programmer. An ambitious hybrid of journalist and computer scientist is what some have in mind as part of the future of journalism. As Columbia was launching its dual-degree masters in journalism and computer science (more), Northwestern last winter announced a $4.2 million Knight News Innovation Lab run by the journalism and engineering schools (more). Other schools are focusing on just making student journalists smarter about doing data within their journalism courses, becoming adept at everything from simple programs like spreadsheets and web-based visualization tools to more sophisticated software like Flash. Influential online journalism educator Mindy McAdams proposes all J-schools have a full-fledged data journalism course, something a few schools appear to be doing (Columbia is one; CUNY is another). Meanwhile, the explosion of smartphones and tablets – the latter are starting to show up more in classrooms, though not without debate over best practices – has encouraged some schools to explore app development, whether through simple thought exercises or by actually building apps from the ground up in dedicated courses.
  4. Columbia University in the States is one of the first to offer a dual degree in journalism and computer science.  “Embrace the digital revolution,” prospective students are urged.
  5. Dual-Degree: Journalism & Computer Science – Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

    Columbia Journalism School and The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science have created a dual-degree Master of Science in Journalism and Computer Science. Students will receive highly specialized training in the digital environment, enabling them to develop technical and editorial skills in all aspects of computer-supported news gathering and digital media production. The goal of the program is for its graduates to help redefine journalism in a fast-changing digital media environment. The program will offer the highest caliber of computer science and journalism training at Columbia University.

  6. Bill Grueskin, the Dean of Academic Affairs at Columbia, envisages creating journalists who can create “a lot of their own tools.”  That’s quite a sophisticated level of programming, isn’t it?  Can it be done on a master’s course alongside all the journalism stuff?  I thought programmers had to do hundreds of hours of programming to master their art.
  7. So how do you go about creating journalists who can program or programmers who can do journalism?  Dave Winer is a bit of a pioneer in this field and is now a visiting scholar at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.  That’s the home of Studio 20 which offers “master’s level instruction with a focus on innovation and adapting journalism to the web.”  
  8. In most university departments, there’s a permanent paid staff that manages the websites for students and faculty. It seems to me that if your goal is to boot a new class of journo-programmers, this activity should be brought into the curriculum, and every student should participate in managing and developing his or her own publishing infrastructure.
  9. We’re not ready yet to teach how to do this, but a few semesters after the students start, we will have a very good idea of how to accelerate the process and produce more reliable results. And eventually we will be able to teach it alongside the other skills that make a programmer a programmer and a journalist a journalist.

    We will also have a much better idea where existing tools are insufficient, which will lead us to the next phase where the students not only manage the infrastructure, they develop key parts of it. At NYU, we learned we have students that are this ambitious with the Diaspora project.

  10. Sounds kinda scary to me but the staff and students in this NYU video look like they’re up for it. 
  11. Studio 20 – New York University
  12. OK, so I’m feeling seriously inadequate now and a sad old dinosaur.  But it turns out not everyone out there thinks this kind of dual degree or emphasis on hacker journalists is the way forward.  John Hillman wrote on about his concerns.
  13. The digital trinity
    Good digital publishing requires expertise in three completely separate disciplines, all of which are callings in their own right.
    As journalists we’re all here because we want to tell a good story, so we apply our presentation skills, written, audio or visual, along with our ability to make an intelligent overview.
    To ensure that our work then reaches the largest possible online audience we work with designers, who are highly artistic, and web developers who tend to be mathematically astute computer scientists. When it all works together the result can be great, interactive, accessible and attractive online content. Victory.
    So much as any attempt to bring journalists closer to technology should be warmly embraced, there has to be an understanding that shoehorning a journalist into a programmer’s role, and vice-versa, probably isn’t going to produce the best results. These are much more likely to come from having a good team around you, by understanding each other’s limitations and, above all, by working well together.
  14.  I guess the risk is that you dilute the amount of time given to journalism itself.  Are journalism schools going to be turning out jack of all trade/master of none journalists?  Will these journalists be more interested in creating new toys rather than developing the skills and ethics of investigative journalism?  Or will they be creating a new generation of hacker journalists who will have the design skills to match the tool to the story?  Or at least convey these ideas to a “specialist.”  
    As an aside, I was speaking to a senior editor at C4 News recently (as part of an academic paper I’m working on) who said that modern news organisations need people with adaptability, an aptitude for learning and technical (i.e. IT) aptitude.  I guess if you’ve got those skills – and the original journalistic mind and skills to go with it – then you’re reasonably well-equipped.  Similarly, part of being a journalist is having the skills to go out and acquire the knowledge you need using your research instinct – albeit on a fairly basic level at times – to keep up to date.
    But if any UK university should be looking at bringing in some level of computer science into its journalism courses then surely it has to be Salford given its location and research interests.  
    And maybe 2012 is the year when I should add coding to my To Do list.

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