This is my blog post for this month’s Carnival of Journalism.
Journalism needs programmers.
Journalism needs journalists who know how to program.
Journalism needs journalists that appreciate programming.
The best gift that journalists — and by extension journalism — could get from programmers and developers doesn’t come from programmers and developers but from journalists and especially top editors. What journalism needs more of is a respect for technology and technologists. Journalism organizations need to hire more people with tech skills and to have a greater appreciation for people with tech skills. Journalism organizations especially need to hire more people with traditional journalism skills and technology skills.
But a word of caution: An appreciation for tech skills and developers doesn’t mean chasing the latest buzzwords. In fact, watching many news organizations chasing trends instead of meaningful innovation leads me to believe that there isn’t a healthy enough appreciation for technology in newsroom. There simply aren’t enough people in newsrooms with the skills to know what is worth pursuing and what isn’t.
Sometimes the best thing you build is the thing you don’t build. There are quite a few iPad news applications that come to mind.
Having an appreciation for tech skills does not mean having a team of developers in a corner of the newsroom or somewhere else in the building. It means having developers work on stories and be integral part of the action. It also means that more journalists need tech skills. These journalists don’t need computer science degrees, but it would be good if they knew some HTML, CSS and programming. It would also be good if more writers understood visual storytelling and vice versa.
Part of the issue isn’t just that newsrooms don’t have enough technologists, despite the Web being the dominant journalism platform, it’s that too many journalists don’t understand technology. Even as a writer or editor, you can work much better with a developer if you understand a little code — if you know what’s possible. Same with photography and videography. If you know how those components can compliment a story, you can work with others in your newsroom to put together better story and feature packages.
Knowing what’s possible is what newsrooms need more of. If I were to start a newsroom from the ground up, everyone would have multiple skills. All of my beatbloggers would know how to write, take photos, shoot video and do some programming. The developers would be good enough writers to write blog posts to go along with their applications. And I would want all of my employees to constantly be curious, looking for ways to make better journalism and be able to deliver it appropriately on the platforms that users want.
Training budgets are tight. I get that. That’s why I have a list of free tools and websites that journalists can use to gain a greater appreciation for programming and what developers do:
- W3C Schools — Your first stop to learn about HTML, CSS and other Web technologies.
- Computer Science 101 at Stanford — Stanford offers this class for free and the next session starts in February. Follow along and learn with others around the world. I’ve taken a few college-level computer science classes, but I’m going to test this course out and tell you what I think. It has lecture videos and quizzes. It sounds like it should be pretty good.
- Django — Once you learn some programming, learning a framework is good idea. Think of it as programming on rails and a way to allow you to build applications and websites faster. Django and Ruby on Rails are the two popular frameworks out there. Django is probably more popular in the journalism world, while Rails is more popular overall. I’m personally working to learn Django.
All you need to get started is a good, free text editor. On OS X, I recommend TextWrangler
. Eventually you may want something with more power, but that’s fine to get started. Good luck!